My first meal on Santorini was at Taverna Katina on the day I arrived. Nicoletta had recommended the Melanzane Salata (Eggplant Salad), so I chose that and an Arugula Salad with some bread for a light lunch. I also ordered a half bottle (375 ml.) of Sigalas Asyrtiko. Everything was delicious, especially Katina’s eggplant. As I sat at my table along the edge of the harbor, watching the sailboats go by, the stresses of the long trip melted away.
One of the special foods on the island is a purée they call fava, which is made from split yellow peas grown there. It is mild, delicious, and very nutritious, usually served with olive oil, capers, and perhaps chopped onions. I had that dish several times; the first occasion was the first night at the Sunset Cafe in Ammoudi.
The next day, fully-rested, I climbed up the many steps to the top of the cliff, to explore Oia (it is pronounced ee-ah). You can see the torturous path up the hill from where I stayed in Ammoudi:
One of my first stops was the Atlantis Book shop. Now 10 years old, this was started by a small group of young people who had visited Santorini, and thought ‘what the hell, let’s start a bookstore’. It’s a charming place, relatively easy to find, and full of interesting stuff. I met Craig, one of the founders, and he provided me with some local information, along with two books and a flow chart of philosophy. His cat seemed to like me, too.
One of Craig’s most valuable tips was how to find the restaurant Roka. I had read several reviews of restaurants in Oia, and Roka sounded exactly like the kind I would like best. After a few wrong turns down narrow alleys, I eventually found it, only to be crushed when it appeared to be closed. Thinking that it might only be open for dinner, I began to walk away, but another couple came along and seemed certain that it was open. They called into the kitchen from a window down the street, and the proprietress came out to inform us that they did not open for lunch until 1 PM, and it was only 12:35. However, we were welcome to come in and have a glass of wine and wait for the kitchen to begin serving. That turned out to be one of the best decisions of the week.
The deck along the back side of the restaurant was airy and lovely, looking down toward the sea on the east side of the island. Flowers and vines, and lattice work overhead protected us from the sun. And the food and wine were delicious. I ordered an eggplant dish, fried first, then baked with tomato sauce (wonderful herbs and spices in it) and feta. A glass of Argyros red wine, and I was in heaven.
As more people came into the restaurant inside and out, a young Indian couple from Sacramento who were on their honeymoon sat at the next table. We started talking and they generously shared their food and recently-gained knowledge of dining in the area with me. One of the must-have dishes at Roka which they insisted I order was the ‘green pies’. These are half moon ravioli with more of a pastry-type crust, filled with local wild greens. I was too full to eat another dish, so I ordered it to go, and ate it for supper that night. They were absolutely right, one of the best dishes I ever had.
Then on Saturday Thannasi and I toured the island. We had a simple lunch at a hilltop restaurant and shop owned by Santo Wines, and then visited two wineries for visiting and tasting — Argyros and Sigalas. But first he gave me some closeup lessons in Santorini viticulture. Because of little rain and hot sun, along with strong winds from the sea, most of the grapes are grown low to the ground, not up on wires. The deep roots are trained in a circular manner at ground level, to form a basket in which the grapes can be placed to protect them from the wind and sun. The soil which is volcanic in origin and has ash on top, will hold the moisture it receives from the fogs in August. He scraped away some ash to show me.
With our son Aaron growing and making wine in arid Arizona, I immediately shared with him these practices and seeded the idea of a future trip here together.
A small, family-run operation for well over 100 years, Argyros winery may be the best on the island in my opinion. The people were so hospitable and the wines so good, that this was one of my favorite tastings anywhere. I especially liked the Estate Asyrtiko (80% in stainless steel vats, 20% in French oak for 6 months), Atlantis Red, and the Vinsanto 12 years barrel aged wines. The Vinsanto is stunning; I bought one to bring home.
Domaine Sigalas in Oia was the other winery we visited. Their wines are always good, and they have a lovely outdoor patio at the edge of the vineyard where they serve food and wine, so we finished the day there with an excellent meal. The fava purée (with both caper buds and caper leaves in it) was the best I had during my visit, and the eggplant and salad dishes were superb.
This post is long enough that I will end here, and add part 2 in the next one, to complete my culinary adventures on Santorini.