10 Best Restaurants in the Eastern Mediterranean Slideshow
December 12, 2012
Hiša Franko (Kobarid, Slovenia)
Just outside Kobarid — the mountain-ringed town that, under its Italian name of Caporetto, figures in Ernest Hemingway's classic A Farewell to Arms — lies Hiša Franko, a renowned gostilna (Slovenian bistro) helmed by Ana Roš and her husband Valter Kramar, whose father owned the place originally. Today, Kramar oversees the cellar stocked with mostly Slovenian wines as well as local cheeses, charcuterie, and honey; Roš' homemade marmalades; and Slovenian and Croatian olive oils. Roš meanwhile creates a menu of hearty modern Slovenian dishes that might include venison tartare with crispy fennel and apple salad; rabbit loin stuffed with pistachio and sage in chocolate sauce; saddle of wild rabbit with vegetables, celery purée, and ginger and prune sauce; or fresh fig salad with spiced red-wine sauce and white chocolate foam.
Blue Elephant (St. Julians, Malta)
Set in one of the most romantic venues in Malta, Blue Elephant’s dining room transports diners to Thailand with lush greenery, tropical flowers, and waterfalls. Chef Aunnop Phuangnak and the team have crafted four set menus, an à la carte menu, and a vegetarian menu with dishes created from ingredients flown in from Thailand. Based on traditional Thai recipes, the choices include familiar Thai favorites like deep-fried fish cakes with red curry paste served with a sweet cucumber sauce, spring rolls with minced lamb stuffing, massaman lamb curry, and nua phad kiew wan (stir-fried sliced beef with green curry paste, Thai eggplant, and coconut milk).
Vezene (Athens, Greece)
This Greek bistro serves modern Greek fare in an intimate 52-seat space with an outdoor terrace overlooking Lycabettus Hill. Open for dinner only, Vezene is known for its seafood and dry-aged beef. Chef Aris Vezene’s menu is inspired by "Mediterranean tastes, and in particular from the Ionian Sea, with influences from the international street food scene, respect for French cuisine, and some allusions to molecular gastronomy," according to the restaurant's Facebook page. The menu includes a choice of Wagyu beef sliced tagliata-style, 56-day dry-aged New York strip loin or rib-eye served with oven-roasted baby potatoes and seasonal vegetables, 24-hour slow-braised buffalo oxtail and cheeks in nebbiolo red wine with aged Piave vecchio cheese, and "Ari’s Deal Closer," a hefty dessert for four diners of chocolate tart with Madagascar vanilla ice cream, brazil nuts, shaved hazelnut gianduja, bitter chocolate fudge, and butterscotch.
Gefseis (Kifissia, Greece)
Housed in a 19th-century mansion with Old World charm and a lush garden that was once a resting spot for the Greek royal family during their treks from Athens to their summer palace in Tatoi, Gefseis serves traditionally inspired but upscale Greek food. Chef Nena Ismymoglou, one of the pioneers of the contemporary Greek cuisine movement, has created a seasonally changing menu of Greek classics like spanakopita (a cheese pie made from Sperhiada feta and phyllo), chicken kebabs marinated in herbs and ginger and served with mushroom and chive salad and pita, and galaktoboureko (a semolina-based custard served in phyllo with baked peaches and cream and a lavender-scented honey sauce).
Mavrikos (Lindos, Rhodes)
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The family-run Mavrikos has been serving traditional Greek comfort food in the beach town of Lindos, on the southwestern coast of Rhodes, for more than 70 years. The likes of Barbra Streisand and King Abdullah of Jordan have dined at this attractive restaurant in an arched, Greek-style building in the main plateia (town square), enjoying Dimitri Mavrikos’ meze plates that include such fare as calamari in beet and saffron sauce, grilled octopus, and smoked manouri cheese with pine nuts and basil.
Plavi Podrum (Volosko, Croatia)
The oldest restaurant in the tiny fishing village of Volosko, Plavi Podrum is known for its seafood dishes and incorporating regional products like asparagus, truffles, and nettles. The seasonally changing menu includes scampi buzara and polenta with new corn and herbs, wild asparagus and champagne risotto, and chocolate cake and chocolate mousse made from Lindt 72 percent Ecuadorian chocolate and accompanied by orange and homemade chocolate ice cream with red pepper flakes.
Selene (Pyrgos, Santorini, Greece)
The aim of Selene, to promote local products and cuisine, has remained the same since it opened 26 years ago in Fira, on the island of Santorini. In the decades since, Selene has moved to the center of Pyrgos and is perched on one of the highest points on the island, affording amazing views from the dining room. Located adjacent to some of the island’s famous vineyards and farmland, Selene has a new chef, Nikos Boukis, but the locally inspired food remains extraordinary. The multicourse dinner includes offerings like clam and sea urchin with lime foam, sea bass and zucchini with garlic and stuffed zucchini flowers, and baklava with Santorini pistachios and baklava ice cream. Since moving to Pyrgos, the restaurant has added a more informal tavern and a folklore museum featuring exhibits on traditional agricultural production. Visitors can indulge in a package that includes wine tasting, a museum tour, cooking class, and dinner.
Spondi (Athens, Greece)
Since Apostolos Trastelis opened Spondi in 1996, it has been the talk of the town. Located about 100 yards behind the Parthenon, this two-Michelin-starred restaurant is impeccably furnished, and the dining room features fine touches like Baccarat crystal glasses and Christofle cheese and dessert trolleys. The cuisine is the star attraction, though. The seasonally changing menu includes such appetizers as foie gras baton with orange and xocopili chocolate and crab in mint jelly with grated cauliflower and Granny Smith apples, and mains like milk-fed roasted lamb in herb cocotte with candied lemon paste served with eggplant-coriander polenta and garlic.
Le Mandra? (Volosko, Croatia)
Chef Deniz Zembo’s "slow food" is served by candlelight on the outdoor terrace of Le Mandra in Volosko, a fisherman’s village in Opatija, on the Istrian peninsula. The menu, which features 12 dishes, changes based on the seasons, but the daily tasting menu is the ideal way to sample Zembo’s culinary genius. This nine-course feast includes dishes like scampi sashimi with warm wild fennel mousse and malvasia foam, smoked scallops with polenta and leek and curry foam, and white chocolate mousse and lemon tart with ice cream.
JB Restaurant (Ljubljana, Slovenia)
Set in a 1920s Secessionist building in the heart of Ljubljana, JB Restaurant is a family affair. Chef Janez Bratovz’s wife Ema is the manager, his daughter Nina is the sommelier, and his son Tomaz is his chef-apprentice. Slovenia’s top chef offers a nightly menu — recited, not printed— of Mediterranean, French, and Slovenian dishes, with dishes based (says Bratovz) on the elements — earth, water, air, and fire — representing the four tastes, sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. These might include such things as garlic soup with langoustines, foie gras pâté with mixed fruit jam, pork carpaccio with mushrooms and pumpkin seed oil, venison with tarragon tart, and medallions of beef with black truffle sauce.