November first: San Francisco is grey, and a little chilly, and the fog swirled around the buildings along California street very prettily this morning, almost as if it was preparing to be photographed (I didn’t). Last night for dinner I made a quick and delicious butternut squash, shiitake mushroom, and orzo dish baked in the oven for 15 minutes, and a simple stir fry of summer squash (the last of it!), spinach and chickpeas, and we ate it properly at the table with candles and a glass of red wine. Tonight I’m planning: baked tofu, mashed sweet potatoes, salad, and roasted cauliflower.
And yet, because I can’t quite let summer go, regardless of what the calendar tells me, this morning I am thinking of Greece, and Spetses — in particular, one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my life.
First off, my brother’s girlfriend Emily loves food. Loves it. (She’s a girl after my own heart). She’s also a fantastic cook who can whip up a steaming platter of sauteed vegetables on a two-burner hot plate while setting the table and opening a bottle of wine all at the same time — and make it seem effortless. So when she kept talking about a taverna by the sea — an almost mythical place, really, because it was only open at certain times on certain days, but no one was sure what times and days those were, and good luck if you bike out there because there’s no guarantee it’ll be open — I knew we where we would eventually end up.
The day we made the trek it was very hot, as all the days were, of course, but it seemed especially hot; we also started out in the very hottest-heat part of the day, when most of the island was — wisely — napping or swimming. It was a 4-mile bike ride past small, wind-blown farms perched on the edge of hillsides, the Mediterranean winking and sparkling to the right, mykanakis zooming by every so often, me grumbling a little and pushing the sweat out of my eyes, with a dusty dirt road part to finish it off.
It really was hot. Once we finally got there we jumped in the water immediately to cool off.
When we sat down to eat, though, all was forgiven. The taverna was open-air — a big deck with tables and seating with an awning over it with a kitchen in back — so we slung our towels over the railing to dry, and settled in. There were just a few dishes on the menu, but they were sublime — everything made there, fresh and simple and perfect.
In addition to the requisite horiataki (salad), we ordered bread, tziki (good and garlicky, as it must be), Mythos beer, chicken and potatoes, a lamb dish, eggplant — and a plate of macaroni (spaghetti) for me.
It doesn’t look like much, but it was the best plate of spaghetti with olive oil-tomatoes-and-garlic-and-cheese I’ve ever eaten. Seriously! Maybe I was just starving after the bike ride, but I think there was more to it than that; it was made very well, with exactly the right balance of olive oil to cheese — not too much, but not too little, either. The cheese was melty and salty and it slipped down so smoothly I couldn’t help but eat it all.
After, we lingered over tiny cups of Greek coffee and slices of cold watermelon, then walked back down to the beach to rest, digest, and visit with a friendly dog before getting back on the bikes to go into town.
It was the perfect summer meal, enjoyed with the perfect company and the perfect view — and I wish I was there today.
Instead, I’ll think about when I’ll make my favorite, very fall-appropriate roasted vegetable soup and how lovely is my new fall coat. But just not quite yet …