Today I was surprised. We were all surprised. It was one of those days where you stumble across something lovely and want to savor it, respect it, pay homage to it. I suppose writing this blog is the best I can do to honor our meal at To Nero Tis Agapis (The Water of Love) restaurant on the island of Spetses, Greece.
We planned to rent bikes and ride until it started to rain and then find somewhere for lunch. The rain held back and we made it a quarter of the way around the island and faced the decision: press on and take a chance of no more restaurants and possible rain, or turn back and eat. We decided to pack a lunch for a long ride tomorrow, since the weather forecast was more forgiving and find somewhere to eat lunch now.
I had a place stuck in my head that we had passed 10 or 15 minutes earlier. It was perched over the sea and had a white-linen elegance top to bottom, without feeling pretentious. It was totally empty.
I often judge a restaurant by the number of people inside. If it’s good, the locals will be eating there. But this was 2pm on a Tuesday in a shoulder season on an upscale tourist island. No matter, it was about to start raining and the place looked fine.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am really amazed by Greek hospitality. We have still yet to enjoy a meal without receiving something on the house. It must be a national ploy to justify higher costs by making visitors think they are getting something for free. Still, I love it! The people really take time to make you feel welcome, play with our son Judah and create an experience. Good for you, Greece.
Here we were welcomed, seated and treated to a warm basket of bread and an amous bouche of raw sardine in olive oil with parsley. The young waitress, originally from Athens, with perfect English, immediately offered suggestions. Have you tried this traditional dish or that type of fish? She had Julie and I hooked, as we love to get suggestions and let someone else do the ordering. This was our chance to let go and try some new things. We were in her hands.
She started us off with something so wonderful it was shocking how fast it went down. As you can see by the photo there was an ample sized plate of “Taramosalata”, a dip of fish roe, common to the region, but new to me. It was lightly fishy, but mostly creamy and fluffy and savory – oh my. We scooped and scooped with warm bread until I was dredging the plate for stragglers. Really, I was not expecting this and it started off this meal off very right.
Next she brought us some baked cheese with tomatoes and herbs. Clean and simple, filled with flavor and a sweet crust on the cheese. This was followed by our first foray into octopus in Greece. We both have mixed feelings about this sea-critter, as it universally seems chewy, but is tasty enough and seemingly a darling to foodies. Here, they balanced the chewiness by drying and then grilling it until slightly crispy. The dish was elevated with some grilled local mushrooms, similar to chanterelles, and tiny pearl onions, all drizzled with a fine balsamic reduction.
For our main course we were offered a choice of fresh fish, just off the boat. Interestingly, on the Greek Islands, most of the fish is frozen, which must be indicated on the menu, by law. Fresh fish is very seasonal and a mixed bag. Luckily, The Water of Love is devoted to seasonality and they keep up with local fishermen. Today we were offered cod and red mullet. We opted for the cod. It was prepared flash fried, whole. Upon piercing the skin, the flaky snow white flesh burst through. I drizzled mine with lemon, olive oil and pepper. Simple & simply perfect – perhaps the best piece of cod I’ve ever had.
For dessert we were served bakhlavah, fillo pastry with chopped nuts and honey and halvas, a semolina cake. Both were subtly sweet though I prefer the flakiness and nuttiness of bakhlavah. Of course they were on-the-house!
We spent a while chatting with our waitress, reveling in the fact that the seasonal crowds were still weeks away and we were their only guests. The rain subsided and we hopped back on our bikes filled with a bit of smugness in knowing that we just had an experience. Maybe it was a special occasion for the chef to step up, or maybe every meal at The Water of Love is this good. Regardless, unless you take the trip to Spetses and venture out of the main port to seek out this tiny enclave, you’ll just have to trust me.