November 3, 2009

The Virgin Traveler: Where We Were Regulars

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It was the brightest light in the ghost town of Perissa on Santorini. The entire town was boarding up for the winter and Ntomatini was one of only three or four restaurants open on the waterfront. The bright green and white checkered restaurant was lit with bright lights and laced with vines and pots of flowers, easily the most inviting eatery open.

The waitress walked over to us, her light-brown hair bouncing cheerily in a pony-tail. She looked American. And she was. From Albany, Oregon. She met her husband, Kostas, a native of Santorini, when he was working as a chef in Chicago and she was a waitress, trying to earn extra money after a stint at Greenpeace. One thing led to another and they got married, had two adorable children, and moved to Santorini to open their own restaurant.

I wanted to know more. So a few days later, I sat down with Lisa the waitress and co-owner and over a glass of wine, she told me about how they had tried to open a restaurant in Chicago for five years, and it just hadn't worked out. She told me about meeting with a banker who responded to her presentation with a smirk and a snide response. She told me that she believed that everything happens for a reason and that she let it go.

As soon as Lisa and Kostas let it go, things fell into place for them to come to Santorini. Their friend was closing a restaurant, Kostas' family was there, it all seemed right. Lisa talked easily about their story - one she has probably told to every American who walks in their restaurant. Everyone wants to meet a guy and move to Greece - it's a fairy tale. Right?

It's just life, Lisa says. It's just the way things happen. It's not so glamorous, working 18 hours a day in the high season, managing your laundry based on the weather (no dryers), making family dinners, sending the kids to school. It's just life. Their life just happens to be in Greece.

The eleven or twelve year old daughter helps in the restaurant often, with a bright smile, wide eyes and speaking perfect Greek and English. The little boy laughs with a contagious laugh, playing with the stray dogs that stop by for a bite. Seriously adorable.

And the food. That's really what got me interested in Lisa and Kostas. Because the food was among the best we had in Greece. Family recipes. Tomato rissoles (fritters), moussaka, rooster in red wine (my favorite). The food was rich, flavorful, intense, perfectly seasoned.

I ate there four or five times in a week. It was simply tremendous. Each dish. Tremendous.


CaliforniaKat said...

It's true what Lisa says, it's just life. People expect me to say that I live in a whitewashed villa, dance to Zorba every night and go to the beach every day, as if we don't have bills, laundry, jobs and traffic to contend with just like everyone else. It's just done in a different language ;)