Grump - Selene – Santorini, Greece
When it comes to restaurants, I can be a bit of a grump. My standard is perfection, and even I can’t meet that standard! Recently my wife and I took a cruise through the azure waters of the Aegean Sea. Now cruiseship food – even if bountiful, colorful, and well-provisioned - can not salve a culinary grump. But every so often we escaped the ship. One of these moments permitted us to explore the beautiful, white-washed island of Santorini, an island formed from the rim of a volcano, which the deity exploded for His own amusement (Santorini sits in a caldera – the collapse of land after a volcanic eruption), the most remarkable spot in the Cyclades. When one comes across a crescent sliver of land so exquisite my thoughts turn to, well, food. (My thoughts also turn to food when viewing a toxic dump or a beautiful woman.)
Still, Santorini is more than brownfields or lithesome legs, it is scenic. Were this insufficient, Santorini is also the home to one of the most astonishing restaurants in all of Greece, and, Michelin not to the contrary, in all the EU. Selene, perched on a cliff in Fira, the main town (in fairness most of Fira is perched on a cliff), opened in 1986 under the guidance of owner George Haziyannakis, who wished to show off the creative nature of Greek cuisine. He succeeded.
Yes, the view is perfection, but it cannot quite compete with the food. One looks down at one’s plate while the clouds and skiffs pass outside. We began with a pair of soups, cold tomato and warm rockfish and langoustine. The cool tomato was perfection in this warm June lunchtime, although had this been our only course I would have noted Selene as a most pleasant boite. The seafood soup was pure cream and sea: impeccably rich and sweet, with ingredients that revealed that locavores have a point.
These soups were followed by an appetizer of local bivalves with lemon foam – molecular cuisine in the isles! – paired with potent seafood tartlets. Here was a chef who was aware of both the standards of modern cuisine and the robust cookery of the Aegean. Again the local clams were salty-fresh and the buttery tarts composed of the finest catch of the wine, dark sea.
But truly it was the main course that was spectacular: that afternoon I fell in love with all things Santorini. As is clear from the photo the ravioli is not the enclosed, Italianate pocket pasta, but rolls of perfectly cooked strips with – again! – blessedly fresh seafood with plump mussels and delightful squid, so perfectly prepared that the word rubbery was banished, and authoritatively and sharply seasoned crayfish and shrimp.
As magnificent as the ravioli was, it was surpassed (just barely!) by the risotto: rice in a fava bean sauce with a juicy roasted rabbit with an evocative rosemary jus: symphonic notes of Greek cuisine, but so expertly prepared that it would have been perfection if prepared by Escoffier. A month later I still dream of this brilliancy.
To close the afternoon, we were served a sturdy baklava with a startling Niotiko cheese ice cream. Not a showy dessert, but with the view appearing again, the dessert served its purpose.
Never have I been so pleasured by the combination of taste and scene. With God as designer and with Selene’s own divine kitchen staff, any grumpiness must quickly be voted off the island.
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