Judah at the dinner table, Athens, Greece

We arrived in Greece this morning on the day of Julie's 40th birthday. To give her some respite from the 15 hours of travel with our four year old, I got her a spa afternoon and took the rugrat for the day. We walked the neighborhood called Monastiraki, in the shadow of the Acropolis.

 

Judah snacked on fried potatoes and grilled bread with olive oil "melted butter" to get him to eat it. I'm always amazed at how fresh and flavorful fries are everywhere else but at home. Our potatoes are just a symptom of the industrial farming complex (can you tell I am finally reading Omnivoure's Dilemma?). These are small and dense, with a natural burst of flavor that we try to replicate by soaking our fast food fries in sugar water.

A few local beers got me in stride. The streets were bustling with young Greeks. My first impression was 'that this ain't Italy'! The people are quite stout and hearty - I won't be headturning much here. But I was so pleased to see how unbelievably friendly they are, particularly to children. Our waiters became instant nannies and Judah played with abandon. This is going to be fun.

After Julie returned from her spa, it was clear that jet lag was beating us all down. We decided to dine early, which in Greece means 8:30! We headed out to a recommended spot, Mamacas....

When done right, I love the whitewashed Greek minimalism. Mamacas felt warm and inviting and it had a hum, despite the early hour. A few splashes of color and smells of roasted meats added to the sensual invitation.

The thing about traveling with a four year old is that we only have so much to entertain him. Meals are tough. His tastes lean towards standard American child fare, no matter how much we offer, cajole or entice. The kid loves his pizza, mac-n-cheese and hot dogs. So, when confronted with a long meal of adult food, Judah is indulged with his iPod. I know, we're awful parents! But thanks to Yo Gabba Gabba and Super Why, our kid is happy, we're sane and he is actually learning to read.

We started with a "fava bean puree" that actually arrived yellow in color. First bite confirmed that it was chick peas instead. Scooped with a warm grilled flatbread and topped with fresh, sweet red onions, lemon and perfect olive oil, it was fresh and clean. A great start.

Next was a spicy grilled feta cheese, so distant from the salty mess we put on "Greek" salads, I was confounded. Apparantly there a many more varieties of Feta than I've known and I'm excited to dive in. This preparation was simple and rustic, and even Julie, who shies away from the unhealthy, gobbled it up.

But the dish that floored both of us and signaled that this was going to be a good trip was the spit fired lamb. Low on presentation but off the charts on flavor it tasted like it was butchered today and immediately put on the spit, roasted all day and just reached it's readiness for our carniverous appetites. The meat was earthy and tender with a minimum of seasoning and a burst of sweetness from the fat and skin. I commented that I wish I were one of those people who enjoyed gnawing to the bone, as this was worth savoring. Maybe I'll become one as I did a pretty good job on the shank.

True to the Greek spirit the friendly waiters brought us free drinks and dessert while fawning over Judah. He';s going to be an asset here, although I am writing this in the middle of the night because he cannot sleep. Ever try to teach a kid how to fall back to sleep when he isn't tired? Where's the damn iPod?