Barely half an hour from Tinos town the bay of Ysternia lies at the foot of Mt. Kardiani. Literally lapped by the waves, Thalassaki sits on an old jetty, at the end of a tempting beach that will lure you into the water before you have a bite to eat.
‘Until 50 years ago the little port of Ysternia was bustling with activity. Communication between western Tinos and Piraeus or with the town took place by boat, and they all docked here. But in 1972 the road was built, linking the villages with the Hora (main town) and the port was forgotten. This taverna used to be everything: café, customs house, ticket agency, telephone centre and my wife and I bought it in 1997. We opened in April 2000.’
Aris Tatsis was telling us how he and his wife, Antonia Zarpa, took the decision to leave Athens, make their nest here and breathe new life into the place. Fifteen years later, Thalassaki represents the best that Tinos has to offer in the way of gastronomy. And who could imagine that Antonia with a degree in social work and a passion for photography (she studied under noted Greek photographer Platon Rivellis) would turn out to be one of Greece’s finest cooks!
Spare and uncluttered, the restaurant blends in with the landscape, with discreet touches showing Antonia’s artistic side. The menu and wine list are in the shape of a fish. Antonia’s cuisine is creative, impressive and aromatic (she uses herbs from her garden), but also shows absolute respect for the ingredients (no foams and fussiness) and is based on local products and the island’s traditional recipes.
Every year she creates new dishes but the ones below are those that swept me away in the summer of 2015:
Smoked herring salad, creamy taramosalata, local cheese with gyri in the shape of a Tinos cheesepie, her own grilled vegetables arranged in a way that reminds one of a local dry-stone wall, caramelised octopus with grape must syrup, cod in a number of ways, mussels with mastiha and tomatoes, shrimp with capers, wild fennel and raki.
Of course, there are lovely pastas with imaginative combinations of seafood and perfectly cooked fresh fish. The wine list has plenty of local wines, such as those made by Christos Fonsos and Tinian Vineyards, as well as other fine wines from all over Greece, and as for the sweets, those are also the handiwork of Antonia.
Most important, don’t forget to reserve a table before you go because in summer, especially, Thalassaki is packed to the gills.