Cuisine: New age Cretan cooking from one of Greece's most famous chefs, Christoforos Peskias
Athens Area: Downtown - Kolonaki
Decor: Olive motifs, light furnishings, comfortable
Service: Can be a little intrusive opinionated but overall competent and efficient
Wine list: Cretan and other vintages
Prices: More than you’d think! Around 35-45 euros per person
Address: 6-8 Tsakalof str., Kolonaki, Tel.: 2103604020
Quick Bite: Cretan cuisine, snails and all, goes contemporary in this chain concept that aims to sell (and reap) the benefits of Greece's healthiest regional cooking.
Wednesday night in the middle of December isn’t typically a great night to go on restaurant outings in Athens. Most places are pretty quiet. But we set out to visit friends who had just moved downtown and we wanted quiet. A place to talk and eat at a reasonable price. So, we opted for the new cooking at Dakos.
Dakos, which refers to the round Cretan barley rusk that once took every Athens’ restaurant menu by storm, is a chain concept started by Greece’s pork kings, cold-cut makers Creta Farm, who patented a method for taking some (not as much as one might think, despite the hype) of the fat out of its pork products and replacing it with olive oil. They began the Dakos concept about a year and a half ago, and had worked with several top name chefs before snatching up one of the biggest names of all, Christoforos Peskias, whose restaurant 48 closed its doors despite uncountable accolades.
Dakos is not exactly a fast food restaurant and not exactly a family-dining concept. It aims to be an upscale chain that projects the aura of healthful, casual, but somewhat gourmet dining. There are several outposts. We visited the original one on Tsakalof Street in the heart of Kolonaki.
You walk down a few steps into a large, cavernous space decked out in whites and beiges. An enviably huge wooden table occupies the middle of the room. A mural of a sprawling olive tree decorates one wall. The room is divided by an oversized “fish tank” seemingly filled with gurgling olive oil. Most seating is along the wall on comfortable banquettes.
Peskias has created a menu in various segments, which our waiter promoted with nonstop, intrusive references to his own opinions about what goes best with what. For example, he tried to steer us clear of the cabbage salad with carrots, apples and dill, because the ginger was out of sync with the rest of what we ordered. The salad, by the way, was delicious.
Under the menu heading “trendy small eat [sic],” is a listing of various miniature barley rusks (dakos) with upscale toppings. Some, like the octopus, wild fennel and olive garnish, take their cue from classic Cretan cuisine. Others, like the foie gras and apaki, a traditional Cretan cured pork product also made by Creta Farm, speak of the chef’s penchant for mixing and matching various seemingly incongruous raw ingredients. We tried the eel with honey, which was good but stingy on portion size at 10.90 euro; the salmon tartar with Greek wild mountain tea (6.10 euro), worked very well, with the dako a good foil for the fattiness of the fish. The marinated anchovy topping with the chef’s signature roasted tomatoes and kafkalithres, a Cretan green, was delicious at 5.70 euro. Some of these came as small finger-food bites, others in one 10-cm dako that was not so easy to divide four ways. The pricing is weird. Why 10.90 and not 11 euro, for example?
My dinner mates sampled some of the fish entrees. The salmon with a wild greens crust was well-cooked, tender and crunchy but slightly burnt on top. I wasn’t crazy about the unctuous overcooked vegetable medley that accompanies it. The breaded pan-fried lavraki with lime sauce didn’t work as well for me. The potatoes, supposedly fried in olive oil, are pretty good.
The mix of classics with a twist and more creative fare gives Dako a pretty clear identity. We finished the meal with a wedge of cheesecake made with Cretan cheese and a sweetened dako base. It was a little weighty for its size, but the orange lightens it up.
Dakos is a modern Cretan restaurant that aims to spread the wings of Greece’s most famous regional cuisine. For the most part it works, but without any of the soulfulness that real Cretan cuisine communicates. The sense I get is that it’s a job for Peskias, and hopefully a lucrative one, but it’s not a mission.