2012-07-22

Vassilenas: Thoughts and impressions from a great restaurant in Piraeus

Vassilenas

Address – Area: 72 Etolikou St. (also Aitolikou St.), Piraeus 
Tel: 210-46.12.457
Last Visit: 2012-07-05
Cuisine: Modern Greek, Seafood
Overall Opinion: Very positive.
Methods of payment: MasterCard, Visa, cash
Working Hours: Mon-Sat: 7:00pm-midnight, Sun: 1:00pm-5:30pm
Website:  http://www.vassilenas.gr/
Accessibility: No; at least not in the summer restaurant / terrace.

Indicative prices:
Their current (2012) tasting menu features 10 different items (served in 8 dishes) and costs 30 Euros. Main dishes ordered a la carte cost around 15Euros while appetizers range from 5.5 to 13Euros. You can see their full menu, including the degustation menu in the restaurant's website.


Presentation / Ambience: An old-time Piraeus (and Athens) tradition, which has hosted from Holywood stars to foreign dignitaries on visit to Greece. The current owners belong to the 3rd generation of the Vassilenas family and have managed to not only live up to their family tradition but also take their restaurant to a new level. It is a favorite among foodies and it’s constantly ranked in the Top 10 Athens restaurants by the local Athinorama magazine. I have only discovered it in the last 4 years and I will say it straight and right from the start: Vassilenas probably offers the best value for money among all restaurants in the greater Athens area. It’s not located in a touristy or even popular area (same location since it first opened 90 years ago) but a trip here won’t be something you’ll regret (and it’s not actually hard to find – read below).

During the summer it's operating in an open terrace, with pergolas and plants providing optical cover from the surrounding apartment buildings. Various fans send their much welcome breeze down to you and tables are quite well placed and spaced so you don't feel pressed together with other patrons like in most Greek restaurants. Lighting is a bit dim in some tables, brighter in others. In the winter, the indoor hall is much brighter, with windows facing the narrow, uninspiring Piraeus streets outside, so little curtains are again used as partial optical covers. Perhaps a bit less spacious than the summer terrace.

Dress-code is surprisingly simple, perhaps thanks to the restaurant's humble beginnings as a tavern. I've seen everything from people with professional clothing to summer-chic attire to 20-somethings dressed in jeans or other casual clothing. Just wear something decent that you feel comfortable in.


Food / Drinks: They have pioneered (in Greece) the concept of offering a dégustation menu (a.k.a. tasting menu) since the first days of operation, which probably helps a lot in keeping the bill at very reasonable levels without any compromise of quality. Their dishes are all modern variations of Greek cuisine, with an emphasis on seafood, often employing modern / French culinary techniques. Relax though, as the chef is not here to "experiment" with you or to show off  for the shake of showing off. Dishes often "explode" with smells and tastes and the true nature of their prime ingredients comes through with each bite. On occasion, they have wine pairing menus, in association with Greek wineries. These dates are also posted on their website, but unless you're a big fan of wines I would suggest you try their regular tasting menu which is more  tilted to seafood. Of course, they also have a regular menu a la carte. Some courses that have particularly impressed me this year were the tomato gazpacho with herbs and yogurt, the pumpkin soup, their tender, fresh and tasty grilled calamari, their marinated small fish, and the cod fish filet tempura with beetroots and aioli (don't miss it if it's offered), the pancetta and its accompanying crispy polenta (I can still "taste" this 2 weeks after my last visit!), as well as the deliciously fresh beef burger with beetroot ketchup and celeriac chips. Oh, and I almost forgot their "kritharoto": an original variation of risotto made not with rice but with orzo (kritharaki in Greek) which is rice-shaped pasta, with mushrooms and truffle oil.
Their wine list is medium sized but very good, with emphasis on Greek wines, and the prices again reasonable. Various options for wine by the glass is a big plus. Unfortunately, no beer list worth mentioning.

Service / Ambience: Very good impressions every time we've come here. Waiters are very effective and discrete. A touch of formality occasionally but no sign of snootiness or associated attitudes.
 
Location / Getting there: If you find yourselves at Piraeus Metro Station (terminal station of Metro Line 1, by the port) it’s very easy to either take a taxi or walk (about 20 min. walk) towards Vassilenas. As you get out of the Metro Station, facing the sea, turn right and walk up to the far corner (100m.), then turn left and (having the port on your left hand side) walk another 200m where Aitolikou Street starts. Turn right in Aitolikou St. and walk along for 10minutes, till no. 72. The entrance for the summer terrace is on your right hand side at Vitolion St. and you walk up the stairs.
See map of Athens restaurants at the bottom of this page.



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