Road Test, S.A.L.T. Experiences: We Snag a Table at Santorini’s Vezené
Debuting on Silver Moon (and expanding to Silver Dawn later this year), Silversea’s S.A.L.T., which stands for Sea & Land Taste, is an innovative new program celebrating the culinary arts of the places we’re traveling in. There are four pillars to S.A.L.T. At S.A.L.T. Kitchen, a restaurant dedicated to showcasing food and wine from the region in which the ship is traveling, the regional menu offers daily-changing options based on the port of the day. In S.A.L.T. Lab, guests enjoy the challenge of cooking regional dishes. S.A.L.T. Bar celebrates cocktails made with local ingredients. All aim to bring the experience of life onshore onto Silver Moon.
S.A.L.T. Experiences moves in the opposite direction. This exclusive-to-Silversea series of shore excursions, hand-curated by local experts in the worlds of cuisine and wine, offer personal connections to the places we visit. In this series of stories, we share our experiences on S.A.L.T. Experiences as we travel through the Greek Isles. We hope you’ll join us.
Today We Are In… Santorini
Arguably the most iconic of the Greek Islands, Santorini is actually the caldera of a dormant volcano, brilliant white villages spilling like frosting over the top of vertiginous black cliffs, the sea a dark, glittering sapphire below.
Despite its apparently barren landscape, Santorini has a rich culinary scene. The island is one of Greece’s biggest wine producers, with more than 70 per cent of its agricultural land occupied by vineyards. The island has a cuisine all of its own, too, using local products like pistachios, figs and fava beans, as well as white eggplants.
Santorini’s stark beauty has given rise to a dazzlingly chic hotel scene, dozens of shimmering blue infinity pools cut into the black rock, where beautiful people bask all day until the al fresco clifftop cocktail lounges beckon for sundowners against a fiery sky.
Why Did S.A.L.T. Adventures Choose Lunch at Santorini’s Vezené?
Born in New York and raised by Greek immigrants, charismatic Ari Vezené is one of Greece’s most celebrated chefs. His eponymous restaurant in Athens, now marking its first decade, receives rave reviews for the flavors created by roasting dry-aged meats over an open fire. The chef’s Santorini outpost, at Cavo Tagoo, is his newest venture.
“I’d heard about Ari’s restaurants from many friend and contacts in Greece and those who follow the culinary scene here,” says S.A.L.T. Director Adam Sachs. “So I reached out to the chef and had a great conversation and had a fantastic meal at his restaurant in Athens. I wanted our guests to be part of the glamour of the island; to eat with an amazing view in a beautiful place.”
Our S.A.L.T. Adventure
We’re picked up by coach at Santorini’s tiny port and driven across the cliffs to the village of Imerovigli, just outside the capital, Fira.
On the way, our guide, Evgenia, entertains with a briefing on the island’s unique agriculture. Spidery green vines are grown in pits in the black volcanic soil, each one secured by a cylindrical basket, to protect them from the fierce, hot winds that blow here. The white stones scattered across each vineyard? They’re painted with lime, to keep insects away and to reflect the heat. The domed roofs of the houses are designed to collect water, a precious commodity. “In fact, Santorini has more wine than water,” she tells us.
Every jaw drops as we stroll into Cavo Tagoo. In front of us, a vast infinity pool is framed by black rocks. The Aegean sparkles hundreds of feet below. Beside the pool is the restaurant, where chefs are bustling in the open kitchen. As is fitting for an island created by fire, Vezené cooks over an open flame, meats grilling over a 10-foot wide, custom built fireplace at the rear of the space.
Our culinary adventure is a six-course, wine-paired menu, each dish described by Vezené himself. We start with sourdough and flatbreads, baked in a wood-fired oven, with the creamiest taramasalata imaginable and roasted tomatoes bursting with flavour. A ceviche dish follows, the fish marinated in olive oil, raisin, vinegar and caper leaves. I opt for the vegetarian alternative, thinly sliced tomatoes with an exquisite citrus tang.
Yet more tomatoes follow, with caper leaves and samphire adding a smoky, salty taste, offset by the creamiest of white cheeses and paired with a crisp white from Santorini. There’s line-caught sea bream in the lightest lemony sauce, followed by the star course, slow smoked lamb rack, with smashed, smoked baby potatoes, served with Assyritiko orange wine, produced on the island.
What’s special about Vezené’s meat is that everything is sourced from producers he knows personally. Lamb, goat, poultry and beef cuts are aged in a special dry aging chamber. All the fish is local, fresh and line-caught. Vine and olive wood are burned on the fire, for authentic flavor. The attention to detail is extraordinary. An olive oil lemon dressing becomes all the more intense by grilling the lemons. Local vinegar and vinegar honey are basted onto the roasting meat using sheaves of thyme and rosemary.
To all of us, especially those of us more accustomed to the staples of Greek salad and souvlaki served in every taverna, the flavors of this meal are new and exciting. “Everyone has a different point of view about what Greek food is,” Vezené explains. “Greece has been conquered in so many ways. The Ionian is close to Italy, while the Aegean has Turkish influences. And then there’s village food; feta, olives, octopus. If you go to Tel Aviv or Beirut, they’re eating some of the food you find in Greece, like taramasalata. We’re sailors. It’s inevitable that we would bring back food from wherever we visit.”
We finish with an exquisite dessert; the lightest ice cream, flecked with Madagascan vanilla and floating on a cognac and coffee cream, with little pops of flavour from a Greek coffee crumble. This is Greek food elevated to a level none of us has ever tasted. “We cook for ourselves, our families and for you with honesty and intimacy as if you were invited to our home,” says Vezené, modestly. If this is home cooking, we all agree, we’ll be back to try more.
Under no circumstances have a large breakfast if you’ve chosen this S.A.L.T. adventure. You’ll want to savour every bite.