Hydra — Inspiration in the Aegean

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I’m planning another trip to Greece with friends and this awesome little island is definitely on the itinerary. Have you been? I just love the place.

Hydra is one of my favorites among all of the Greek islands — and I’m not alone. Artists, writers, musicians, intellectuals, and free spirits have all sought solitude, solace, or inspiration there. It’s a magical, sun-soaked spot surrounded by the all-entrancing, blue waters of the Aegean Sea.

Henry Miller spent time there. Along with Laurence Durrell of Alexandria Quartet fame and the flamboyant, Greek intellectual, called Katsimbalis. Reknowned travel writer, war hero and adventurer, Patrick Lee Fermor lived on the island. Nobel Prize-winning poet George Seferis did too — and he sang Hydra’s praises in verse. It was also home to one of modern Greece’s most influential artists, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Gikas.

If you are a Leonard Cohen afficiando, you might know that he bought a house there. So did minamalist artist Brice Marden, who still lives on the island. As do many other artists, musicians, and wealthy Athenians.

Lately, Hydra’s been the haunt of billionaire Greek art collector and benefactor, Dakis Joannou who is making the island a gathering place for important artists, dealers and collectors from all over the world.

But Hydra’s still unspoiled. An ideal place to chill for a week or two — or for just a long weekend, the captivating little island is only two hours or so by fast boat from the frenetic port of Piraeus, just outside of Athens.

OK. I know what you’re thinking: refugee crisis! Is the island affected? No, it’s not. Hydra is located southwest of mainland Greece — not in the eastern Mediterranean, close to Tukey, where islands like Kos, Leros, Lesvos, Samos and Symi are experiencing problems you see in the news.

So, what makes Hydra so appealing? One of the most beautiful harbors in all of Greece. A feeling that time has stopped still or, at the very least, slowed down considerably. Unbelievable charm. And no motor vehicles.

Some years ago, I spent a week on Hydra doing nothing more than soaking up the rhythms of the island, savouring its freshly-caught, grilled fish and walking the meandering, herb-scented paths, all the while being seduced by the ever-present, sparkling, Grecean-blue, Aegean Sea. My wife Trulee was there with me to share in the experience — and to paint.

A watercolor she did of the view from the patio of our little, white-washed house, built into the rocky hillside high above the harbor, captures the magic of our lazy afternoons there. I looked at it this morning, as I do every morning — and like the island itself, it always enchants me.

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Thinking about Paris

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Of course, I’m thinking about Paris! How could I not?

Especially since it was not that long ago my wife, Trulee, and I wandered the beguiling streets of this luminous city — thrilled to be immersed again in its endless charm, beauty and sophistication.

But when those despicable, barbaric events of 11/13 so rudely shattered the Parisian night, randomly interrupting lives and shrouding this joyous city in fear, I was overcome with sadness. And anger.

One look at Facebook and I knew I wasn’t alone.

So would Paris be different now? I keep revisiting my experiences there in Setember of last year. As you might guess, the focus was food.

And did we enduldged ourselves — thanks to a well-researched list of the most interesting tables the city had to offer. Everything from three star kitchens like Astrance to creative, new bistros trying to make a culianry mark like Clamato. And those that already have like Frenchie.

Tucked away on Rue de Nil (actually an alley) in the 2nd arrondissement, Frenchie – now one of my favorite places to dine in Paris – is a captivating little space, seating only twenty-six people and serving creative, simply-prepared plates that linger in memory long after you’ve had that final espresso. The food is beautiful, delicious, and affordable.

Thinking back on my meal at Frenchie brings me considerable comfort after the recent unspeakable events. It even brings a smile to my face.

After some champagne, a starter of seared squid with black pudding and tomatoes. Then John Dory from St Jean de Luz with green beans, fresh nuts, kalamata olives and red lemon peel. And to finish, Wild blackberries sorbet, marigold, green lemon and caramelized brioche.

But it was much more than that. It was pure pleasure teased out of simple, pristine ingredients. It was an eloquent expression of the new bistro fare that has been redefining the French dining scene.

And Chef-Owner Gregory Marchand is the one who makes it happen.

A native of Nantes, France, Marchand opened Frenchie in 2009 — after working at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant in London and Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern in NYC. He’s just as charming as his food.

Yes, I’ve been thinking about Paris. But now, no more dark thoughts…

I want to think about dinner at Frenchie, my conversation with Marchand after that wonderful meal, afternoons bicycling along the Seine. Sidewalk cafes. Shakespeare & Company. Marias galleries. The Louvre. Brunch at Le Comptoire du Relais. Lunch at Septime.

So that’s what I’m doing. How about you?

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Dining in DC — Daikaya Izakaya

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It was the grilled avocado that really did it! Wow, who knew?

We were in DC with friends — and everything they suggested at their new find, Daikaya Izakaya, on the edge of the District’s China Town, turned out to be dangerously good. But the avocado with its natural lushness intensified by smoke and fire, accented by the slightly-sweet tartness of ponzu sauce, was the stand out. I more than loved it.

You might know that Izakaya means “bar”in Japanese. I didn’t.

It all made sense, though. Here at Daikaya Izakaya we were having small plates, similar to tapas. Bar food. Only it wasn’t Spanish, it was Japanese. This was satisfying and inventive Japanese bar food.

A grilled oyster. Fried Sashito peppers. Grilled octopus. Pork and Brussels sprouts. Salt grilled mackerel. Fried adobo marinated quail. Miso marinated salmon with fennel puree. Dumplings filled with octopus.

Beautifully simple dishes with surprising little twists. And when we finished everything on the table, the consensus was — order more.

The captivating menu at Daikaya was created by Katsuya Fukushima, a talented chef who delivers perfectly-cooked, seriously good-tasting small plates. And for good reason: Fukushima worked with renowned Spanish American chef, Jose Andres. Who just happens to be the guy most often credited with bringing the tapas concept to the U.S.

As you might expect, this hip, Japanese place has an extensive saki selection. 29 different varieties, in fact — listed under descriptive categories: light & smooth, aromatic & fragrant, complex & full bodied, and coarsely filtered. And lots of Japanese beers and whiskies.

But wine was what I wanted on that night. So I was pleased to find a crisp Sonoma Sauvingon Blanc on the small, well-curated wine list.

With lots of wood, low lighting and a moody mix of Japanese movie posters and wild patches of manga cartoons as wall paper, Daikaya is not only hip, but fun. Edgy, but at the same time surprisingly serene.

We stayed for quite a while.

Daikaya Izakaya / 705 6th St. NW, Washington, DC
202-589-1600 / www.daikaya.com

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