Think Mykonos and you’ll conjure visions of the bluer than blue Aegean Sea, gleaming yachts under the sun, and glam red-eye parties. But that’s not the Mykonos restaurateur James Mallios, of Amali and Periyali fame, wants to celebrate with the opening of Calissa in Water Mill.
“There’s so much more to Mykonos than the party scene,” said Mallios, who has been vacationing on the island for more than 20 years. “I love its timeless atmosphere and the fabulous ingredient-driven cuisine.”
Now transporting hungry nomads from the throes of Route 27 to the Cyclades Islands may seem like quite the challenge, but Mallios and his partners have indeed built a Mediterranean oasis—albeit with valet parking!
Behind a row of cypresses, Calissa welcomes diners with rope-accented outdoor furniture and decorative evil-eye pillows shipped directly from Mykonos. Cozy bamboo ceilings float over baskets of lemons and lavender bouquets while the well-positioned bar— half inside, half outdoors—runs the length of the entryway that leads to the dining room and the open kitchen.
There Chef Dominic Rice, late of Jean-Georges and Narcissa, is whipping out what Mallios calls “updated Greek.” Their inspiration? A simple taverna on the island where locals and travelers share colorful, bountiful plates.
“What I love about Greek cuisine,” said Rice, is the combination of simplicity of ingredients with the complexity of flavors.” The chef adds a little acidity to jazz things up and some subtle heat— a taste he may have developed from his days at Jean-Georges.
Warm, tender pita triangles seemed to beg for a fluffy, roasted eggplant dip redolent of fresh mint while Mykonian louza, the Greek version of prosciutto, brought depth to a rocket salad studded with figs, honey and sesame seeds, a nod to ancient Ottoman invaders. Corn fritters replaced the ubiquitous tomato fritters of Greece.
Best to save your Instagram post for the stunning whole fish baked in salt crust and your appetite for the “thieves’ lamb,” named for the thugs who stole the animals and cooked them in the ground to hide the smoke. On Mykonos, and in Watermill, they’re long gone but the stories and the recipes remain.