Continuing “Croatian Tapestry”
The destination for our second day was the tiny island of Vis. After a lunchtime stop at Tito’s private submarine base (which we dinghy’d into with homemade sangria in hand!), we sailed around the point into the beautiful cove of Luka Vis. And this was the view out the stern where we moored:
We had a couple of hours of down time before the taxis arrived to transport all of us to a family winery up in the hills for dinner. We bought some more prsut and nectarines from the market and walked along the rolling waterfront as the shadows grew long. The breeze here was warm, and smelled like rosemary.The island of Vis is one of the outermost in the Dalmatian archipelago, and it felt that way. The pace was slow, the wind was audible; it was the perfect place for a relaxing dinner in the hills. In a caravan of taxis, our group wound up the valley outside of Luka Vis, gaining a spectacular view of the sleepy harbor drenched in sunset. We traveled way inland, past fields of figs and olives, and arrived with mouths watering at Kod Magica, a picturesque family home nestled in a valley of grapevines.
The taxis let us out at the road, so we walked down rows of grapes to get to the door. As we approached, a couple of kittens peeked out of the woodpile, and we passed a roaring brick oven with several large ceramic dishes cooking over the open flame. We were guided out to the veranda, where there was a small table set with two dozen delicate brandy glasses and eight slender bottles of unmarked alcohols. They were infused brandies, several different shades–walnut, lemon, herb, carob and many more, each as aromatic as the last.
What soon became clear was that we were not guests at some nameless restaurant here–we were being served in the family’s home. The kids and kittens played around us and the food was brought out on homey, mismatched serving dishes. Jean and Mila De Keyser, our flotilla leaders, had made a connection with the owners the year prior, and we were welcomed with a long communal table and a multi-course feast. I could write pages about the intense textures and flavors that crossed our palates that night, but suffice it to say that after a procession of goat cheese and olives, salted fish pies (a traditional Vis dish), swordfish pate with capers, the most savory and simple lamb soup, and roasted squid and lima beans (I thought I was full by this point)–the crown cuisine appeared: a lamb and potato peka.
A “peka” is a very traditional Dalmatian dish, but it’s not possible to order in restaurants because it takes too long to make. The meat is slow-roasted for hours on the warm hearth of a brick oven, with hot coals piled on top of the “peka” (a large covered ceramic pot that keeps all the flavor circulating inside it). They set the steaming pekas on our table on beautiful wood trivets made from the cross-section of a tree. The dish’s contents looked simple enough–large pieces of lamb, hefty potatoes, and plenty of carrots. And the owners told us there really wasn’t much seasoning at all (though I have to believe there was some salt in there!). The lamb positively melted in my mouth, and the potatoes and carrots were equally savory, having roasted with the lamb for hours. Our “loud American” table pretty much fell silent as we slowly appreciated each bite. It was hands down the best food I have ever eaten anywhere in the world. I am NOT exaggerating!
The graciousness of our hosts and the graciousness of our flotilla leaders, who footed the entire bill for the evening, flowed like the homemade wines that kept appearing on our table carafe after carafe. The shared meal seemed to create a family out of us, and at the head of the table were Jean and Mila, smiling nonstop, so happy to be able to provide such an experience for others. So when we toasted to Jean and Mila with sweet after-dinner brandies, we meant it wholeheartedly.