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what to eat & where to stay


HOTELS
Hotel Grande Bretagne
Grand Resort Lagonissi
Belvedere Hotel
Zannos Melathron
Katikies
La Maltese


RESTAURANTS
Apla Aristera-Dexia
Hytra
Matsuhisa Mykonos
Nammos
Aqua Taverna
Taverna at Agios Sostis
Zannos Melathron
Katikies Gourmet Restaurant

CHEFS recommend
Varoulko
48 The Restaurant
Spondi
Daniele
La Maison De Katrine
1800 Restaurant
Koukoumavlos

Reserve your table online!
By Amy Tarr

I have always enjoyed eating Greek food, or I should say, the Greek food that I have become familiar with in restaurants and homes in America - souvlaki, spanakopita, moussaka, baklava, and generally anything containing Kalamata olives or feta cheese. This summer, I had an opportunity to visit Greece shortly after the Olympic Games. While there I experienced some of the dream hotels and resorts in Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini, along with their culinary offerings.

As I prepared for my trip, I imagined that I was headed on a journey to experience the sweet ambrosia of the gods. It would be a spiritual awakening to taste the country’s traditional foods and connect with a culture rooted in ancient history, mythology, and philosophy. I would have tried hemlock had it been offered to me. Instead, I tasted Italian food, Japanese food, and French food, with a few morsels of Greek food tossed in. Most often, I tasted “Mediterranean” food, a term which never bothered me at home, but which irked me to no end throughout my travels.

With Greece’s successful hosting of the 2004 Olympics, the country’s restaurant and hospitality industry has proven that they can accommodate travelers from all parts of the world. The Greeks are a warm people who gladly speak English as soon as they recognize your foreign status. This is not terribly surprising since the country’s major source of revenue is tourism, particularly on the islands. But in terms of restaurants, what makes Greece an attractive tourist destination is precisely what prevents the country from putting forth a strong national culinary identity. Chefs and restaurateurs work tirelessly to give visitors familiar tastes, instead of giving them a taste of Greece. Most of the hotels and restaurants I experienced seemed particularly committed to this philosophy.

There were some notable exceptions, of course. I was pleased to experience several exceptional restaurants that serve modern renditions of Greek cuisine. Apla Aristera-Dexia in Athens, is one such restaurant. The trendy eatery specializes in a variety of small plates or mezzedes, each achieving a delicate balance of flavors and textures. Among several notable dishes I enjoyed was a plate of thinly sliced grilled eggplant rolled up with shrimp and tomatoes and then stewed in moscato, delivering a pleasant combination of sweet, tangy, and smoky tastes.

At Hytra, the newest restaurant at the Grand Resort Lagonissi outside of Athens, Chef Yiannis Baxevannis’s influence is French master Marc Veyrat, but his dishes are distinctly Greek. Baxevannis forages the countryside for wild herbs and mushrooms for his dishes. The night I dined there, his precious mushrooms showed up in a shot of soup topped with creamy foam, along with a ceramic spoon filled with delicate sea urchin – meant to be tasted in between sips of soup. Restaurants like Apla Aristera-Dexia and Hytra, located mostly in Athens, demonstrate that not only does Greek food have a past, but it also has a future. What many of the other restaurants lacked in terms of Greek identity, they made up for in romantic views. It seemed like every meal was served with a whopping side of it. What’s not to love about that?

While I took in the most spectacular views of the bluest waters imaginable, lounged around mesmerizing infinity-edge pools, and slept on the highest thread-count sheets known to mankind, overall I was somewhat disappointed by my first visit to Greece in terms of the food. I think Nektarios Iskas and Christos Athanasiades, the head chefs for all of the restaurants at the Grand Resort Lagonissi outside of Athens, hit upon the issue when they informed me that the Greek cuisine of the islands is vastly different from the cuisine of the northern region of the country, and that, to truly grasp and appreciate Greek cuisine, I would have to travel throughout the country (and, I suspect, off the tourist-trodden path.) Most likely I would have to forego all the trappings of the luxury resorts and spas – the Bulgari bath amenities and the high definition TVs - for a more honest taste of Greece’s cooking. In a nutshell, I traveled around Greece as a tourist, and so I lived and ate like a tourist.
While I had many “fine” meals, they often lacked authenticity. I felt like chefs were trying to impress me with their expertise and knowledge of French, Italian and Asian techniques and dishes, rather than their own native cuisine.

There were also a few highly recommended restaurants that I was unable to visit during my limited time. For example, Varoulko, the only Greek restaurant in Athens with a Michelin star, was closed for renovation while I was there. It’s definitely on my list for the next trip, along with a half dozen or so other places that the chefs I met along the way recommended to me. Though not without some disappointment, my first visit to Greece provided a taste sufficient to whet my appetite and convince me to return to further investigate the rich culinary landscape.

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HOTELS

ATHENS

Hotel Grande Bretagne
Constitution Square
105 63-Athens
Phone: 30-210-333-0000
Fax: 30-210-322-8034

I slept like a king in the Hotel Grande Bretagne, a former royal palace and landmark building situated in the heart of Athens. The property was built in 1862 and has hosted politicians, diplomats, famous movie stars and VIPs from all over the world. Having completed a $100 million renovation in time for the 2004 Olympics, the Grande Bretagne has been restored to its former grandeur and stands elegantly overlooking the Syntagma (Constitution Square) in Athens. Operating under “The Luxury Collection” brand of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, the hotel’s opulent warmth is communicated through the dominant colors of red and yellow. Luxurious rooms are appointed with classical mahogany furniture and elegant drapes, regal marble bathrooms, plus the softest bed linens, towels and robes imaginable. Service is formal and professional throughout the hotel.

  • Rooms: 321 rooms
  • Rates: 215 euros – 4,250 euros. Click here for currency converter.
  • Credit Cards: AMEX, Diners, MasterCard, Visa, JCB
  • What to Do: Have cocktails on the roof and take in the panoramic view of Athens at night, featuring a breathtaking view of the Parthenon - all aglow

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Grand Resort Lagonissi
40th km Athens-Sounion, 190 10 Lagonissi, Attiki Greece
Phone: 30 22910 76000
Fax: 30 22910 24514

Located 40 kilometers from the center of Athens, Lagonissi is a 72-acre private resort spread out along a small peninsula on the Aegean Sea. Every spot affords a breathtaking view of legendary blue waters. Accommodations are ranked among five clubs. The Comfort Club is the most modest level – its rooms are located in the main building of the hotel. In addition to views of the sea, key features of these accommodations include 24-hour room service, twice daily housekeeping, satellite TV, marble-lined bathroom and terrycloth bathrobes and slippers. The Premium Club hosts guests in private bungalows – these suites include spacious baths, plasma screen TVs, and electronic controls of curtains and thermostat. The best feature of the bungalows is a private balcony overlooking the sea, with personal access to the beach, lounges and umbrellas. Accommodations for the Grand Sports Club, Exclusive Club and Platinum Club are even more lavish in proportion to the rates!

Dining options at Lagonissi appeal to guests from all over the world, with a range of tastes. In addition to Aphrodite, the hotel’s main dining room and banquet facility, there is also Ouzeri, a traditional Greek taverna serving specialties like eggplant salad, lightly fried baby squid, and grilled octopus; Captain’s House, an Italian restaurant for fine dining that offers homemade pastas and other classic dishes; Mediterraneo, a casual Mediterranean restaurant on the beach for light snacks; Kohylia, a Polynesian restaurant in a vibrant and trendy atmosphere, and Hytra, the latest restaurant at the resort, where noted Greek Chef Yiannis Baxevannis translates his successful establishment in Athens to this nearby paradise. The fish served throughout the resort come straight out of the surrounding waters, courtesy of local fishermen who dock their boats right on the resort. Bars and nightlife opportunities also abound here. In addition to gorgeous beaches and pools, the facility includes tennis courts, mini golf and two spas. In short, Lagonissi is a fully loaded spot that will enchant you for days without any need to leave.

  • Rooms: 290 rooms and suites
  • Rates: 350 to 25,000 euros. Click here for currency converter.
  • Included: Extensive buffet breakfast, Champagne and fruit upon arrival, bathrobes and slippers, Bulgari bath amenities
  • Credit Cards: AMEX, MasterCard, Visa and Diners Club
  • What to Do: Have a moveable feast like I did, working your way from the Ouzeri to the Captain’s House, to Kohylia, and finally to Hytra

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MYKONOS


Belvedere Hotel
84 600 Mykonos
Phone: 30 2289 025 122
Fax: 30 2289 025 126

There isn’t a hotel more happening on Mykonos than the Belvedere, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Owned by the Ioannidis family (brothers Tasos and Nikolas run the operation), the hotel and guestrooms are designed in the Cycladic island style, featuring white marble, wood, steel, rocks, sand, rope peddles, and sail fabrics. Rooms and suites are light and airy, each with a balcony or terrace. Special room amenities include a cordless phone which can be used within all hotel premises and a satellite flat screen TV. All of the action centers around the hotel’s swimming pool, which pulsates with the hippest club music and the most beautiful jetsetters in town. Life can’t get better than having a restaurant from Nobu Matsuhisa in your backyard (in operation from May until the end of September).

  • Rooms: 39 rooms and 8 suites
  • Rates: 155 to 620 euros. Click here for currency converter.
  • Included: Buffet breakfast, fruit plate upon arrival, bathrobes and slippers
  • Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club, American Express
  • What to do: Lounge by the pool all day long, sipping signature cocktails from Matsuhisa Mykonos

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SANTORINI


Zannos Melathron
Pyrgos, 84701, Santorini
Phone: 30 22860 28220
Fax: 30 22860 28229

Zannos is the only Relais and Chateaux property in Santorini and is located at the top of Pyrgos village, a quiet and remote part of the island. Built in 1885, the hotel is the former home of a captain’s daughter. Legend has it that she was so unattractive that her father built her a mansion to attract suitors. Arriving at the top of the hill via a friendly donkey, I was immediately whisked away into a beautifully furnished 19th Century sitting room, with a welcoming and refreshing glass of Champagne. With its 9 spacious suites, Zannos Melathron is the place to go for total relaxation and serenity in Santorini. Every suite is decorated differently, with antique furniture and fabrics. Notable features include bath amenities from Hermes and a mini wine cellar bar. The staff is small but extremely personable and attentive, led by the gracious manager Kleovoulos Deligianis. Don’t miss dinner, expertly prepared by Chef Voytek Pluteski (see description under Restaurants).

  • Rooms: 9 suites
  • Rates: 360 to 970 euros. Click here for currency converter.
  • Included: American breakfast, bottle of wine and fruit basket upon arrival, bathrobes, slippers, round-trip transfer upon arrival and departure to airport or port
  • Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express
  • What to do: Arrange a wine tasting in the hotel’s wine cave, and sample Santorini’s finest offerings

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Katikies

Oia (Ia), 84702, Santorini
Phone: 30 22860 71401

Katikies means “residences” in Greek, and every guest enjoys their own private cottage at this exclusive hotel set high on a cliff. A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the hotel appears to be a vertical labyrinth of classic Aegean structures, painted bright white, connected by endless steps and bridges. I got plenty of exercise walking up and down the stairs, and plenty more relaxation in the two swimming pools and open-air jacuzzi. Rooms are furnished with an eclectic mix of charming island antiques and more modern touches (as in the leopard print wastebaskets and tissue boxes). All suites and rooms have a private balcony for taking in the exquisite views of the caldera and for enjoying breakfast al fresco. Service is extremely friendly and professional throughout the property. There are a number of dining options including the casual Pool Restaurant Kirini, the White Cave Restaurant featuring traditional Greek food, and the Katikies Gourmet Restaurant, serving Mediterranean specialties (see description under Restaurants). Katikies is an ideal spot for sophisticated travelers. Note that children under the age of 13 years are not permitted.

  • Rooms: 23
  • Rates: 225 to 1,150 euros. Click here for currency converter.
  • Included: Champagne American breakfast, wine and fruits upon arrival, bathrobes, slippers and Bulgari bath amenities
  • Credit Cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express
  • What to do: Bask in the infinity edge pool overlooking the caldera basin and then sink into a giant frozen specialty cocktail

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La Maltese

Imerovigli, 84700, Santorini
Phone: 30 22860 24701

La Maltese is a neoclassical mansion located at the highest point of the caldera in Santorini. With its mesmerizing views of the sea, it is the ideal spot on the island for a wedding or reception (and honeymoon). La Maltese currently has 2 bedrooms that are rented together, but the property is expanding and starting in spring 2005 it will have 9 rooms, 4 of which can be rented together as a private villa. The property features a Jacuzzi and steam room, a grand salon and a verandah overlooking Skaras, the first city of Santorini (and now mostly below sea level). There is a private chef on staff at all times.

  • Rooms: 2 rooms
  • Included: Full breakfast served at the lounge or on the verandah
  • Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club, American Express
  • What to do: Invite 100 people to your private villa for a spectacular party

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RESTAURANTS


ATHENS


Apla Aristera-Dexia

Andronikou 3, Athens 118 54
Phone: 30 210 342 2380

Translated as “Simple Right-Left,” this restaurant, set in a former warehouse-turned gallery in the New York City equivalent of the ultra-trendy Meatpacking District, presents itself as the downscale, summertime version of Aristera-Dexia, one of Athens’ gourmet modern Greek restaurants. The laid-back waiters are all clad in white tee-shirts, and you’re likely to find scooter helmets parked on the ground next to the hip clientele. The food is simply delicious, and there is no mistaking that you’re getting Greek food here, although it is not the Greek food that anyone’s grandma is making at home. Small plates of meticulously prepared Greek delicacies are accented by fresh herbs that are grown in the garden along the perimeter of the outdoor restaurant. Chef Andreas Lagos is a chef to watch. The 23-year-old skillfully holds down the fort for executive chef Chrysanthos Karamolengos, who recently opened an Aristera-Dexia outpost in the suburban town of Ekali.

  • Recommended Dishes:
    Octopus Salad with Tomato Sauce, Onions and Olives
    Thin, Grilled Eggplant with Shrimp, and Tomatoes Stewed in Moscato
    Lamb Kebab with Tomato Paste Dressing

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Hytra at the Grand Resort Lagonissi

40th km Athens-Sounion, 190 10 Lagonissi, Attiki Greece
Phone: 30 22910 76000
Fax: 30 22910 24514

Awaiting its final home at the Grand Resort Lagonissi, this haute Greek cuisine currently is served for dinner at the spot of the Mediterraneo – a casual beach café. Hytra is destined to become Lagonissi’s finest dining facility. Chef Yiannis Baxevannis, influenced by masters like Marc Veyrat, forages throughout the Greek countryside in search of wild herbs that are usually overlooked. Yiannis says he’s inspired by little old ladies, but there is nothing old about his progressive cuisine that clearly reflects a modern sensibility. A shot of wild mushroom soup topped with a creamy foam, comes with a ceramic spoon filled with delicate sea urchin – meant to be taken in between sips of soup. A fricassee of sea bass with peanuts and black eyed peas was simple but balanced in its unusual flavors. My personal favorite were the candied orange beignets, served with chocolate chips and confectioner’s sugar. The chips melted and oozed over the lightly fried oranges which had been stewed in sugar for five days.

  • Recommended Dishes:
    Wild Mushroom Soup
    Fricassee of Sea Bass with Peanuts and Black Eyed Peas
    Candied Orange Beignets

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MYKONOS


Matsuhisa Mykonos

At the Hotel Belvedere
84 600 Mykonos
Phone: 30 2289 025 122
Fax: 30 2289 025 126

Arguably the finest meal to be had in Mykonos is the farthest thing from Greek food imaginable. Matsuhisa Mykonos is only open from May until the end of September, so plan your trip accordingly. The atmosphere at Matsuhisa is strictly Greek chic- the airy restaurant is an extension of the Belvedere Hotel - radiating cool vibrations every which way. You can order off the menu a la carte, but for a truly fabulous experience, sit back and try the Omakase – chef’s choice tasting menu. English chef Matt Hoyne executes Nobu’s menu with precision. (Hoyne has been working for Nobu for over 5 years, coming most recently from Nobu London, and next headed to New York to open Nobu’s new midtown restaurant.) Be sure to start with a signature cocktail – perhaps a Saketini or Yamamomo Royal (Ume Shu, Yamamomo and Veuve Clicquot)

  • Recommended Dishes:
    Seabass and Sweet Shrimp Tiradito with Uni and Yuzu Dressing
    Grilled Yellowtail with Wakame, Karashi and Miso Sauce
    Braised Beef Fillet with Shiitakes and Gorodare Sauce

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Aqua Taverna

Little Venice, Mykonos
Phone: 30-22890-26083

Aqua is a fitting name for this Italian restaurant set on the shoreline of Little Venice. The proprietor is from Rome, and virtually all of the menu items are imported from Italy. The menu is simple but authentic. Pastas are cooked perfectly al dente, and the flavors of each dish are uncomplicated, but well balanced. This the ideal spot for a romantic dinner, complete with the sounds of the sea crashing on the shore and the moon beams reflecting on the water.

  • Recommended Dishes:
    Bresaola with Sun Dried Tomatoes
    Spaghetti with Lemon, Olive Oil and Parmigiano Reggiano
    Millefeuille with Marsala Cream and Caramelized Oranges

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Taverna at Agios Sostis, Mykonos

This gem of a taverna has no name or telephone number, but it’s easy to find: rent a car or scooter and follow a map outside of the city center toward Agios Sostis, one of Mykonos’ most pristine beaches. You can’t miss the smells emanating from the little taverna just beside the church. The establishment got electricity three years ago, but even so, it only operates from 1-6 pm for lunch only. The restaurant consists of an outdoor brick oven and a patio under a glorious shade tree, plus a small enclosed building with just enough room for a kitchen, a display case, and a commode. Diners can choose from grilled marinated pork chops, chicken cutlets, calamari, octopus, and prawns, plus a variety of homemade salads ranging from artichokes dressed in a tangy lemon-mustard vinaigrette to tabbouleh, corn salad, and black eyed peas with herbs. If the patio is crowded, wait a few minutes outside to take in the view. Before you know it, a table will be ready. Wines are served in charming copper pitchers and poured into mismatched tumblers and stemware, evocative of a rustic lifestyle, even if the food is somewhat overpriced.

  • Recommended Dishes:
    Grilled Marinated Pork Chop
    Black-eyed Pea Salad
    Marinated Artichoke Salad

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Nammos

Psarou Beach, Mykonos
Phone: 30-22890-22440

The atmosphere is casual elegant at this beachfront restaurant, billed as one of the fine dining establishments in Mykonos. Nammos offers a mix of Greek and Italian specialties, with the occasional Arabic dish tossed in for good measure. Ask for a table overlooking the water and soak up the moonlight. Then tuck into a satisfying plate of Mykonian meatballs – the lightest meatballs you’ve ever tasted - deep fried and scented with fresh oregano.

  • Recommended Dishes:
    Mykonian Meatballs
    Marinated Anchovies
    Risotto Nammos

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SANTORINI


Zannos Melathron

Pyrgos, 84701, Santorini
Phone: 30 22860 28220
Fax: 30 22860 28229

High up on the hill in the village of Pyrgos, the restaurant at the Zannos Melathron Hotel (a Relais and Chateaux property) offers a classical French menu reinterpreted with seasonal Greek products and specialties. Chef Voytek Pluteski trained as a chef in Poland before coming to Greece almost 20 years ago to cook. After a turn at Aristera-Dexia in Athens four years ago, Pluteski came to Zannos Melathron, where he playfully fuses the continental and Greek cuisines that he has mastered. Delicate slices of foie gras are served with red lentils from Macedonia drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Baklava shows up not as a cloyingly sweet dessert but in the form of a savory pastry filled with celery root and almonds and served as an accompaniment to the crown of lamb. An après-diner spoonful of sweet stewed Santorini tomatoes signifies the traditional hospitality of the hotel and restaurant.

  • Recommended Dishes:
    Foie Gras with Lentils from Macedonia
    Crown of Lamb with Petit Farci De Courgette and Celery Baklava
    Two Shots of Cremacota (flavors vary)

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Katikies Gourmet Restaurant

Oia (Ia), 84702, Santorini
Phone: 30 22860 71401
Fax: 30 22860 71129

There are only four tables at this exclusive restaurant located at Katikies, which gives preferential treatment to guests staying at the hotel. The view of the Caldera at night, framed by the white-washed stones of the hotel, is one of the most romantic vistas in Santorini. The evening gets even better when chef Ilias Taousanis’s first course arrives. This 29-year-old chef is skilled beyond his years. Each plate is a gorgeous piece of art, visually stunning, and almost a shame to eat. But eat, you must, his delicately balanced Mediterranean dishes based on local Santorini produce, as in the perfectly al dente risotto with three kinds of tomatoes and aged Parmigiano flakes. Save room for dessert, in particular the chocolate pyramid - after getting over the guilt of pillaging one of the wonders of the world, you’ll savor the pure Valrhona chocolate mousse inside.

  • Recommended Dishes:
    Salad of Langoustine and Aubergine Canneloni
    Risotto with Three Tomatoes
    Chocolate Pyramid

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THE CHEFS RECOMMEND...

While I couldn’t make it to every top restaurant in Athens, Mykonos and Santorini, the chefs I met along the way had these noteworthy places to recommend.

ATHENS

Varoulko
14 Deligiorgi, Piraeus
Phone: 48 210 4112 043

  • Chef Lefteris Lazarou is considered by many of his peers to be Greece’s best chef. Currently he is the only Michelin-starred Greek chef in Athens.

48 The Restaurant
Armatolon & Klefton 48 210 6411 082

  • Chef Christoforos Peskias takes a philosophical approach to modern Greek cuisine.
Spondi
5 Pyrronos
Phone: 48 210 7520 658
  • Considered one of the best French-Mediterranean restaurants in Greece, Spondi is favored by locals and tourists alike.

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MYKONOS

I ran into Nobu while staying at the Belvedere and asked him for his favorite restaurants on the island. Here are his picks:

Daniele
at Basoula
Phone: 3022890 71513

  • An Italian restaurant outside of Mykonos Town, on the road toward Ano Mera

La Maison De Katrine's
Matoyianni 84600
Phone: 30 22890 22169

  • Greek food is served with a French accent at this popular spot, not to be confused with Katrine’s Bar

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SANTORINI

Chef Ilias Taousanis of Katikies Gourmet Restaurant recommended these Santorinian eateries:

1800 Restaurant
Ia, 84702
Phone: 30 22860 71485

  • Located in a 19th Century mansion, formerly a captain’s house, this Slow Food restaurant serves creative Mediterranean cuisine using local Santorini products.

Koukoumavlos
Fira, 84700
Phone: 30 22860 23807

  • Chef Nikos Pouliassis serves his version of Mediterranean fusion in this Fira restaurant that boasts impressive views of the caldera.

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October 2011

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   Published: January 2005
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