Sunday, August 8, 2010
Santorini, Greece: Who Knew a Meal with a View Could be This Good?
It's safe to say that I've virtually never had a good meal at a place with a view, much less a fantastic view. I was proven wrong in the beautiful city of Santorini in Greece, where the breathtaking views didn't hamper the quality of the food.
Archipelago, a restaurant perched on a hill (as most structures in this hill-y town are) overlooking a deep blue ocean set against the white buildings (see below) was outright excellent.
We got many dishes as we were a party of 12 and I would say most if not all of the dishes were stellar. Everything tasted so fresh and flavorful, including the humble tomato and cucumber in our starter salad. I was glad to see that Greek food wasn't much like the greasy Greek food we encounter in the US, a-la Papa Christo's in LA, etc.
Some of my favorites were the grilled octopus atop a bed of thinly sliced potatoes, the artichokes appetizer, oven-baked flat bread stuffed with tiny cubes of beef, tomato and spices, and lamb medallions stuffed with artichokes and cheese.
The octopus was perfectly cooked without being rubbery or tough. The octopus and potato "napoleon" of sorts (one thing stacked on top of another) was lightly drizzled with olive oil and some lemon and parsley, as well as some bright red beet strips. The chewy texture, soft potatoes and sweetness of the beets were a winning combination.
The artichokes were marinated in some olive oil, herbs and what they called Anthotiro, a local soft cheese that wasn't as strong-flavored as feta. It tasted so fresh and light.
The stuffed flat bread came piping hot, charred at the edges, as if straight out of a brick oven. The meat and tomato stuffing was, again, light without being bland. I could taste the tomato and spices. It came with a small dollup of a bean dip, which the menu curiously called "fava," described as "Santorinian chick pea puree with onion and capers." We also got a whole side of this dip, which wasn't diluted like many of the commercial brands of hummus found here. I could actually taste the chick peas.
The lamb dish was a pleasant surprise. I had ordered it because I had never had a dish like this before. Lamb stuffed with artichokes and cheese, all wrapped in grape leaves. The lamb was extremely juicy, and despite the fact that I'm usually not a big fan of stuffed meat or fish dishes because I consider stuffing a distraction to the main ingredient at hand (lamb in this case), this lamb was almost transformational.
While these were the best dishes in my book, the other dishes weren't too shabby either. Take, for example, the eggplant appetizer, which was baked eggplant in a ceramic pot with some parsley, the ubiquitous extra virgin olive oil and topped with two sweet slices of fresh tomatoes.
The salads were just what the near-100 degree weather called for. Fresh, crisp greens like spinach or romaine lettuce with sun-dried tomatoes and the soft cheese, which -- to my delight -- is added to nearly everything (If anyone knows where I get this cheese in LA, please holla!). I was surprised to see sesame seeds sprinkled on top as I hadn't realized the Greek used sesame seeds as well, which I loved for its addition of toasty flavor.
The tomato, cucumber, green pepper, onion, feta, capers and olive salad was equally good, just less exotic for this neophyte in authentic Greek cuisine.
We also had grilled fish kebab that came with rice and grilled vegetables, which was good but nothing to write home about.
I feel so fortunate that I got to at least taste the tip of the iceberg of Greek cuisine that I had always felt a bit skeptical about.
Although I've never been to Turkey until now, I've always liked Turkish food better than Greek food. Ironically, my first foray into Turkish food in Turkey (albeit in the tourist trap that is Kusadasi near Ephesus) was utterly unremarkable. Some spicy ground beef kebab with rice and grilled whole fish. Ok, but nothing earth.
I look forward to eating well in less tourist towns in Turkey and exploring more that authentic Greek food has to offer.
As a side note, I also discovered Vinsanto, an exquisite dessert wine supposedly only produced in two places in the world -- Santorini and Tuscany in Italy.
I love it when I learn so much about the local country's food and wine that I had no idea about before. Opa!
That's exactly what happened in Italy too. My latest revelations coming soon~