Updated: Oct 7, 2020
Tastes of the Cyclades soar at San Michali on Syros...
The buzz has been building quietly, first in the Greek press and logically enough in Greek, but the appeal of any restaurant worth its salt in the Greek islands is inevitably going to be international. Enter San Michali, the Greek "food & culture" restaurant with an Italian name on an island that was Ottoman Turkish before it was Greek and Italian/Venetian before it was Ottoman but that is Cycladic at its core.
Such is Syros, a connoisseur's island in an archipelago that too often trades in cliché (Mykonos, Santorini..) and flavor-of-the-month (Milos, Tinos, and this summer, Kimolos)...but Syros is impervious to and above trends. Its capital, Ermoupoli, is unlike anything else you'll find in the Aegean and Vaporia, the old sea captain's quarter, is equal parts concrete and dream state. You have only to wander its winding lanes which rise gradually to a stunning view of the blue sea, and you'll begin to wonder how it was that the Mykonian "Little Venice" stole the limelight all these years. Ermoupoli is a gourmet's paradise: the best seafood, the best pizza, the most varied cafes of any of the smaller Greek islands with the possible exception of Santorini is right here.
San Michali is not exactly brand new but recently, judging by the ink it's been generating, it has come into its own. Its broad, airy terrace overlooking the sea seems custom-made for this new era of socially-distancing dining, and chef Alex Karakatsanis's skilled preparation of "original flavors of the Cycladic islands" is delighting Greeks and in-the-know others at a steady clip.
So what's on the menu? The food writers out there seem to be taken by the meats, and there are many: sheep shanks from wood-burning oven, or ossobuco or pork shanks from the same, if you like shanks, or if you don't, risotto with steamed cod, shrimps and green curry, or tagliatelle with grilled red mullet, or mmm, an unexpected mac 'n cheese with bacon. Pork neck. Dry aged T-bone steak.
Salad? No island restaurant doesn't have its share of salads and small plates. At San Michali the standard Greek salad (but one with handmade olive croutons and local cheese) is just the start—try the flatbreads, one with zucchini and cheese, another with lamb, goat cheese and tomato sauce. Or try the grilled meatballs, ceviche with gazpacho sauce and basil mayonnaise, Greek artichoke stew (remember artichokes?), grilled eggplant with cherry tomatoes and cheese, or rabbit with local greens and avgolemono (egg-lemon) sauce.
Desserts too are a cut above; standouts include caramelized brioche with white chocolate and salted caramel ice cream and poached peach with patisserie crème and cinnamon crumble. Conspicuously absent, however, are desserts with refreshing mint ice cream and Greek raspberries, but those are just some of our admitted biases in the dolce department.
Wines: they have them, and good ones including a nice Fabrica Mantilaria and Avarino grenache rouge-merlot-cabernet, for those who dig grenache. Some of the labels play off the restaurant mascot, a rabbit in a top hat with a glass holding a glass of wine in (his/her/its/pick your pronoun) paw.
San Mihali serves brunch (remember that?) and light lunch from 10AM to 5PM and dinner from 5PM to midnight. Reserve ahead of time: firstname.lastname@example.org