KOUZINA Breeze Cafe

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Restaurant finds are a rare thing in Athens. The kind of places you simply stumble upon that turn out to be great are few and far between. Breeze Café is one such place.
Situated on the lower plaza in the Agia Paraskevi suburb (a place that once was home to Athens’ very first pizzaria), Breeze Café serves forth haute Greek cooking at affordable prices, turned out by one of the city’s most talented young chefs, Gikas Xenakis, who did a stint at the Michelin-starred Spondi. The venue itself might confuse a casual passerby at first. It looks like all the other “all-day” cafes on the strip, with an outer wall of movable glass that opens in summer and a very casual aura. In fact it is open all day, for coffee and snacks, but at night it morphs into a fine dining restaurant. There is a bit of a disconnect between the quality of the food and the energy of the space, but the owners are moving along with some design changes to sync the room and the menu more harmoniously.
Our first plate was a gorgeous “millefeuille” of Portobello  mushrooms and goat’s cheese, stacked over a thin pool of fire-engine red (but sweet) pepper sauce. An ersatz pizza-tart came loaded with whole small roasted tomatoes, prosciutto in billowy folds, boccancini balls and arugula, a peasant dish that went upwardly mobile without losing its soul. I loved the special of the day: squid cut into disks that were meant to look like scallops and did, served over a carrot foam and on two small tasty dollops of roasted eggplant salad. The chef plays with a pan-Mediterranean palette. Paella is on the menu, in spirit if not in form. Here it is made with orzo not Valencia rice, but all the right flavors are there, right down to the think rounds of chorizo that add a land-lubber’s richness to the shrimp and baby squid. It was wonderful. Ditto on a rabbit dish that came deconstructed and rebuilt in two ways: as a fritter, all crunchy and golden on the outside, and as two lobes of tender white rabbit meat served in an orange sauce over soft, comforting, cooked wheat. The ossobuco won me over, too, but for one thing. For some reason, Athenian chefs like to serve this hero’s cut without the bone, losing all sense of drama in its presentation. Xenakis serves the meat, which is meltingly tender, over a bed of polenta. The dish is delicious but its presentation is literally flat.
I loved the acidic, puckish lemon curd tart but could have done without strawberies in January. The tiramisu was topsy-turvy in a martini glass, rich, aristocratic, and velvety.
Breeze Café is a little out of the way for the average visitor in a downtown hotel, but now with the metro stop a few minutes away, it’s easy to get to and well worth it.
Dinner here costs somewhere around 40 euros, most of the time with wine, too. It would be double that if this place were downtown.
Agiou Ioannou 102, Agia Paraskevi
Tel. 210 6009092.
Prices: 35-45 euro per person