Yesterday afternoon, after S and I exercised our right to vote, we decided to go out to dinner. You may notice I use the word afternoon rather than evening referring to dinner, because that's the way things are here in The Netherlands. Most restaurants close their kitchens at around ten o'clock and well, they're empty by nine-thirty anyway. When I first realized this, I was stunned and thought I had moved to a geriatric community rather than an international European city. In Athens, Greece restaurants don't open until nine in the evening. You go out to dinner and you don't come home until one o'clock in the morning. Here though is a different story. The Dutch eat at six o'clock and they are in bed by eleven. How boring, and yet another thing I had to get used to living here.
We were in the mood for Italian so we picked a restaurant not far from our apartment that we haven't been to before, but that we heard through the grapevine that it does great food. I checked out their site and looked elegant and modern, and their menu had a good selection of pasta dishes and entrées. I was kind of excited.
When we got there though, we had another thing coming. First off, I didn't like the ambience of the place. Can't really put my finger on it, perhaps the lighting, the way they'd arranged their tables, it just didn't feel comfortable. Or maybe it was the fact that we were seated at the worst possible table in the restaurant, even though we'd made a reservation. A table right in front of the entrance door, where everyone was bumping onto us and we kept freezing to death by the constant opening and closing of that door.
Moving on, we ordered antipasti for starters that were fairly good, although I don't enjoy seafood like octopus and shrimp on the same plate as prosciutto and mortadella, but that's just me. The wine we had was an overpriced 2007 Chianti that was really nice, right amount of tannins there. Then the main course came, with a delay of 55 minutes! The restaurant had around twelve tables and eight or nine of them had two people sitting at them. How difficult is it to prepare main dishes for that amount of people? We didn't all come at the same time for God's sake! The poor waiter kept apologizing but that actually doesn't matter when you're hungry, does it?
Anyway, I got the veal scallopini with porcini sauce, roast potatoes and braised endive, and S got the pasta with prawns and arugula. Besides the fact that I found a plastic strand in my food that God knows where it came from, the veal was cooked well, the sauce was adequate, but I couldn't find any porcini mushrooms on my plate no matter how hard I looked. The potatoes were bland and not cooked enough, and the endive, even though it was cooked well, it seemed to have been braised in a tomato sauce which has nothing to do with a creamy porcini sauce. Two types of sauces on one plate? C'mon! The pasta dish was nothing special, as S proclaimed. The arugula was too tough, how can that be I have no idea but he kept spitting it into his napkin so that definitely wasn't good.
I have to admit the dessert was satisfactory, but I had a mocha ice cream and ice cream is always satisfactory. S had a créme brulée which I tasted and thought was fine, but he said he have had better. I believed him.
Oh, the highlight of the evening was the complimentary homemade limoncello drinks that were fantastic, but by then it was just too little too late. Our dinner experience was a big disappointment. I gotta tell you, I'm extremely surprised that this restaurant was full and that they were actually turning people away. I'm not gonna name (restaurant) names but I'm also not going there again. I know I'd probably make a rather harsh food critic but hey, I just tell it like it is.
We should've stayed home instead and enjoyed this great food! Greek meatballs (called "keftedakia" in Greek) with fennel seeds and a yoghurt sauce with fresh mint and lemon zest. Does that sound great or what? I assure you it not only sounds great it tastes great as well.
This is another Greek mezes that is a classic. We love meatballs in Greece and there are innumerable combinations for their preparation. The use of different kinds of minced meat like lamb, beef, veal or pork gives different taste and character to the meatballs. The addition of various herbs like mint, parsley or thyme, or the use of spices like cinnamon, allspice and cumin makes meatballs unique and adventurous. They can be eaten on their own, paired with roast or fried potatoes -which is one of my favorite meals-, they can be fried and then cooked in a rich tomato sauce, or served with a simple dipping sauce.
The ones I'm sharing with you here are made with both beef and pork meat which is a perfect combination. The addition of crushed fennel seeds and spices like cinnamon, cloves, ground coriander and cayenne pepper make these meatballs highly aromatic and pungent. They are accompanied by a Greek yoghurt dipping sauce which is both refreshing and luscious, bursting with the fragrance of the fresh mint and the lemon zest, complementing the rich flavors of the meatballs.
This mezes is perfect with ouzo as its aniseed flavor brings out the taste of the fennel seeds in the meatballs. You can also accompany them with white wine like a lovely bottle of Riesling. They're perfect for a dinner party, served as starters, or as part of a buffet, or prepared with a side of French fries and a tomato salad for a family lunch.
Keftedakia me Marathosporous kai Saltsa Giaourtiou-Dyosmou (Greek Spiced Meatballs with Fennel Seeds and a Yoghurt-Mint Dipping Sauce)
Adapted from Myrsini Lambraki
Greeks always choose veal over beef, we don’t particularly enjoy the mature flavor of beef, but you can use either.
Frying these delicious meatballs will fill your house with the smells of Greece. I used olive oil to fry my meatballs but you can substitute with another vegetable oil like sunflower seed oil or corn oil if you want them to be a little lighter.
It's also important that you don't use very fatty meat because the meatballs will be heavy and greasy.
Yield: 40-45 small meatballs / 2 cups yoghurt-mint sauce
250 g minced pork
250 g minced beef or veal
1 large onion, grated
1 medium-sized egg
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup very fine cornmeal
1 Tbsp olive oil plus 1 cup olive oil for frying
for yoghurt-mint sauce
2 cups Greek strained yoghurt like Total
2 Tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp lemon zest, grated
1 Tbsp olive oil
Using a mortar and pestle crush the fennel seeds until they become almost powder.
In a large bowl, place minced beef and pork meat, egg, grated onion, crushed fennel seeds, ground coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne pepper, salt and 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Mix well with your hands for about 10 minutes, until all the ingredients are well blended. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour so that the flavors "blend" and the mixture "matures".
Place the cornmeal in a bowl.
Using your hands, shape into small meatballs and roll them in the cornmeal. Put them in a sieve and shake them around, letting excess cornmeal escape through the sieve and into the bowl.
Heat 1 cup of olive oil in a large skillet on high heat until oil is really hot and put meatballs inside. Immediately turn the heat down to medium and let meatballs fry, turning them over once with tongs, for about 10 minutes or until cooked through and until they have taken a nice golden brown color on the outside.
Remove them from skillet with a slotted spoon and place them on paper towels to drain off excessive fat.
Place the meatballs in a bowl and serve immediately.
for yoghurt-mint sauce
In a bowl, mix yoghurt, chopped mint leaves, grated lemon peel, olive oil and salt with a spoon until the mixture is well blended. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate. You can prepare the sauce one day ahead.
Before serving just stir again with a spoon.
To serve, place meatballs and yogurt sauce in clean bowls. Meatballs must be warm when you serve them. They should be served straight from the frying pan.