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Good Meat and Cheap Wine in a Vari Grill House

We finally trekked out of Vouliagmeni (or what we now refer to as Poshland, Greece) to neighboring Vari. Pictures of Vari’s psistarias, or grill houses, so tempted carnivorous Sandeep that we made it a priority to head there early into our stay. Before our journey, I was vegetarian and I avoided wine unless I knew it was good. Our evening in Vari shows how much things have changed since we hit the road.

Vari is affectionately referred to as “cholesterol valley” due to its devotion to meat. The main road is lined with psistarias each spinning whole lambs in the windows. The smell of meat permeates the air in a way that has you wondering whether the smell will wash off. We settled on a casual looking spot that had a few TVs blaring the Euroleague Final Four. At the sight of the empty dining hall, I lamented about the state of the debt crisis. Sandeep reminded me that it was only 7 P.M.  and the Greeks dine late. I took the quiet as an opportunity to befriend the chef and take pictures of the kitchen. The kids took it as a signal to run around an pull the salt shakers off all the tables.

The wine list was longer than the food menu which was all about salad, tzaziki and lamb. At 3 euros for a half liter of house wine, we didn’t debate the wine menu. Crises or not, Greece is expensive and we are taking bargains wherever we find them.

Our waiter gave us a hearty welcome with a complimentary sampler of organ meat wrapped in intestines. “This is what all the Greeks come here for. You must try it!”

Sandeep balked. I picked. Ava chose to demurely ignore the dish. Kayan wholeheartedly ate the entire plate – kidneys, liver and intestinal packaging. It just goes to show that parents should encourage kids to try everything. You never know what will be a hit.

Our main dishes were lamb chops and roast lamb. What arrived at our table as piles of meat left as a cleanly picked graveyard. Certain lamb in Greece graze on thyme fields, thereby marinating as they grow. Morbid in some ways, but delicious in others. Perhaps that is why our lamb tasted so good, even though the waiter assured us that it was cooked in nothing but salt and pepper. In any event, I am blaming the thyme on by all out binging.

There are only a handful of traditional psistarias left in Athens. The grills need space and smoke outlets, so they are not common in populated areas. Athenians therefore head to Vari on weekends for their cholesterol fix. It was 9 P.M. by the time we left, and I was happy to see that, while our heads were in our lamb, the restaurant picked up steam. The tables were full and the wine flowing.

Our excursion to Vari came to 58 euros ($75), including our round trip cab ride. The quality of the meat was on par with some of the best steak houses in New York and the house wine was a perfect complement to the earthy lamb. Personal growth comes in various ways. Tonight, I celebrated making a great meal of meat and cheap wine. We also celebrated Kayan’s new found love for organ meat. Hermes, the Greek god of many trades, including an odd combination of animal husbandry and feasting, would have been proud.

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