Postcard from Athens: Booze-o Ouzo

My fancy night out, and how it ended badly

My sister and I spent five days in Athens last month. This is the story of our one fancy dinner outing, and why at 2 a.m. things got ugly.

Friday night arrived, and we decided to try and eat somewhere special. We looked through some of the ads in the hotel literature, flipped through the expensive restaurants section of our guidebook, and decided to seek out an upscale and hip placed called Pasaj, which was described as having modern Greek food.

The ultimate goal of this meal for me was to get one glass of really good ouzo. Pasaj is tucked down a mall arcade area, so we weren’t right on the street -- not an ideal spot for people- watching.

The d├ęcor certainly suggested “modern” and “upscale,” with a slight nod toward minimalism without being sterile, and the menu was still within our budget. A huge basket of fresh breads arrived, as did a plate of mixed olives. The amount of bread we received could have been enough for dinner on its own.

We started by asking the server for help ordering some Tsipouro, an anise-free ouzo. A small bottle arrived with two high-ball glasses and a small tub of ice. Even on the rocks, the stuff seemed more like vodka than ouzo -- throat-burningly strong and crystalline -- and not to our liking at all. We actually sent it back (we offered to pay for it, but it never showed up on the bill) and got a different small bottle of the more traditional ouzo, which was stronger than I expected, but much smoother and more flavorful.

We ordered two mezes to share: taramousalata, a dense dip made of pureed cod roe, and a trio of small fishes smoked, tinned, and pickled.

The taramousalata, glistening with a top layer of olive oil, came with a plate of hearty sesame breadsticks. More bread. The fishes (smoked sturgeon, anchovies, and a third one that I was unsure of) came with a buttery citrus sauce, scallions, petite diced raw root vegetables, and a few adorning slices of grapefruit and orange.

The dinner was great -- a girls’ night out. But three hours and one giggly stumble back to the hotel later, we made a very bad a decision.

I could have sworn we had learned our lesson the night about getting an after-dinner drink. The problem was not the drinks. The problem was the cocktail nuts.

The night before, we ended up consuming an entire bowl of nuts and spent the next 24 hours lamenting it. I didn’t regret drinking too much. I didn’t regret eating too much bread and olive oil. But I most certainly regretted ending that little binge with a bowlful of high-fat nuts.

In our defense, this wasn’t any peanut-filler cheap mix, but a grand array of dagger-shaped almonds, crunchy hazelnuts, and pistachios still in the shell (okay, there were some peanuts, but not more than 25 percent).

So after eating at Pasaj, getting a little tipsy on ouzo, and feeling reenergize by our walk back to the hotel, we noticed that, hey, the bar’s still open!

We ordered two drinks and when they arrived, so did another bowl of irresistible nuts. We must have pushed the bowl to the edge of the table ten times, declaring, “No really. Don’t let me eat any more of these,” only to shimmy it back within reach again and again.

Sometime around 2 a.m., we made it back to our room. Sometime around 8 a.m., we both admitted that we had not actually puked, but that was subject to change.

Eventually, still a little bit hung over and entirely bloated, we huddled behind my digital camera and flipped through the photos from the night before. I nearly hurled at the sight of the anchovies, and I think my sister dry-heaved at the fish roe spread. And then we both groaned and swore off nuts “for good!” (again).