Gianakis Bay gleamed in the afternoon sun on Tinos Island as I entered the bay front Ο Ντίνος Taverna. As is so common in Greek you may first have found the spelling written in the Latinized Greek alphabet, “O Ntinos,” or in English, “The Dinos.” Whichever, there can be no confusion that as an island leader among seafood and fish tavernas Ο Ντίνος commands an enviable location.
Chef/Owner Antonis Bambakaris had prepared a special menu for my guide and I on this weekday afternoon since this was (pre-Covid pandemic) off-season when Ο Ντίνος was open only on weekends. (See their Facebook page for the current schedule). The attractive stone and wood building with a wide-open terrace hugs the bay.
The leisurely lunch created by Ο Ντίνος provided ample time for conversation with Chef Antonis Bambakaris. His thoughts on this sample of local Tinos abundance added an extra depth to its flavors. It was a lunch for all senses.
Gavors are small fish similar to herring, sardines or anchovies. They are high in Omega fatty acids and often added to soups, such as the Kavavia. They appear in many Cyclades dishes: Chef Bambakaris sautés Gavors adding red onion, cherry tomatoes and capers to top a Greek fava bean spread.
Kavavia is traditional Tinos fish soup of aromatic fish broth simmered with lots of gavors – local small fish – rice, tomatoes, potatoes and carrots. The fish and vegetables are removed, arranged on a hot platter and shared by the table. The broth is served separately to enjoy the essence of the Aegean itself.
Regosalata is grilled herring pureed with potatoes, carrots, onion and a touch of tarama. Grilling the herring imparts a subtle smoky flavor to the spread. Naturally nice on crusty bread, but I enjoyed having a little along with the steamed potatoes from the Kavavia.
A salad of louza, cheese, sundried tomatoes, lettuce, balsamic and cashew nuts was a study in flavors and textures. Aged louza is a prized prosciutto-like cured ham native of the neighboring island of Mykonos. Adding sun dried tomatoes and crunchy, rich cashews made this a luxury salad.
On other occasions, Chef Antonis has dipped the sundried tomatoes in a crepe batter of ouzo, tsipouro and/or raki, a touch of water, salt and flour to consistency then fried them in oil until crispy. They can be easily serve as their own meze.
A simple, yet iconic, dish of chickpeas (garbanzo beans) cooked slowly for hours with zucchini, onions, parsley and cherry tomatoes. An ever-changing mélange of herbs and spices, local to each region, was reminiscent of the many ingredients that intermingled East and West during the millenniums-old age of the Silk Road.
Like most chefs, several dishes on the menu of Ο Ντίνος are his own recipes, but Antonis shared the basic preparation. An imaginative cook should be able to come close to enjoying his recipes, if not his mastery. It will make them want to visit Ο Ντίνος soon.
Artichoke hearts with capers:
- Trim fresh artichokes until you have cleaned the cup from each of the hearts.
- Place the artichokes cups in a bowl or zip-lock bag with sunflower seed oil, white wine vinegar, juice of at least one large lemon and a generous teaspoon of sea salt. Marinate for at least 3 hours.
- Bring a pot with 1 quart of water to a boil and add the hearts and marinade. Boil for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool in the broth. The artichoke hearts can be kept covered and refrigerated for up to one year in the broth.
- To serve, remove from the broth and arrange on plates. Drizzle with olive oil, capers and parsley.
Ο Ντίνος Caramalized Octopus with honey garnished with cherry tomatoes and carrot puree: (note: read and prep all ingredients)
- Simmer octopus using a ratio of 1 pound octopus (cut in serving pieces) in a boiling stock of 1/3rd cup white vinegar, 2 quarts water, a couple bay leaves and ½ a cinnamon stick. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes.
- In a large pan sauté onions until translucent along with slivered green peppers and sliced carrots. Then add seedless golden raisins and a clove of garlic. Sauté for several minutes more. Add some honey (preferably Greek thyme honey) and white wine, and reduce to a glaze consistency.
- Drain the octopus into a bowl though a strainer and reserve the broth. Add the octopus to the vegetables and cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes with a little broth to maintain the glaze.
- For the carrot puree: While the above vegetables are being sautéed, bring a pot of cold water to a boil. In proportion to the weight of peeled and sliced carrots, add 1/3rd as much cubed potatoes, 1/3rd as much chopped onions and clove of garlic chopped. Reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.
- While vegetables are steaming, in a small sauté pan add balsamic vinegar and grated orange and lemon zest. Reduce the balsamic by half. Add some Tabasco sauce to taste. Keep the sauce warm.
- Reserve a cup of cooking liquid. Drain the vegetables and mash until a smooth consistency adding just enough cooking liquid to achieve that texture.
- Have some chopped pistachio nuts and grape tomatoes in reserve.
- Assemble by dividing the octopus pieces on serving plates and surround with the carrot puree. Top with a portion of the vegetable glaze, drizzle with reduced balsamic and garnish with pistachio nuts. Arrange a few grape tomatoes around the plate and serve.
Classic Calamari: (whole baby the best, tentacles separated).
- Sauté the Calamari in oil, garlic, onions, bay leaf and green pepper until the natural liquids evaporate.
- Remove the bay leaf.
- Add some white wine, dijon mustard, and a bit of sugar to make a nice sauce.
- Don’t overcook octopus or calamari. Test to see when fork tender.
- Serve over steamed wild and/or brown rice.
Of course, dessert was not forgotten. Fresh house made banana ice cream (Παγωτό μπανάνας) closed this nine-course mid-afternoon lunch. Mrs. Bambakaris makes the ice cream specials for Ο Ντίνος.
Tinos Island, one of the most northerly of the Cyclades, excels in high quality restaurants, cultural sites and fascinating geology. In an interview for Tinos About I was asked to describe the Island by taste. “… complexity and simplicity…,” came into mind such as, “curing and smoking: traditional preservation methods (yet they) enhance the natural flavors of foods from the sea and the land with their own subtle (Tinos) aromas.”
When you go: The Ο Ντίνος (Dinos Restaurant) Gianakis Bay, Tinos Island, Ormos Yianaki, 842 00, Greece. Tinos Island is easily reached by ferries from the nearby Athens ports of Piraeus and Rafina.
Special Thanks: The author was a guest of the businesses mentioned in this article through the cooperation of the Municipality of Tinos Island. Transportation was provided by Dellatolas Rent a Car and accommodations by Hotel Meltemi. Arrangements were facilitated by the MTCgroup.