Don’t you just hate it when friends recommend a restaurant and the food and/or service turns out to be horrible? How about the feeling when those recommendations turn out to be spot on, how does that work for you? Well, a Facebook recommendations test we did the other day sent us to Peskesi Restaurant, which nearly everybody says is the best in town. is an effort to discover the secrets and enjoy the benefits of the Cretan Diet. Our cuisine is based on pure and natural products of the Cretan land and our aim is to highlight the traditional Cretan aromas and flavors that have been forgotten.
Yesterday Mihaela suddenly tossed on a new skirt and a new pair of high heel shoes and challenged me; “What was that super-duper restaurant our friends suggested the other day?” As per usual, I just grabbed the car keys and hit the door with the comeback, “Peskesi, I’m starved too, let’s check it out.” Located just off the pedestrian zone in Heraklion on Crete, Peskesi benefits from an idyllic location in a restored historical mansion of the notorious Captain Polyxigkis. And everything from the name, which was inspired by a story from the great Nikos Kazantzakis, to the little straw basked our condiments came in showed purpose. But don’t let me get ahead of myself. The secret of any fine restaurant is the food, and we’d heard Peskesi has the best traditional Cretan cuisine anywhere.
The restaurant bills itself as a repository of “traditional ancient culinary traditions”, and after sharing Mihaela’s starter of chickpeas and beetroot with garlic our friends’ recommendations seemed all more substantial. Both Mihaela, mem, and our little boy commented on the palatable aroma and the indescribable richness of taste in the dish. Past experiences on Crete taught us of local chefs’ mastery with these combinations, and Peskesi vies for top honors with my friend Kostas at Goules Tavern near Rethymno. But my starter and little Paul’s main cemented the restaurant’s position in my personal favorite book. As a potato connoisseur since birth (maybe even in past lives), I’ve tasted just about every variation there is, or so I thought. On the Cretan potatoes with staka cheese (something in between butter and feta), when Mihaela watched me eating them she broke her “no carb” died without hesitation. Our son Paul Jules also agreed, the perfectly cooked potatoes were even out of his kid-oriented carbohydrate loving world. A little note here on the magnificent traditional staka, the cheese is almost pure fat and is ultra high in cholesterol. But, back in the days when the average farmer used to walk dozens of kilometers on the mountainsides of Crete, eating staka was a form of energy. So, I mention this only to point out how dangerously delicious this potato topping is. Unbelievable is the only word that describes.
After the starters, I was honestly prepared for the “bad foot” to fall on the Peskesi experience. Then my Kreokakavos (above via my Instagram) arrived in perfect time (I’ll explain momentarily). Plated perfectly on earthenware, the rich dish Minoan dish of stuffed suckling pork with honey and thyme is a real gift for the palate of anyone who loves meat. And while I cannot say the dish won the day over those magic potatoes, I’ve no hesitation recommending it to anyone. Superb comes to mind as I sit here trying to describe it for you. As for Mihaela’s main, as an author of vegetarian cookbooks she’s always compelled to choose from any restaurant’s vegetable offerings. Not a vegetarian fan myself, I’ll admit the aroma that came with the rustic vegetable casserole Mig (nickname for Mihaela) was served was compelling as any meat dish. Overwhelmed by my own dinner I did not sample this Cretan dish, but she assures me it was a solid 8 of 10.
As you can glean from this fairly glowing review, Peskesi is all it’s cracked up to be gastronomically and atmospherically. Where the staff and service are concerned, the restaurant more than met my sometimes excessive criteria. Though I could detect a hint of weariness from the wait staff at the end of a long touristic season, this in no way detracted from their tailored professionalism. I mentioned earlier the “timeliness” of the courses, which is something I am a stickler for anytime we dine. Having been in charge of a good number of restaurant operations in the past, I can certify that the span in between services is crucial. I openly commented to Mihaela as the headwaiter delivered my main; “Take note babe, the span in between each course is perfect.” I guess “error-free” is a good way of explaining what you can expect from this restaurant’s staff. The review would not be complete without mentioning the most extensive Cretan regional wine list I’ve ever seen, and another near perfect facet, the perfect finisher desert (shown below by Mihaela). Something akin to a condensed cinnabon apple pie, this is the only way I know to reflect the spicy sweetness of this mini-desert.
As a web guru of some notoriety, I was also quite pleased to discover the restaurant’s “wiredness”. The “stack” of social profiles you’ll see on their website are all well represented, and whoever is in charge of their Instagram responded instantly to our shares. This is indicative of an operation that is “with it” and professional. It’s also a bit unique for Crete.
Finally, you’ll want to know that the restaurant is situated half indoor, half out. The stone walls and the beautiful geometric patterned ceiling, small water fountains, wooden tables and comfy canvas cushions, serve to make one feel at ease and in good spirits. The aforementioned woven baskets filled with bottles of herbs, salt, and oil and a beautiful lemon tree shading parts of the dining area are also worth mentioning. It’s also important to know that the food served at Peskesi’s is sourced from their 6-hectare, privately owned farm where they grow their fruits and vegetables, and where their free-range animals and poultry only eat organic feed. Add to this quality aspect the fact the prices at the restaurant are dirt cheap, and I don’t see how anybody could walk away disappointed.
As I finish this review off I’m wondering just what the owners at Peskesi can do to improve upon such apparent perfection. I guess it’s fair to suggest that “perfection” is a tough goal, but one restaurants of this caliber must pursue. I took note of a “hint” of weariness for the staff, but Mihaela tells me I’m being too tough there. All I know is, there’s a difference in between clinical perfection and heartwarming “Philoxenia” we’ve so often experienced here on Crete. Somehow, I feel the latter form was missing for our first dinner experience at Peskesi. Other than this “hint” of hospitality failure the only other negative I had, it amounts to nitpicking. An empty beer glass, a sequencing of starters issue, and nothing more. Overall Peskesi is a 9 of 10 dining experience. I must reserve that final point for another Peskesi meal, or for another Crete restaurant that does traditional even better.