Greek island-inspired Okinawa eatery serves dishes fit for an art gallery
By AYA ICHIHASHI | Stars and Stripes | Published: May 23, 2019
Don’t let the name fool you when visiting Cafe & Dining Santorini on Okinawa.
“I often get a question from customers — why don’t I serve pasta if it’s an Italian restaurant,” said owner and chef Yoshitomo Nagamine.
“Many customers mistakenly think Santorini is in Italy, but it’s one of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea,” he added. “We don’t serve pasta nor pizza or even Greek food. We serve Western-style cuisine.”
Nagamine said the name of his eatery, which specializes in staples like grilled chicken and sauteed fish, was inspired by a past trip to Santorini. This spurred a dream to one day open a restaurant on the island, which attracts millions of tourists each year.
“The island was everything I’d dreamed of — everyone was enjoying life and so laid back,” he said. “If it is sunny and beautiful, I can close the restaurant and enjoy the day. I named my restaurant Santorini so I won’t forget my lifelong goal.”
Nagamine said he places a lot of emphasis on heat to keep from over- or undercooking the dishes and to amplify the flavor and texture of each ingredient. That was apparent during my visit on a recent weekday afternoon.
I selected the Santorini Lunch set with Okinawa-grown red sea bream (2,450 yen or about $22), which includes an hors d’oeuvre sampler of marinated shrimp in dill and citrus, butter sauteed escargot, smoked duck and homemade Okinawa pork pate. The set is served with a beverage and your choice of rice or bread.
Everything was scrumptious. Balsamic sauce on the duck dish matched its smokiness and added to its sweetness. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and springy, and the pate paired perfectly with the baguette.
After devouring the sampler, my expectations for the main dish soared to the moon. Chef Nagamine did not disappoint.
The presentation of the Okinawa-grown red sea bream was like a work of art with colorful vegetables and gorgeous seafood beautifully displayed.
My first bite was exquisite. I usually don’t eat fish skin because of its texture, but I enjoyed the crispy exterior of Nagamine’s sea bream. The meat itself was tender and juicy, and the texture was perfect.
The vegetables were as tasty as they were beautiful, especially the potato. I’m very picky about how my potatoes are prepared. I want them to have texture, while not being too mushy or raw. Chef Nagamine met my expectations. He’s got serious skills.
Those who aren’t big on fish can get the Santorini Lunch set with grilled chicken (2,100 yen) or Okinawa pork steak (2,350 yen).
And diners with smaller appetites can choose the Hamahiga Lunch set (1,600 yen), which comes with soup instead of the appetizer sampler.
I had room for dessert, so I ordered a Mont Blanc cake (620 yen) made with a locally-grown golden sweet potato called Ougonimo. It features orange zest cream and crunchy pie layers inside to keep it light.
Take note: Nagamine is Santorini’s only chef, and he makes everything from scratch, so don’t expect to be able to drop in for a quick bite. Reservations are highly recommended for weekends.