Monthly Archives: May 2013

Amici Miei: pizza with attitude

A lot has been said about Parisian attitude and yet I think the service has been getting better over the recent years, there are still occasional reminders of this well-known reputation. Last Friday we witnessed it again.

Amici Miei is one of the best Italian restaurants serving pizza in Paris. Le Figaro ranks Amici Miei among the seventeen best pizzerias in Paris in its November 2011 review and Le Fooding confirms it.

While I was waiting for my husband to park the car I noticed that no one was really paying any attention to my arrival. There was a football match which seemed more important than the customers (however, when someone they knew walked in, this person got a VIP service…). On the positive side, there were many customers waiting to get a table, but we got ours the moment my husband walked in.

We ordered two verdura pizzas and they arrived crispy, thin and nearly burnt –the way I like my pizza. Vegetables were delicious, mozzarella was particularly tasty and tomato sauce seemed to have something extra that made it better than elsewhere.

A bottle of red, Cantina Di Santadi Grotta Rossa DOC 2011, was recommended by our waiter (18€). The wine is made exclusively from carignano grapes that give this Sardinian red wine a liquorice aroma –a very good choice!Amici Miei ParisIn the end my husband ordered a grappa. We waited, and waited. The restaurant was still full and the waiters were running around and talking to each other in Italian. This obviously happens a lot in Italian restaurants, but there was something more authentic that gave us a real feeling of being in Italy. After about twenty minutes we gave up and ordered the bill. The waiter came, asked if the grappa had been served, and we said no (thinking he will bring it with the bill). Few minutes later the bill came but no grappa. Ok, no big deal, and it was more amusing than rude.

We paid and left, puzzled what had been going on in the waiter’s mind. This small incident, combined with that cold welcoming at the arrival initiated a conversation between us about this particular arrogant attitude. After all, even if Amici Miei is highly ranked, it is only a pizzeria, not a Michelin-star restaurant. I sometimes feel that restaurant owners assume that in order to gain respect in Paris they have to be rude. I so do not agree. I simply think it is a pity to go to a restaurant that lacks basics of customer service.

All this said, we will return because the pizzas were very, very good. Regarding the service, we will be prepared and expect nothing, so it will be just fine.

Amici Miei (http://www.amicimieiparis.com): 44 rue Saint Sabin, 75011 Paris. Metro Chemin Vert and Bréguet-Sabin. Telephone 01-42718262
Le Figaro review: http://scope.lefigaro.fr/liste/les-meilleures-pizzas-de-paris-24821785/
Le Fooding review: http://www.lefooding.com/restaurant/restaurant-amici-miei-paris.html
Link to the wine: http://www.vinexus.de/Cantina-Di-Santadi-Grotta-Rossa-DOC-2011-English.html

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Other pizza reviews by Pearlspotting:  and 

Where to eat in Chania? Tamam!

I am a very curious person, but I also know that when I find something “perfect”, it is wise to stick to it. So, after my first meal at Tamam, I understood there was no other place to eat at in Chania, Crete.

Chania Venetian Harbour

Tamam restaurant is located behind Lucia Hotel (the blue building by the Venetian harbour).

Tamam is located one street up from the Venetian Harbour. I am posting a photo to make it easier for you to find Tamam. When facing Hotel Lucia (the blue building), take the street on your right. Walk fifteen meters and you can already see Tamam tables outside on the street on your left hand side. Should you like to eat inside (Tamam is located at a beautiful, old Turkish public bath, “hammam”), take the first street on the left, and wait for a waiter. Very easy!

Tamam restaurant

Tamam has a lovely terrace. If you choose the table in the far end, you can have sea view!

Now, you have your table and you are reading the menu, which is quite long. You may recognize some dishes but you are also wondering which dishes are more Turkish influenced and which ones are typically Cretan… You look at what your neighbor is eating and you suddenly want to taste everything. No problem!

We like sampling many different things and ordering four or five mezzes worked well for us (portions are big). There are also daily dishes but they don’t seem to change every day.

Tamam restaurant

The best way to sample the menu is to order different mezzes. We loved rosemary mountain snails, aubergine croquettes, fried peppers with yogurt-garlic sauce and Cretan pies with local white cheese.

Snails have special health benefit so our first lunch consisted of rosemary snails, aubergine croquettes, fried peppers with yogurt-garlic sauce and Cretan pies with local white cheese.

The same day, in the evening, we returned for dinner. My husband had a daily fish with vegetables and I had Turkish-influenced Hunkiar Begiendi Lamb (lamb in tomato and aubergine puree) which must be about the best dish ever cooked in this world!!  No exaggeration here. An absolute must-taste dish!!

Hunkiar Begiendi Lamb

Hunkiar Begiendi Lamb, lamb in tomato and aubergine puree. One my favorite dishes in the world!

The next evening we hesitated and asked ourselves “can we really go back again, what will they think of us?” but objections remained silent. So, a new mezze tour!

Staka (warm creamy fondue-like local cheese), more snails (remember the health benefits?), Plevrotous mushrooms on the grill, baked giant beans, zucchini croquettes and Cretan pies with spinach and cheese. Ok, in case you are wondering, I have to specify that we had not eaten during the day and we were very hungry. And yes, we finished everything…

Tamam restaurant

Some more amazing mezzes! I am particularly fond of Staka, melted cheese, snails and grilled mushrooms.

I tasted Nostos Pink rose wine sold by a glass and it was excellent.

During our other visits we ordered house wine (sold in carafes), both red and white, and really appreciated the fruity but natural and light taste. I noticed that often Cretan house wines were not very strong and it was pleasant to drink something that did not make your head turn after the first or the second glass (I think the wine has become  too strong, often above 14%, and it did not use to be like this!). Bottles were a lot more expensive, about the same price than in Parisian bistros.

Our lunch and dinner bills varied from 30€ to 50€, wine included. Each time we were offered a free dessert and a small carafe of local raki. The service was friendly and attentive.

What an extraordinary restaurant, what happy memories! My mouth is watering as I am writing! Make Tamam your place to eat when in Chania.

TAMAM: Zambeliou 49, Chania.

Wine (Nostos Pink): http://www.winesofcrete.gr/cretewines/en/Wines/TheWines/CretanWines/NOSTOSPINK_965.html

Heraklion and the Surrounding Areas

This is my last piece on Heraklion, the administrative capital of Crete. You have probably already read The Palace of Knossos and the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion and Where to eat in Heraklion? All you need to know more is what else there is to do and where to be based to do all this stuff. Enjoy!

For most tourists Heraklion is a mere transit point. Others may drive through it on the way to the famous ruins of Knossos. We stayed two nights in this city and loved it! Let me show you why I liked it so much.Heraklion

First impressions of Heraklion: Heraklion was not as polluted, full of traffic and noisy as I had expected. But I think we had a nice impression of the city also because we spent a lot of time by the harbour where it is more quiet. This is also where we ate in the evening (Where to eat in Heraklion?). Moreover, I have never been to Beirut (shame on me) but Heraklion looked like what I imagine Beirut to look like (except that Beirut has taller buildings and it is much bigger). There was also something in the architecture of the balconies that reminded me of Algiers… I was definitely in a Mediterranean city but Heraklion was not like any other city I had been to before and it was exciting.Kronos Hotel

Fancy a hotel by the sea? We stayed at the Kronos Hotel (http://www.kronoshotel.gr/), located right in front of the sea and a few steps away from the Old Harbour, which is also where the main street called 25 Avgoustou begins. In front of the hotel there are free parking places. The rooms are simple yet very clean, and come with a balcony either facing the sea or the city (we could see the snow-covered mountains in the horizon!). Everything wasview from Kronos Hotel renovated in 2011. The reception area is lovely; big glass windows all over proudly present the Mediterranean to hotel’s guests. The staff are very friendly and helpful (it is a family-owned hotel). We payed 55€ per night (excluding breakfast which costs 5€) and felt the price was correct.

What else to do besides Knossos and the Archeological Museum? We stayed two nights in Heraklion. The first day we visited Knossos in the morning (it took us about two hours) and Heraklion Wine Countryafterwards the Iraklio Wine Country, recommended by Lonely Planet Crete (2012). It was a pleasant drive even if we did not stop at any of the wineries. From what I have heard, there are some excellent wineries in this region and what I tasted at restaurants only confirmed this. In addition to wineries one can visit many historical sites. Unfortunately there were some works so the road was partially blocked and we did not find Fourni and Anemospilia Temple. However, even if it was not our case, I can easily imagine one spending an entire day driving around the region. Heraklion Wine Country

It started raining quite heavily in the end of our wine region tour.  We did not want yet to return to the hotel, so we thought to drive to Malia (see, all this you can do in one day if you wake up early!). Malia is an other important archaeological site and very close to Heraklion but we did not reach it by the closing time (3am also during the off-season). We drove back to Heraklion via some resort areas (Hersonisos etc.) and all I can say is: do not stay here. It was all about mass tourism and the least interesting part of Crete I saw during nine days.

On our second day we visited the Museum and walked around the old town of Heraklion. During the Second World War the city got badly bombed but several beautiful Venetian houses remain. And there are many cafes. Many! In the early afternoon we left Heraklion for Rethymnon, very pleased with this brief but rewarding stay in Heraklion.

The Palace of Knossos and the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion

Tourists come to Heraklion to see mainly two attractions: the Palace of Knossos (http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh351.jsp?obj_id=2369) and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum (http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/1/eh151.jsp?obj_id=3327). Internet is full of information about these two sites so I will focus on sharing my impressions and some practical information.

The Bull-Leaping Fresco IMG_2944

Knossos is exactly 7km away from the Old Harbour. Guide books tell you to arrive before 10am in order to avoid the crowds but we arrived at 11am and it was not yet crowded (well, the last time we visited a site like this it was the Angkor Temples in Cambodia and it was VERY busy, so nothing will probably ever feel the same afterwards!) But please notice that we were visiting Knossos outside the peak season.

Archaeological Museum of Herakleion

Prior to visiting Knossos we had heard quite a bit of criticism about the site’s excavation and restoration efforts but we thought everything was pretty well done and clear. The Fresco Gallery was my favorite. It was interesting to hear that the Minoans had taken a special liking to the nature and animals, and beautiful and colorful birds, as well as monkeys, were brought from Egypt to Crete. Many exotic-looking animals are therefore featured on the frescoes and clay jars.

statues

Lonely Planet Crete (2012) provides you with an itinerary how to visit Knossos (starting by the West and the North Court), but the signs at the site tell you to do the opposite. I don’t have an opinion on this; both seem to work. Knossos costs 6€ per person and for 10€ you can buy a ticket that includes the Museum (it is valid during one week), but it is not necessary because the museum ticket brought separately costs 4€ (there is no discount).

We visited first Knossos and the Museum the next day but it is totally feasible to visit Knossos and the Museum the same day. However, I would recommend to keep this order: first Knossos, then the Museum. The Museum wraps up nicely everything that you saw and read in Knossos.

Archaeological Museum of Herakleion

The museum is under renovation and at the moment there are only three areas open to the public: around the corner from the main building you have the main collection with excellent explanations and in the main building there are two room: one for statues and one for the famous frescoes. I was told there will be more rooms open this summer but no details were shared.

I do not consider myself as someone crazy about museums but I fell in love with the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and the history of Knossos. Knowing that this is where the first European city was developing almost 4000 years ago really struck me.

Where to eat in Heraklion?

Before leaving for Crete I had read good reviews in Tripadvisor about a restaurant called Ippokampos. It had seemed like a humble, simple place with fresh, local ingredients –exactly what I like. Upon arrival in Heraklion our hotel recommended it too, saying it is very popular amongst the locals. They also told us that the translation means seahorse (I am very curious about seahorses). Without further contemplations, Ippokampos became our cantine during the two-night stay Michael the owner of Ippokamposin Heraklion.

The first night we ate at the terrace while enjoying the warm Mediterranean breeze. The choice is enormous so it was a difficult pick. Finally, we ordered different mezze (appetizers) tstuffed peppers with anchovieso share: tzatziki, feta in the oven (with tomatoes and bell peppers), grilled vegetables, cuttlefish with its ink and grilled octopus. And some very tasty white house wine. Excellent. Very healthy tasting. Not salty, not fatty. I understood immediately why Cretans live a long life!

The next day there was a bit of rain, so we ate inside (try to get a table downstairs, it is more fun than upstairs). We went for grilled octopus again, mashed split peas (which is sergrilled octopusved with raw onions that you mix into the puree), grilled mushrooms as well as stuffed peppers with anchovies. This time we chose the red house wine and it was very nice, too. Again, nothing to add, everything was excellent. As the nigh before, we were again offered a carafe of raki and a dessert (the orange cake was particularly delicious!).

The young owner Michael knows his dishes by heart and was eager to answer all of our questions. As often in Crete, the rest of the questions were answered by inviting us to the kitchen to look at the dishes.

Both times our dinner grilled vegetablesbill (including a tip of a couple of Euros) came to 40€. The price/quality relationship was excellent! In Paris this would have cost three times more…at least…

Now that the holidays are over I can confirm that Ippokampos is probably the best place we ate at during our nine-day holiday. I would go back to Crete just for them. The owner Michael told me that he is working on a Facebook page and that it should be up “very soon”. I will certainly keep following them and their developments.

ADDRESS:

IPPOKAMPOS: 3 Sofokli Venizelou street (on the west side of the Old Harbour, so if you are walking on 25 Avgoustou street toward the sea, turn left in the very end, and you will see Ippokambos right there with some tables outside. Telephone 2810-280240

The Island of the Gods (and herbs, olive oil, honey raki)

All good things must come to an end (do they?). We are still in Paleohora and will soon start driving back to Heraklio. The drive should take about three hours but the first part is mountainous so better leave early. The flight for Paris leaves late tonight but we are hoping to stop somewhere for some swim. The weather in Paris is appalling I hear and read. But it is not only the weather… I will miss rosemary snails, lamb with aubergine puree, sfakio pie with honey, fennel pie, staka cheese (fondue type) etc. Feta won’t be the same in Paris. Tomatoes won’t taste as if they have soaked in the sun. Even olive oil has a different color here. And there is no homemade honey raki in France! Furthermore, what I have appreciated in Crete is their use of herbs. I will have to stop in the villages to find some to take home. Apparently their oregano (“Oregano-Dittany of Crete”) is particularly tasty and healthy. In fact, it is so renowned for its healing powers that it is widely available for purchase on internet.

See for example: http://www.gardenharvestsupply.com/ProductCart/pc/Oregano-Dittany-of-Crete-Herb-Plant-p5164.htm or http://pantrygardenherbs.com/?page_id=5036

Paleohora

Visiting Crete and the Mediterranean in May

I think my favorite times to visit the Mediterranean are the end of May/the beginning of June and September. As these periods are outside the school holidays, there are a lot less people everywhere. A beach to yourself is not difficult to find. Historical sites are not yet loaded with dozens of tourist buses. One can find a luxury hotel for two or three times cheaper than during the peak season. In May there is this hope about a successful summer, so the locals are very friendly and have patience and energy to chit chat and to serve. At this time of the year flowers are blossoming and mountains are covered with dense vegetation. The sun is already strong but in evenings the temperature drops to more bearable numbers.

All this applies also to Crete, where we have now been traveling for one week. We have almost constantly had 30C (even 32C). It has rained once, bringing the temperature down to 20C. We have swum in the sea and the sea water must be around 22C. In September the sea is definitely warmer, but 22C is good enough for us, especially since Crete has so much to offer and staying on the beach was not our main and only goal. There is such a density of archeological sites to see in Crete that it would be a pity to just lie on the sand (I think).

This photo was taken yesterday near Paleohora. A small pearl in the southwestern corner of Crete.Paleohora