One of these days we’ll make a bucket list. And when we do, you can be sure Greece is on it. Sona is infatuated with the lush blue domes and stark white architecture of Santorini, contrasted with the light blue of the sky and sea. In 2010, we were less than 24 hours away from clicking the buy button on flights to Athens, when we definitively found out Sona was pregnant. A happy moment. But also a moment that changed everything, especially how we travel. Having kids made everything better. Even a cardboard box has now taken on magical properties.
We had planned the Greece trip as a child-free couple: cobblestone paved towns with olive oil tastings, treacherous hikes to see lush greenery and history intersect, beautiful Santorini destroyed several times by volcano eruptions, rebuilt just as many times, and still in the path of an active volcano, with its steep cliff-like steps, excursions to tiny Greek islands, like Corfu, where motorbikes are essential to getting around. Our down time would be spent on long haul buses. We would sustain ourselves with Olive oil ice cream. Lamb gyros. Fried Kefalograviera cheese. Instead of that trip, we went on a different trip. A babymoon in the Dominican Republic. But Greece is always on our mind, as we stare longingly at our Olive Oil next to the stovetop, and wonder what might have been. Okay, we don’t do that. But we still have plans to go to Greece!
We live a $2.50 train ride away from New York City, but aside from the ubiquitous gyro, Greek food in the City has never really been something we actively seek out. Mostly, it’s because Greek restaurants are pretty expensive. Fresh seafood and lamb dishes will do that to a price list. And no way are either of us getting a salad, Greek or not, on a date. Not that money is an object when an adjunct instructor and a novelist/freelance journalist go out on a night on the town.
On a random Saturday, Sona surprised me with an afternoon date for a Greek cooking class at Ethos, a fancy pant Greek restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. We are lucky that Sona’s sister lives in New York City, often clearing out her whole schedule to spend time with the kids. Needless to say, the pajama party went into expert level madness mode, starting on Friday night and overflowing into Saturday.
We arrive at the restaurant after a nice, leisurely breezy walk past Rockefeller Center, Sona’s old stomping grounds, then legging it all the way down to First Avenue, right by the crystal clear, blue waters of the East River. No, wait, I’m confusing it for Tahiti again. We enter Ethos, named after the Greek word for character or spirit, a guiding principle. The aesthetics reminds us of Santorini. White walls, white tables, with dark ocean blue tablecloths.
It is bustling with diners, sitting in large cushioned booths, and small tables, dressed in their best Saturday afternoon fineries. I feel like I’m under-dressed in my checkered button-down and black trousers.
Sona immediately lets the head waiter know we belong in this room full of high class eaters, dresser-uppers, and payers:
“We’re here for the cooking class,” she says. “We have a groupon.”
He leads us around the bar and seats us. “The groupon includes wine,” Sona says. I immediately order two glasses of wine. The room quickly fills up. Tables are arranged in clusters, where two other couples sidle next to us. Within a few minutes, we’re chatting away like we’re old friends. About living in tiny studio apartments, trains, weekend schedule, restaurants we’ve been to, restaurants we want to go to. Usual New Yorker conversation.
It was a bit strange not bringing up the kids and having an adult conversation the whole time. The couple sitting at the far end, Dmitry and Stephanie, were here on a first date (polite golf clap) and very recent transplants to the City, so they were bursting with energy that warranted more wine outside of the Groupon allotted budget.
The chef is funny, Greek, and has some great lines, like, “A dirty chef is not a good chef,” as he sets up the station. He gives us basics of Greek cuisine – it all comes down to Olive Oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice, along with some basic lessons in knife skills, and some insightful tips, while starting the Greek Salad:
1) Marinate the onion and cucumber slices helps to tone down the raw onion in the salad (although me and Sona were like, why the hell would anyone want to tone down the delicious flavor of raw onion?)
2) Don’t cut the peppers too finely. This will keep the salad fresh.
3) A Greek salad varies from region to region, but never uses lettuce.
4) The secret to a good Greek salad is the lemon juice and olive oil flavor, which gets more aromatic, vibrant and delicious over time. You can use the leftover juices to marinate other things, like chicken, lamb, or seafood dishes. Or just pack it up in a ziplock bag and put it in the freezer to use at another time.
Sona and Stephanie volunteer for chopping up the vegetables for the Greek Salad. The chef gives them a tasting of the aged olive oil he’s using. I tried a bit too and it was delicious. A little spicy and full of flavor, as opposed to the massive tins of olive oil we buy from C-town.
While this wasn’t as intense or hands on as cooking classes we’ve taken elsewhere, like our cooking honeymoon in Puebla, Bengali food in Kolkatta, or Tibetan Momos in Mcleod Ganj, it was a wonderful introduction to Greek food, a cuisine we know very little about.
In the next two weeks, watch out for some mouthwatering recipes for these two delicious dishes we learned to make: 1) Kotopoulo chicken that lists at $24 on their menu, a free-range organic half roasted chicken with lemon potatoes, oregano, and served with a side of cous-cous. 2) Horiatiki, classic greek salad, about $12 on their menu. It’s freshly cut, made with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, olives and feta with extra virgin olive oil. (I’ll include hyperlinks above once they’re posted).