Tag Archives: #Mykonos

Pasta Fresca Barkia: The best of Italian cuisine and Greek hospitality in Mykonos

Greek cuisine is fantastic. Whether you prefer surf or turf, meat or vegetarian food, Greek cuisine has something for everyone. Yet in the Mediterranean food wars (I made that up), Italian food wins the global battle. I would argue that no other cuisine has such is represented by more restaurants or appears on more menus around the globe, or remade in home kitchens around the world. Its universal appeal makes it that sort of reliable go-to for travelers, too. Its pretty hard to screw up pizza and pasta – though I assure you, I’ve seen that happen. Mediocre Italian is everywhere also, so when you find something special, you remember it. And Europe tends to hold onto the best traditions, so it shouldn’t be a surprise, given the millennia-old, complicated brotherly dynamic between Greek city-states and Rome that some modern-day Roman conquerors found their place in the wealthy desert isle of Mykonos.

In a small town packed with an enormous amount of shops and restaurants per capita, Greek food and international fusion (often on the same menu) comprise the majority of restaurants, with a small army of slick fast casual shops selling anything from gyros to crepes and gelato joining the clamor for tourists’ seats and Euros. When you smell fresh pasta sauces, it commands attention.

So while spending another long stretch in Greece, after 8 days of Greek cuisine, the smell of pasta drew in a small group of colleagues and myself into the quaint, if not crowded, Pasta Fresca Barkia to try something a little different.
Pasta Fresca Barkia passed our test: good pasta, large menu variety, and even tzatziki to keep alive our daily streak of eating the delicious cucumber-yogurt-garlic concoction.

Walk inside and you may well find yourself in very close quarters as they cram in as many seats as possible (what fire code?). But what it lacks in allowing personal space or freedom of movement, it gains back in charm, Greek hospitality, and a great meal chosen from a veritable pasta catalog.


Our group started with a few appetizers, most of which had a decidedly Greek flair. A large, crusty loaf of bread formed the base for a Greek bruschetta that layered traditional crushed tomatoes atop the spicy, funky local Myconian cheese. 


Caprese and Greek salads continued the Greco-Roman fusion, and, finally, our tzatziki. 


Theirs had a stronger tang from citrus or vinegar than other versions but was nicely balanced with garlic and a hint of dill.

Now, decision time. When I say the menu choices were endless, I’m not exaggerating. It was more difficult than a Thai menu. The restaurant itself makes a wide variety of pastas, from spaghetti and tagliatelle to fusilli, penne, rigatoni, to filled tortellini and ravioli to al forno (baked) canelloni and lasagna. You can watch a daily pasta-making demonstration – if you can fit it into your shopping schedule and not lose your way in Mykonos town’s maze of alleys, that is. With all variety of shapes and styles, an equally ridiculous offering of sauces and accompanying meats vie for your appetite.


I chose the rigatoni pesto rosso (red pesto) after significant deliberation. I prefer ridged rigatoni to its sister penne, as I find sauce clings to its ridges much better, and I don’t find sun-dried tomato pesto often on the menu. It was fresh and delicious. Though it wasn’t quite as garlicky as I would like, it was delicious, and the pasta was perfectly al dente.
Two of my colleagues chose the spicy penne d’arrabiata – which turned out much spicier than expected. The culprit was their homemade blend of dried red pepper flakes. I sprinkled a very scant pinch of the flakes (brought upon another’s request) on my rigatoni, and wow. The tiny amount added an inexplicable amount of heat.


The other two chose a yin and yang – one a hearty and cheesy baked ravioli, the other langoustines (baby lobster-ish) with squid ink linguine. The latter was a more cosmopolitan take on a dish that is very typical of the Greek isles.

Everyone’s meal left us with no room for dessert, but in typical Greek form, we were served a lovely (complimentary) presentation of watermelon wedges over ice, served with a digestive, and tiny milk and while chocolate bonbons. To our pleasant surprise, the digestive was a homemade watermelon-infused moscato instead of the typical mastika. Mastika is a true digestive made from the sap of the mastic tree, which grows only on the eastern island of Hilos. Explaining the sap part goes a long way in giving an idea of its taste. To me, mastika tastes like sugar-laced wheat grass and weed killer. Occasionally, it can be infused with pleasant aromatics or fruit that help mask the musty mastika taste. I share this sidebar because mastika is presented at almost every restaurant after every meal, so to be given a digestive that actually tastes good – win!

Should you find yourself in Mykonos and in search of an alternative to the hoardes of Greek restaurants and tavernas, look no further upon Pasta Fresca Barkia. It was a happy accident when we stumbled upon it, and you’ll be grateful also.

Mykonos: Know Before You Go

Mykonos. The Greek isle has quite the reputation as a luxury party destination. Does it live up to the hype? The island can offer a wide range of experiences, depending on your preferences. 

Looking to party like European royalty? Mykonos has you covered. Relaxation or a romantic retreat? Check. An action-packed LGBT-friendly getaway? Check. Looking for land, sea or cultural experiences? Mykonos has plenty. Ancient history? Sure. Family-friendly resorts? It’s not Mykonos’ strong suit, but it’s doable on the island. 

The island offers a variety of experiences to meet everyone’s needs, but travelers should be aware of the island’s nuances to make the most of your next vacation. After having spent a fair amount of time at work and leisure on Mykonos in the past year, I have accumulated a few high points that every traveler should know before the trip.



1.  Mykonos operates seasonally.

Thinking of hitting Mykonos in the off-season?  Like many islands, Mykonos essentially operates May through (early) October. Its year-round population is only about 10,000; yet with the addition of seasonal workers coming from mainland Greece and tourists, its “population” can exceed 100,000 in the summer. Why is this important? Hotels and businesses close down over the winter; repairs and renovations often take place over the winter and seasonal workers return to the mainland. That means that opening weeks for the season can be a little rough. While you might find hot deals on hotels, don’t be prepared to experience Mykonos fully if you travel in late April or early May as hotels, restaurants, and shops slowly begin to open their doors. You might be disappointed when your hotel room isn’t what was promised in the booking.  Also, rain is more likely in the spring. 

Bottom line:  If you want the ‘full’ Mykonos experience – particularly the party atmosphere, go during the summer high season. You’ll just pay more. If you’d like more peace and quiet – and are looking to save money, wait until mid to late September. The weather may be a bit cooler, but the hotels will operate much more effectively by the end of the season.



2. Mykonos is (essentially) a desert island

If you envision lush green Mediterranean hills that you’ve seen in a few magazine spreads depicting Greece, know that it isn’t representative of Mykonos. Mykonos is an arid, rocky, and windswept island. On the windward northwest side of the island near the Faros (lighthouse), it’s easy to imagine Homer’s Odyssey and his ship being derailed by the sirens in a rocky pass. Plan on wind being your constant companion, especially in the spring and fall (there’s a reason why high season is high summer). Rain comes mostly in the early spring, and thunderstorms are rare but possible.


Looking to enjoy the great outdoors?  Stick to the beach or sea, or explore the island by car or open-air Jeep.  Hiking and more traditional outdoor activities are less prevalent than water sports or relaxing by the pool or beaches. While Mykonos is relatively rocky and dry, it has numerous beaches. Water can be quite chilly, so you may wish to lie in the sun. The island’s tour groups operate a number of sailboats and motor craft, as well as ferries to other islands. High-speed RIB boats are an exciting way to explore nearby islands, including the ancient ruins of Delos, the self-proclaimed world’s first duty-free port; ferries also take larger groups of the public there. It’s a fantastic sight for anyone looking for a cultural experience.

Bottom line:  Prepare for wind; dress in layers; outdoor lovers should stick to the sea and beach. 

3. Mykonos town is the epicenter of the island
If you choose lodging near the town of Mykonos, you’ll find easy access to great restaurants, water excursions, and shopping. You’ll also be surrounded by tourists an day visitors from the numerous cruise ships and ferries that transit Mykonos’ port.  Ornos and Platy Gialos are nice alternative locales to town, each with family-friendly beaches and plenty of restaurant options – but both are close enough to town to get around. If you’re looking for a getaway, resorts outside of town are a good bet. Elia Beach, for example, is oh-so-close to town by water, but by land, it is a 20-30 minute drive on winding road. Elia and other similar beaches are best suited for those looking to avoid the Mykonos party scene. If  you choose to stay outside of Mykonos town, you may wish to rent a car, as taxis are not plentiful, and car services like Uber are nonexistent. Some visitors choose to rent scooters and ATVs, but I highly discourage it, as locals note the prevalence of accidents. If you find yourself in a trauma ward of a local medical center, that’s a bad sign. Especially when that means you’ll need transport to Athens for adequate critical care.

Bottom line:  To stay near all of the action, choose lodging within walking distance to Mykonos town. If you prefer to get away from it all, look outside of town! Don’t rely on taxis or scooters.



4. Mykonos has amazing food

The Greeks know hospitality. Their food, wine, and ambiance are unparalleled. The flavors of Greek cuisine, from surf to turf, are a highlight of any visit to Greece. Mykonos is no exception. While it IS a desert island and thus most ingredients aren’t produced or caught locally – with notable exceptions of cheese and seafood, Mykonos’ numerous restaurants compete for your love and money with near-perfect expressions of Greek and international cuisine. Stick to Greek food, or Greek-influenced fusion, and you won’t be disappointed. Stay away from the restaurants that try to lure you in from the street; the truly great ones need no advertisements. 

A few recommendations:
Remezzo – Restrained when you want your waiters to be slightly snooty and sport man buns. In en elevated position by the water near the old port north of Mykonos town (within walking distance), it offers international fusion in an elegant setting.

Nammos Beach Club: Exclusivity galore! Where the wealthy and celebrities hang out. Snagging a beachside chair and umbrella will cost you, but be glad it’s not a cabana – their “Cabañas” are full-fledged four-walled structures made for special occasions, and they will cost upwards of €1,000 for a day rental.

 It is arguably Mykonos’ best and most exclusive white sand beach, so for a true taste of it without extraneous costs, try a lunch at the club restaurant, which is lovely and airy in and of itself, but the food is fantastic. They make a mean risotto, as well as sushi and an incredible raw bar. You’ll feel like a million Euros after a meal and some people watching there.

Avra (photo above): A lovely “secret garden” spot in the heart of Mykonos town. Their immense menu combines Greek and continental dishes in a lovely setting that feels private and not touristy.


Alegro (photo above): Down to earth restaurant in little Venice. Relatively affordable, with great Greek and international dishes. Their complimentary Greek bruscetta and marinated olives will start your meal right! Try the kolokithokefthedes (zucchini balls – devastatingly good comfort food there), tzatziki, the seafood pasta, grilled octopus – anything really. We loved it so much, we are there three times in two trips. They have good, affordable Greek wines as well.
Elia Beach Restaurant – For those staying off the beaten path (or simply wanting to escape the crowds downtown), the casual open-air restaurant has a great selection of both Greek and international comfort food. Salads are good for those enjoying the lighter side. Their tzatziki is killer, and their Greek desserts are about as traditional as they come. Their baklava and sweet cheese pie are worth every calorie.

5. Mykonos is not a budget destination.
Certainly, good planning and a little restraint can make Mykonos less harsh on the wallet, but make no mistake, it is not cheap. If you don’t want to spend a lot, try a shorter stay before hopping somewhere else. Since the true island residents are few, you can’t use the tried-and-true travel strategy of going where the locals go. The inland village of Ano Mera offers more local color and has a few more than decent restaurants (Moussaka lovers unite!), but you’ll want a rental car to visit. Luckily, the Greeks believe in eating two big meals during the day, so if you fuel up at breakfast – which tends to be fabulous and included in most hotels’ room rates, you won’t need another full meal until dinner. In the meantime, Mykonos has plenty of cheap(er) fast food souvlaki, gyro, and crepe shops to tide you over.

Bottom line: Prepare your wallet. Indulge at breakfast.

6. Mykonos is tolerant
Why am I listing that, you ask? Allow me to put it delicately. If you are not comfortable seeing (or explaining to your children) sexuality on display, you might not wish to visit Mykonos. Mykonos developed an international reputation for tolerating what then were considered alternative lifestyles, starting in the 1960s. It was considered a safe haven for gay vacationers, and their fun, festive atmosphere continues to pervade Mykonos. For the most part, it is fairly subtle from an outsider’s perspective, but some of the window displays in Mykonos town shops might catch some tourists off-guard. Mykonos does host a few festivals during the season. Additionally, the island does have a few nude beaches, but most are secluded, and its patrons are respectful of those in the surrounding mainstream beaches.

Bottom line: Everyone just wants to have fun. Nobody is looking to bother anyone else’s fun, but they aren’t going to hide everything for fear of offending anyone.

7. Mykonos is known as a party destination.
Greeks love to party, and that atmosphere is also prevalent. The well-known nightclubs barely get started before 3 am, and sunrise is peak time at some of the largest, such as Cavo Paradiso, located a bit of a hike from Mykonos town near Paradise Cove and Beach. Cavo Paradiso, which often hosts A-list DJs and can hold up to 2,000 partiers, is so loud the bass almost seems to interfere with your heart rhythms. According to my Greek contacts, the party peaks at sunrise, after which its pool becomes a free for all for guests to enjoy a morning dunk before sobering up enough to drive back to town. Cavo Paradiso is one of the few locales on the island with a taxi stand, so it’s easier to hit than other out-of-town destinations. The late club scene translates to slower mornings in Mykonos town, and its shops are open relatively late for Europe (many remain open until 11 pm).

Bottom line: Prepare to shift your schedule a few hours later than you would at home. That’s true regardless of whether you yourself want to participate in the party scene!

Do you have any Mykonos travel tips to share? Please comment below!

An introduction to the cuisine of the. Greek Cyclades, Part 2: The dishes

The second in a series featuring Greek cuisine and the restaurants of Mykonos.

Two posts ago, we set the stage for a Greek drama: The wonderful cuisine of Greece. We discovered the raw ingredients that comprise some of Greece’s beloved dishes; today, we will explore the dishes themselves. Some are so beloved they have been adopted the world over, while others may be an undiscovered culinary frontier.

The meats:

Souvlaki/Souvlakia

Skewers of marinated, grilled meat, or what most know as kebobs (kebabs) are a staple of many culinary traditions. In Greece, they come from a range of meats – pork, chicken, lamb, and sometimes, beef.

Kefta

These skewers of mixed, seasoned ground meats are ubiquitous in Greek and other Mediterranean cuisines. In Greece, they’re typically a blend of lamb and beef.

Grilled octopus

The simplest is best. Succulent octopus is at its best when grilled fresh. And Greeks are picky about their octopi, so you’d be challenged to find a poor version of it in the isles.

 

Langoustine pasta, a common site at restaurants in the Greek Ies

 

Langoustines 

Europeans and South Americans are well aware of the difference between what North Americans know as shrimp and these massive prawns. Here, they often top a steaming bowl of pasta, sometimes in concert with other forms of seafood.

Mezes

Tiramousalata
Spreadable herring or cod sounds unappetizing, but it’s fluffy, masculine whipped that puts tuna salad to shame. The secret ingredient is soaked bread (or sometimes another starch, such as potatoes), which gives this meze its thick, creamy consistency.

  

Pitta bread
The pita pocket bread many of us grew up with is a poor representation of Greece. True Greek pita bread is slightly puffy and chewy – not quite as thick as its Turkish cousin. As an appetizer or compliment to Tzatziki or meat, topped with herbs, it’s all good!

 

Delicious spanakopita

 

Spanakopita and Tiropita

No, they’re not stuffed pita breads! These delightful pastries, typically made of flaky phyllo dough, are definitely not a weight loss staple. Spanakopita, at least, incorporates a vegetable: its spinach, herb, and cheese filling with hints of lemon is deliciously complex and not so much as guilt-inducing as tiropita. Tiropita consists of flaky pastry stuffed with a savory soft cheese. It’s up there as one of the most unhealthy things one could eat in Greek cuisine. It is rich, yet addictive. Buttery, tart, salty, tangy with a feta alternative, it surely is a crowd pleaser. And waistline expander.

  
Kolokithokefthedes, or Zucchini fritters
The Greeks know how to make vegetables fun. If I had tried these as a picky child, even I would have enjoyed them. Like crab cakes, wide variation exists – some by adding more breading, some egg, some garlic. In general, the best are fluffy, almost weightless, and are easy to overdo. Others are quite heavier

  

Domatokefthedes
I laughed when I first saw “tomato balls” on an English-language menu. Really? I couldn’t picture anything other than fried green tomatoes. Then, I tried them. I would call them an expressionist’s version of tomato. Not unlike the most heavily traded zucchini fritters, most variants were more like heavily breaded fritters or croquettes, where the tomato enhanced the delicious, carbohydrate laden base than the other way around. Still, they were way more delicious than your average tomato!

  
Tzatziki
Calling it a condiment is insulting. The irresistible combination of thick, Greek yogurt, fresh cucumber, garlic, and dill is on every Greek menu, yet every chef or cook seems to put his or her own spin on it – perhaps a bit of lemon juice, red wine vinegar, or a heavier dose of garlic. Good enough to eat on its own, Greeks love to slather French fries in it, and I love scooping it up with Greek pitta or topping burgers with it.

 

Greek salad

 

Greek salad…
…is another item poorly misinterpreted by the Western Hemisphere. We overdo it out west, with our romaine, black olives, and heavy dressing laden with fillers. 

 

Another variant of Greek salad

 
The Greeks go simple: tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta with herbs, thick croutons, olive oil, and perhaps a touch of vinegar. But with that simplicity comes a staggering range of variations. Substitute torn, chewy pitta for baked bread, and the result is more like an Italian panzanella.

Sweets

  

Baklava
Oh, baklava! Your comforting honey and cinnamon-drenched pine nut or walnut filling and flaky phyllo layers are one of my favorite desserts that do not involve chocolate. What separates it from other Mediterranean, Turkish, or Arab versions? Pistachios are far more common in the Levant than in Greece.

  

Loukoumades
Doughnut holes on steroids are a good way to describe these airy clouds of fried dough, drenched with – you guessed it – honey. They may be a bit messy, but they are a delicious mess!

If these Greek specialties don’t make you want to run out and Yelp the best Greek restaurant in town – or travel to Greece, I don’t know what will do so!

An introduction to the cuisine of the Greek Cyclades, Part 1

Sure, you’ve tried a few specialties at your local Greek restaurant and watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding (both of them!). But what is Greek cuisine? Join me on a the first in a series marking a culinary tour of Mykonos (Mikonos), one of the Cycladic Islands. 

In the next few weeks, I’ll profile some of the great dining experiences in Mykonos – some suitable for most travelers, and a few for those foodies willing to splurge for a good meal.

  
Mykonos occupies an arid and rocky 26 square mile swath of crystal turquoise Aegean Sea and is one of the Cyclades, a “circle” of Islands south of Athens and mainland Greece. 

  
If it weren’t for its beaches and scenic mountainside views, tourism may have never elevated the historically impoverished island to the posh, party destination it is today. 

  
Upon arrival, my first observations were the remarkably dry and rocky terrain, the humble whitewashed stucco houses with minimal attempt at landscaping or gardening. I compare that to Lima, Peru, which is essentially a coastal desert but has been tamed through irrigation with an almost lush covering of tropical plants and Palm trees. Most of Mykonos, in contrast, is scrub grass or just Martian looking orange rock, swept by millions of years of brutal north winds. Mykonos has long, dry and windy summers and winters with occasional periods of range. If you visit around Easter, I’m told, you will see flowers and greenery. That’s not the case in September. Natives of Mykonos say that the island has seen greener days, and archaeological evidence shows farming was somewhat easier two thousand years ago. 

  
But once you see Mykonos town or drive to several points on the coast, the striking, otherworldly landscape becomes a thing of beauty. Building code in Mykonos is quite strict. All buildings’ exteriors must either be painted white (and repainted yearly) or be made of natural stone. Window shutters and doors may be customized, but the buildings must be interconnected cubes or rectangles. Call it the ancient Stepford Wives’ precursor to suburban homeowners’ associations if you will, but the result is a traditional look that makes Mykonos feel unspoiled and unique.

  
So what does all this mean for food and wine on the island? Agriculture has a historical precedence, but it’s not exactly a breadbasket. Grains and produce largely are imported from other islands or from the mainland in northern states like Peloponnesus. With such high winds, anything that grows can only do so low to the ground or root vegetables. Which makes its fauna better for grazing animals, and thus dairy is prevalent. 

 

A selection of Greek cheeses

 
Mykonos is proud of its cow, goat, and sheep cheeses, which range from the fresh, soft Katiki which tastes like a sharper ricotta, or the very pungent, fungal Kopanisti Mykonou cheese, the latter of which even a stinky cheese lover like me could barely do more than two bites. And don’t forget Greece’s most internationally known staple: yogurt. Full-fat yogurt, thick like whipped cream, topped with Greek honey or unique marmalades (even a strangely caramel grape), is unparalleled.

 

Langoustine pasta

 
As one might imagine for an island, seafood is a staple: fish, octopus, and large prawns (langoustines) are everywhere. Grilled octopus, especially, can be found on almost any restaurant or taverna menu, and it is pretty fantastic! (This coming from someone who isn’t a huge fan of seafood).

 

ruins on the island of Delos

 
But what Mykonos lacks in internal agriculture, it more than makes up for by importing and using the best of its neighbors’ harvests. Mykonos proudly crafts dishes from all over Greece. While the ancient Greeks pioneered international trade (Delos, a small island just west of Mykonos, was the first known duty free port, the Greeks claim), today’s Mykonos imports workers and tourists. Its roughly 200 day tourist season bolsters its year-round population of 5,000-10,000 to nearly 200,000 during peak season (July and August). Most seasonal workers live in Athens or other areas of the mainland during the winter, but others come from outside Greece. 

 

Risotto finds its way from Italy onto many Greek restaurants’ menus

 
Despite the barrage of international imports, the majority of Myconian restaurants serve Greek cuisine with international fusion, rather than uniquely “ethnic” restaurants. So you’ll find sushi and risotto on many menus, but Japanese, Thai, Mexican, and Irish restaurants and bars are fewer than one might expect.

  
Greek wine, also takes menu precedence over its more celebrated French, Italian, Spanish, or German neighbors’ exports. I personally worried a bit, having had a few not so great experiences with Greek wine in the past. My fears were mostly unfounded, as Greece now offers some really outstanding white wines and drinkable red ones. Let me explain what I mean by drinkable: demand for Greek wine has increased dramatically in recent years, so Greek producers release their wines fairly young. I was shocked to drink several 2015 red wines – and the harsh, young mouth on them could benefit from a bit more aging. More on this later!
  
In next week’s post, I’ll share a primer on some of Greece’s best known – or uniquely Greek – dishes. From Greek salad to Tzatziki, Domatokefthedes to loukomades, you won’t want to miss it!