Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blogging not an easy thing to do

I'm trying to take the time to write about my culinary adventures in Santorini but there just doesn't seem to be enough time in the day.

Responding to a tip from the locals, Jon and I took a bus to Akrotiri. Melina's Taverna was on the water, the first taverna on the beach. In Greece, if someone has a taverna, it's not long before a 2nd, a 3rd, a 4th and so on open up and before you know it there is a string of taverna's all competing for the limited customers. But in a country who's main industry is tourism it kind of makes sense.

Melina's is the first taverna. The tables were covered in brilliant lime green table cloths and the chairs were painted in the same fresh colour. It was beautiful against the white building and the stunningly blue sea. The owner, Niko opened this little taverna almost 16 years ago and named it after his first daughter.

Melina's boasts a very traditional menu and claims his food comes from the island, the fish is fresh daily (from the waters your sitting by) and any frozen fish is noted with an * so his customers don't get confused. Wow, claims of food origins and pride in local food exists in the smallest, most remote place in the world.

Jon and I ordered the catch of the day which was Santorini Balls (more like pancakes made with very ripe and delicious red and yellow tomatoes grown on the island). They were amazing! Next came a fava dish. It was more like a hummus made with fava beans grown in Niko's fathers garden. Drizzled with a bit of lemon, it was full of luscious flavour.

Next came a dish Niko claims is his signature dish. It's called egglpant salad but I find the Greeks use the word salad where we would use the word dip, sauce or salsa. The eggplant dish was like an eggplant salsa with garlic, vinegar and onions. It was charred on the barbecue so it had smoky flavours to add to its dimension. This is the most amazing way to eat eggplant I've ever tasted - wow!

Next came the entire red snapper on a platter. Niko had carved it up and removed most of the bones. This is what I live for - fresh fish! It was clean, light and delicious - we at the whole thing!

If you're ever in Santorini, this little taverna that has been written up by Bon Appetite Magazine is worth the bus ride from any place on the island. If you don't know it's there, you'll miss the best Greek meal on the island!

If I have time, I'll share my next day of delicious fun on the island with you....... if not, know I'm having a better time than if I were blogging......

Friday, July 23, 2010

Eating in Santorini Day Three

I come to Santorini for the view – it’s spectacular! There was a time when you could buy a greek salad and beer for one or two dracma, then they joined the European Union and prices went up. Well, I’m in shock how expensive it is to eat in this little, rustic island. Our lunch on day one was 2 Santorini salads, a beer and water came to 32 Euros (translates into more than $50 dollars!).

We tried to have dinner at a restaurant that came highly recommended. Koukoumavlos Restaurant is not far from our apartment, maybe a 2 minute walk. They’re said to have a great chef, but get this. A gourmet burger is 28 Euros, duck burger with fois gras 28 Euros (that’s a whopping $44 for a burger!!!). I looked down the menu, beef carpaccio was 22 Euro ($35), gyros of veal cheeks 20 Euros ($32), pasta Carbonara 25 Euros ($40 for a plate of spaghetti!!!!). Desserts ranged from 12 to 14 Euros each and that’s for dishes of ice cream, chocolate mousse or tiramisu – not exactly exciting stuff. Wine by the glass was anywhere from 10 to 18 Euros a glass ($16 to $28 for a glass of wine!!) and the kicker – a 3 Euro cover charge (about $5).

As I walked around Fira, these prices weren’t uncommon, even the lower end restaurants serving traditional food is charging way too much for what you get. Last night we went to the grocery store and bought everything we needed for a Greek salad – it cost approximately $15. We had a top quality extra virgin olive oil (tasted a few before we bought), amazing feta cheese, fresh, fresh, fresh olives, island ripened tomatoes, chilled cucumbers and a few large shallots that worked in place of a red onion. Oh yes, a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine and we ate like kings.

Today we took a bus to Kamari Beach and the prices were much more reasonable. We ate beachside (Kamari is a black volcanic beach – beautiful) on fresh, fried calamari, marinated octopus, a large plate of tzatziki, beer and more water for 23 Euro ($37). Not bad for 2 for lunch and the quality was quite good.

It’s a pity because Santorini has become a combination of contradictions. Prices for food and accommodation rival the best places in the world, yet the accommodation, food and towns are very primitive. What I mean is the prices have gone up exponentially but the quality of the tourism offering has not………… pity.

Add to that they’ve allowed dozens of late night bars to blast music across the cliff until all hours of the morning and they’ve allowed out of control development that blocks the public view of the most beautiful view in the world.

I still love Santorini, but it may be the last time I come. For the prices I’m paying I could easily explore more sophisticated and equally beautiful destinations where my vacation would be much more comfortable and positively pleasurable.

For now, I’ve figured it out and can now live a little more sensibly in my remaining week here but I have to say my first few days were a shock.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Santorini Day Two

After searching all day yesterday, I finally found a loose, long sleeve, gauze blouse to keep me protected from the sun. Then I bought a paper, sun umbrella, ok maybe that wasn’t the wisest move spending 5 Euro on a paper umbrella that was destroyed by the sheer number of tourists you bump elbows with here.

We had done some unofficial research and identified some of the best restaurants on the island. Tonight we would start our taste testing. We went to Koukouuavolos just to the right of Hotel Atlantis. The prices were shocking. Considering that I ate at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant, MAZE just last week in London England and the prices didn’t come close to these shocking numbers. We left for a nice looking seafood restaurant just down the street for more surprises.

There was only one thing to do until we had these numbers under control and that was to go to Nicholas. It’s a tiny, authentic restaurant in the heart of Fira. It’s communal dining here as people are seated next to each other regardless of them knowing each other. We started off with tzaziki (3 Euros), marinated octopus (11 Euros) and half a carafe of unnamed local white wine (4 Euros). It was chilled, I was hot and we got along all too well.

After dinner we went to Georges place; George is my jeweler. When I come to Santorini, Jon and I always have another date inscribed into wedding bands, the very bands that George made for us over 20 years ago. We had drinks with George, picked up our rings, cleaned and inscribed with 2010, then made our way home about 10 pm. It’s a much quieter night than last; the bars are not as loud.

This morning I got up, opened the shutters and the sun, the sea and cool breezes streamed through the window. This is a glorious view and a wonderful reason for getting up in the morning. It’s a day to take it easy, don’t know if it’s the sun, the heat or the copious amounts of Greek wine I consumed last night, but today is a day to take it easy.

We had our traditional breakfast of Greek yogurt and honey and made our way to the market. The market is just to the left of the main square in Fira. It consists of 2 fishmongers with boxes of fresly caught fish, mostly sardines and some sea bream and 2 vegetable sellers. Fresh food on the island is difficult to come by, the climate is too hot to grow much and by the time other vegetables make it to the island, the heat has wilted them. It’s pretty slim pickings. We looked at the Santorini tiny tomatoes and decide they looked better at the grocery store.

It wasn’t a total disappointment though. We found the village baker and ventured down to the lower level of the street. Here there were racks of freshly baked bread cooling off in the alley and inside they were packaging up bags and bags of baguettes, probably for some of the restaurants just above.

I’ve just heard of a fantastic restaurant in Perivolos Beach called Sea Side at Notos. It’s a bit out of town but I’m thinking the prices will be a little more realistic.

We walked over to the bus station and made note of the schedules for later exploring and inquired about car rentals. We made our way back to the apartment. We had found a really, really great Greek olive oil, some vinegar, salt and pepper. Now we needed the vegetables, olives and feta and our Greek salad would be ready to make in our tiny kichen.

The sun is way too hot and we settle down on our fantastically large and shaded balcony for an afternoon of heat, shade and cool breezes that come off the sea. Today, it’s me, a few jugs of ice cold water, some fresh pistachios from the island and a lot of sleep. Santorini life is pretty slow……. Oh my gosh, my feet have swollen in the heat……….

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Looking for the Best Greek Food

I’m sitting cliffside in the village of Fira in Santorini, Greece. I have a small apartment that hangs over the Santorini cliff. It’s not my first time here, I’ve been many times before so I know the lay of the land. For instance most of the beautiful and affordable hotels, suites and small apartments aren’t widely publicized so the only way to make sure you’re where you want to be is to book one or two nights accommodation, then set out on foot to find the perfect place.

I arrived late last night and did the touristy thing. I went to the square and ate an gyro – to me it’s like the flavours of home – Greek comfort food. I’ve been coming here for almost 25 years and the view, climate and people have remained constant. Usually I come in the off season and it’s quieter. This time it’s July and I don’t like how the village rocks with too many bars blasting music off the cliff and across the sea – it’s a disgrace and it cheapens this place - most beautiful and magical place in the whole world.

Today is a new day and Jon and I walked up the street, picked a nice restaurant from the hundreds that exist on top of the cliff and sat - cliff side again - and had a cool and crisp Santorini salad. It's the only thing to do on this deliciously hot, hot day.

I’ve got some leads on the islands best chefs so in another day or two Jon and I will rent a car and venture out to meet them. Traditional Greek food is not what I’m here for, although that’s all the restaurants here seem to think the tourists want. It’s the new food of Greece, the taste that’s a reflection of who the people are today – sophisticated, brilliant and beautiful.

I'm here for another 10 days so keep in touch and I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A friend of mine is coming to town

It was almost a decade ago when I went to Greece courtesy of the International Olive Oil Council. There was a large group of journalists from around the world but very few from Canada. Every day for the 10-days they held us captive so we could experience the healthy benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. It worked – I felt amazingly great!

But when you spend 10-days in captivity you get to know your fellow culinary colleagues pretty well and that’s when I met Ricardo Larrivee of Ricardo & Friends (Food Network TV).

During our 10-day stay we attended olive lectures, olive oil cooking demos and olive tastings in the ancient part of Athens called the Plaka. We were bused out of the city into the countryside to tour olive groves, cheese factories and little villages. We were divided into small groups to spend a day in the mountains with a family learning to cook the traditional ways – with copious amounts of olive oil. These people with beautiful skin use olive oil as liberally as I drink water.

We were in a tiny little village so remote that they rarely see visitors. In the corner was a group of curious neighbours who came to see the strange visitors who were here to learn to cook.

It was at the end of dinner when we had all eaten an incredible meal and drank their home made wine (and they could drink us weak Canadians under the table any day!) when the trouble began. One of the neighbours wanting to show us another custom; stood up and began to sing, dance and smash plates on the floor.

The host immediately jumped up from her chair and screamed at the plate smasher – it was all Greek to us. As it turned out, she had used her good china for her special guests. She disappeared only to return with a large stack of plain white dishes – the plate smashing began again.

Since Ricardo was the only male in this little group, he was chosen to participate in another ritual – the gun shooting celebration. Outside he was handed a large rifle. It was his first time with a gun in his hands and as you may know, Ricardo is not a large man, so when the rifle kicked back it spun him around and we all hit the floor.

It was last year when Ricardo and I bumped into each other again and this time we kept in touch. So when he decided to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake this year, he called and that’s when I asked him to host a harvest celebration to raise funds for the Niagara Culinary Trail.

On Saturday, August 21 Ricardo and I along with many new friends will dine at one long harvest table in the Kurtz peach orchard on the Niagara Parkway. After Ricardo’s cooking demo, we’ll feast on a 5-course dinner that features peaches and then – a big surprise (I can’t tell anyone!). Get your tickets now ($125/person) by calling Kurtz Orchards at 905.468.2937 and be one of Ricardo’s friends for the evening while supporting Niagara’s local food movement.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A delicious day in Niagara

Niagara’s best cherries are in!

When a farmer calls, I go running like a puppy. Sue Pohorly, farmer and owner of The Fruit Shack in the Village of Virgil called, “the cherries are in”.

On the Pohorly farm there are two giant hoop rows and inside are beautiful cherry trees that bear the big, black, juicy, ultra-sweet cherries at farmers in Niagara don’t grow because they split with the least amount of rain. But the Pohorly’s protect them with their own hoop house so they’re guaranteed to be big and beautiful.

I went running down and sure enough they were on the counter; I wasn’t the only one there for the cherries, the line up was out the door!

The Good Shepherd is back!

As I stood in line I saw freezers stocked with frozen meat; chicken from the Poultry Barn in St Jacobs and beef from Gerber Meats – this is the meat from Franz and Denise Gerber formerly of the Good Shepherd! If you’re a Niagara foodie, The Good Shepherd will need no explaining.

It’s as close as we’re going to get to the Good Shepherd, Sue and Frank Pohorly were standing in the room talking to customers and explaining the quality of their chicken and meat products. It’s barbecue season I thought as I put some incredible looking tenderloin in my basket along with some bone-in chicken breast (I think boneless is next to flavourless!), packed up my cherries and headed home – window open of course, so I could spit my pits.

Once home I began unpacking and found a little brown bag. Sue is known for her amazing butter tarts and inside the brown bag were two of them. Wow, I went outside under the shade of the large maple tree and sat down. I was ready. I sunk my teeth into the overly large tart and the insides oozed out. There were soft raisins, yummy pecans and caramelized bits around to top of the flaky crust. These are the best, but you’ll need to get to The Fruit Shack before noon because there’s never any left after that.

How are you enjoying your summer?