Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

OK, to be clear — I had a hot time last night because it’s just. so. hot.  I mean, it could be worse.  I appreciate the difference between 88°F, which was the high temp yesterday, and 100°F, which is what I was expecting as I planned my trip.  But Athens is one big concrete island (although sometimes it’s marble, rather than concrete — fancy), and being out and about in the afternoons gets pretty uncomfortable.

Just look at all those hard surfaces.  At least I'm standing in the shade.

The entrance to the National Library.  Just look at all those hard surfaces. At least I’m standing in the shade.

Here, everyone must live with the heat rather than fight it.  I have seen many tall, office-block-type buildings with open windows along the top floors.  Can you imagine working in a professional office environment, on the eighth floor, let’s say, with no air conditioning when it’s 88°F outside?  Ugh.

And on the ground, people hug the shade, dab delicately at their brows and carry folding fans that come out whenever they stop moving.

Even the pigeons get hot and tired by midday.

Even the pigeons get hot and tired by midday.

But after two casual dinners, I was determined to find a special restaurant for this evening.  The criteria: not just gyros and souvlaki on order; great reviews; and — most important — a short walk from my hotel.  Did I mention that it’s hot?

I chose I Kriti, a quick jaunt from the hotel and with several rave reviews online.  A nice older man found me wandering back and forth on the street that Google had told me held the restaurant, and showed me that it was actually tucked into an arcade that cut into the building.  Thank goodness; I might still be there if he hadn’t stopped to help me.

Not the best pic, but it shows what "I Kriti" means: see the island shape?  It's my old friend, the island of Crete.

Not the best pic, but it shows what “I Kriti” means: see the island shape? It’s my old friend, the island of Crete.

The family that runs I Kriti, and has done so for 28 years, hails from Crete and cooks in the old Cretan ways, with lots of herbs and spicy touches.  Even though I’m headed to the island itself in a couple days, I was happy to begin eating Cretan a little early.

Mushroom caps with staka -- gorgeous and rich.

Mushroom caps with staka — gorgeous and rich.

I felt that I should try more than one thing, although I knew I’d never eat it all, so I began with mushroom caps and staka.  There is no American equivalent for staka, but I’ll attempt to describe it.  It’s made in a manner similar to a roux, with butter and flour.  Staka is the butterfat from goat’s milk, cooked, with barley flour stirred in at the end.  It’s the rich base to many Cretan goodies, like pilaf and baked goods.  Its creaminess was a fantastic complement to the earthy mushrooms.  The dish was served with the spicy cheese-stuffed tomatoes you can see at the top of the pic.  They were doused in olive oil.  Of course they were!

Vegetarians, sorry for the meat close-up.  But it was really good meat.

Vegetarians, sorry for the meat close-up. But it was really good meat.

I then had the “lamb in the oven”, slow-roasted lamb with potatoes and Cretan greens.  The meat fell off the bone, and the veggies held their own against the richness of the lamb.

This was definitely the best food I’ve had so far on this trip.  And thank goodness the restaurant was slightly cooler than the outside air.  But it was still a hot evening, and I had to eat lightly or risk … regretting it.  But I enjoyed every bite I ate!

It was nice to see that I Kriti had customers -- even at the ridiculously early dinner hour of 7:00 pm!

It was nice to see that I Kriti had customers, even at the ridiculously early dinner hour of 7:00 pm!

I then strolled back to my hotel without getting lost once, and enjoyed my room’s air conditioning while prepping for the next day.  Hot times, indeed.

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