I knew he had planned a special dinner for my birthday. For the past three months he had been conspiring with our good friend Edi, our local go-to guy who is loved by everyone in Hvar and can make pretty much anything happen. "Anything you need, my friends, you just tell me. I take care of you. No problem. " Man, I wish I was that confident (and connected) at seventeen! But for all their hard work, I think even these two were surprised at what they managed to pull off...
When the first boat guy told us at the last minute that "due to the treacherous conditions of the sea," he now required 100 euro rather than the couple of beers he originally agreed to, I promptly piped up that if the sea was so treacherous that it would cost 100 euro to get through 2 kilometers of angry sea, it might be in everyone's best interests to take a taxi.
"No, no, no," he insisted, "Andrea asked me for a boat and that is what he will have. No problem."
Within 5 minutes, we had a new boat.
Nice job, buddy. You're going to run this island someday.
They picked us up just before sunset and brought us to a private bay that is home to Robinson's restaurant. It is also home to Domi, the restaurant's owner and chef, and his family. I'm told they have a lovely house on the mainland, complete with modern plumbing, but they prefer to live here.
In a tent.
Yes, it's that beautiful.
Their small restaurant consists of a few tables sitting atop a tree-covered hill overlooking the bay and a private beach where they serve a handful of beach-goers seeking respite from the crowds.
But tonight, they hauled a single picnic table down the hill so we could have the restaurant, the beach, and all of this crazy gorgeousness to ourselves.
Pleased with my obvious shock and awe, Edi bid us good evening and sailed off into the sunset, leaving us to bask in the pink and purple afterglow with faint traces of lavender and pine lingering softly in the salty summer air.
We drank in the sheer deliciousness of the moment...
After about an hour of chasing every conceivable permutation of color and light, we finally retreated to our table beneath the century-old olive tree where we devoured a bowl of fresh figs with a couple glasses of Pelinkovac - a Croatian herbal liqueur that I'm pretty sure it is made of distilled rocket fuel.
and immortalized it with one of our famous self-portraits.
Tonight's soundtrack was graciously provided by the tide, the crickets, and the crisp sea breeze dancing in the trees. Corny and cliche, perhaps...but fabulously romantic nonetheless.
The dinner menu was to be a surprise because Edi was insistent that "everything must be fresh. Absolutely fresh. Only what is from the boat today." Naturally, this was no problem.
And a little drunk.
Cue the waiter, who suddenly appeared inside our candlelit cocoon bearing a huge cast iron pot that contained the first course:
A wickedly decadent scampi alla buzzara.
The skarpina was a truly majestic creature with a meaty, lobster-like consistency that was grilled to perfection. We enjoyed making his acquaintance with the utmost appreciation and respect.
Especially when they are dripping with garlic butter and oil.
The tactile experience of flavors, scents and textures virtually osmosing into your cells is a wanton pleasure that we so rarely have occasion to indulge in at trendy urban restaurants.
Why should that be?
As we pondered this highly rhetorical question, we toasted our good fortune over and over, laughing at idea that this was actually the WRONG restaurant.
Apparently the original plan was to go to another restaurant that is known for its single table on a cliff overlooking the bay, but Andrea couldn't remember the name of it. He scoured every restaurant review on the internet and when he called Robinson's to ask if they had a single table on a cliff overlooking a bay, Domi simply said, "Well no. But we can put one there. No problem."
So he and Edi set everything in motion. The night before, Joki (Edi's mom) invited us for their family dinner and told us she also thought the cliffhanger place would be ideal for the surprise. She had even sent her brother across the island weeks ago to take photos for Edi to send to Andrea, but he never did. "Andrea is a man who knows what he wants and Andrea said Robinson's so that is what he shall have!"
I think Andrea was initially a little bummed out when he realized that Robinson's wasn't the place he was looking for. But it turned out to be yet another classic example of the Universe conspiring to bring us something even better than we hoped for.
So as we sat there under a million stars, he did it again...and in between the crashing waves, sans the hysterical bouts of laughter this time, I smiled through my tears and quietly answered, "Yes."
It was like a dream...only better.
Because every time I wake up, it's all still as beautiful and real as ever.
Grazie Amore Mio.
You too, Edi.
Scampi alla Buzzara
Since scorpion fish are indigenous to neither Lake Michigan nor the Dutch canals, I tried to get Domi to at least cough up the scampi recipe. But alas, as with most great chefs, his dishes come together through an imprecise application of experience and divinity.
For those of us who are less adventurous with expensive shellfish, here's a little more specific direction, garnered from various reliable sources:
10-12 large scampi (crawfish), washed with shells in tact
1/2 cup of olive oil
a handful of fresh breadcrumbs
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon each of finely chopped marjoram and thyme
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
3 small tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or one 14-15oz can)
1 cup white wine
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large skillet and fry the breadcrumbs until they just start to toast. Add the garlic, onion, herbs and tomatoes. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
Add the wine, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add the scampi, lower the heat, cover and cook 15 to 20 minutes.
Serve with plenty of crusty bread to mop up the juiciness and eat with your hands.