Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Estiatorio Milos - Miami Beach

I started this blog with the purpose of sharing great dining experiences in the Miami area, but I'll admit it: there are times that I'd like to keep some things to myself. There's a certain pleasure in having secrets, particularly when they're small, intimate places that for an hour or two you can sort of claim as your own.[1]

Estiatorio Milos

Estiatorio Milos, the newish Greek restaurant from Costas Spiliadis on the SoFi[2] end of South Beach, is far from a small, intimate place. To the contrary, Milos (which has siblings in Athens, New York, Montreal, and Las Vegas) is built on a grand scale. It seats a couple hundred in a breezy wide-open space with billowing white curtains and natural blond wood all around. The back of the dining room has an extravagant display of fish and seafood, flown in overnight from the Mediterranean and packed on ice. They're so impeccably fresh that even right next to the display, the only fish you smell are the ones cooking nearby in the open kitchen, on massive open grills with grates that can be wheeled up or down to control their proximity to the heat.

fish case

(You can see all my pictures in this Estiatorio Milos flickr set, or click on any picture to view it larger).

The menu at Milos is minimalist: basically, you can choose from among a few raw seafood items, several typical Greek meze, salads and vegetables. Then go pick your fish and decide if you want it grilled or perhaps baked in a salt crust. There are lamb chops and a few steaks for the landlubbers. And that's it.

But the menu also has prices to match the grandiosity of the venue: The "Milos Special" appetizer, a tower of fried zucchini and eggplant with cubes of kefalograviera cheese and tzatziki, is around $30;[3] four little slices of avgotaraho (cured mullet roe) on crostini ran me $32; those fish you see have price tags in the $40's and $50's per pound. These tariffs quickly add up to make Milos one of the most expensive dining propositions in town.

Whether it's worth it depends a lot on how passionate you are about über-fresh seafood: yes, it's very pricey, but the red mullet (barbouni, for the Greek) we had one visit was so fresh it seemed still ready to jump back into the water.[4] An item rarely seen around these parts, this is one fish they elect to delicately fry instead of grill, and it was fantastic: plump, firm flesh with an almost crustacean sweetness. And there really is something inspirational about that display case: my 12-year old daughter has seen me pick apart plenty of whole fish, but was never inclined to do so on her own until she saw those mullets.

Curiously, Milos is both one of the most expensive restaurants in town and one of the most affordable depending on how you do it: while the regular menu is borderline prohibitive, they also offer a much more wallet-friendly three-course lunch special (recently increased from $20.12 to $24.07), and a $49 four-course dinner special from 5:00-7:00 pm (and all day on Sunday).[5]

But I'm not really here to tell you about the regular restaurant.

(continued ...)

No, instead let me divulge a secret I've been keeping to myself for a little while: the Marketa at Milos.[6]

[NOTE: unfortunately, Milos has stopped offering the Marketa menu; you can still sit at the raw bar and get some great raw fish and seafood items, but all the other meze are no longer available and the prices are regular menu prices. So, sadly, much of this review no longer applies]


To the left side of the restaurant entrance is another door for the Marketa. Pass through, and you'll enter a space with one long communal table, a glass case to one side containing several cheeses and prepared foods, and further back, a small raw bar area with a few seats at the counter. This, if you ask me, is where you want to be.

Marketa chefs

The Marketa has its own menu, with nearly a few dozen different meze, all priced at either $7.50 or $12.50. The raw bar, presided over by Chef Steve Rhee, usually has at least four different choices of oysters - Beausoleil, Blue Point, Malpeque and Raspberry Points on one visit, some Kumamotos in the mix on another - plus choices from among several sashimi and tartare style raw fish preparations. Put together a few meze, some fish, and it is a much more affordable, and much more intimate, way of experiencing Milos.[7]


On our most recent visit, Chef Rhee presented a little sample of the wares shortly after we sat down, a curled sliver of Hawaiian ahi tuna. I thought after our recent Hawaii trip that I was burned out on ahi. I was wrong: it was a beautiful bite, simultaneously silky and meaty, the assertive sprinkling of coarse salt tempered by the soft inflection of fresh dill.

Like a good sushi bar, you'll do well to get some input from the expert: the guy behind the counter. On one visit when we invited suggestions from Chef Rhee, he let us know that the sea bream had just arrived only two hours earlier. We asked him to do something with it, and he brought a fish over from the ice chest, spent a few minutes doing surgery on it, and then presented us with one of the most stunningly simple fish dishes I’ve ever eaten.

sea bream sashimi

Look how precisely the flesh has been carved from the frame. Look how the filet, cut into thin ribbons, was meticulously reassembled on the plate. Simply garnished – one side with aromatic fresh thyme, the other with finely minced chiles bearing a gentle heat – this was a pure and transcendent taste of the sea. If you want more variety, Chef Rhee can also prepare a sampler of different fish, each given a different accent note: maybe thyme, rosemary, dill, chiles, citrus juices or zests, or yuzu kosho.

On another visit, I asked his assistant to pick some oysters to sample as I packed up a take-out order:[8] his choices (of course I’ve now forgotten the varieties), laid out on a bed of ice sprinkled with pink peppercorns along with a ruby-hued mignonette, ranged from clean and sweet to as briny as the slap of an ocean wave.

tartare sampler

When we asked about the tartares, Chef Rhee let us sample them both – salmon, flecked with red onion and herbs, and tuna, with citrus and chiles. We opted for a full plate of the former, which was served with crispy lavash for scooping.

If you sit here at the Marketa bar, they will still bring you the same fat slabs of grilled country bread that you get on the restaurant side, with a dish of good Greek olive oil garnished with oregano snipped freshly from the plant tableside. You will want to order at least one of the dips to put that bread to use: the tzatziki is creamy with rich Greek yogurt, but punctuated with a bold-faced exclamation point of garlic and the clean snap of cucumber, all rounded out with a generous drizzle of olive oil. Or you could get the smooth, briny tamarasalata, a dip made with codfish roe and sweet onion, or the rich almond and garlic flavored skordalia. At $7.50 each, get a couple.

imam baildi, tzatziki

Add on some vegetables: the imam baildi, a silky eggplant and tomato dish which translates as "the priest fainted" (supposedly because of the quantities of expensive olive oil used in its preparation), is worthy of its name. Baby beets are served with creamy yogurt flecked with mint and garlic. Plump white beans are dressed with lemon juice, green onions and dill.

grilled octopus

Take a step up to the $12.50 items, and several prepared seafood dishes can help round out a meal. The grilled octopus, sliced into thin coins, swimming in good olive oil, and tossed with red onions and capers, is outstanding. For those who like stronger flavors, the house-marinated sardines, with glistening silver skins, are meaty and fishy in the best possible way; the smoked eel is even more intense, almost like a fish jerky. Milder palates can get salmon one of three different ways: smoked Nova Scotia salmon, cured gravlax style, or thick cut balik-style Scottish salmon. If even those are too fishy, there are similar small plates available from the terrestrial realm: a couple pâtés, torchon of foie gras, jamón ibérico, various cheeses and sausages.

Of course, if you’re feeling flush, you can still go pick anything you like from the display and order it at the bar. When a kind waiter tipped me off that they were bringing in fresh carabiñeros, the gorgeous garnet-hued shrimp that we saw throughout our travels in Spain, I couldn’t resist.


At a whopping $95 / pound, two of these ran me nearly $40. It was worth it. Their flesh, with red stripes as bright as their shells, is more tender and sweet than lobster. And their heads, when immodestly sucked of their nectar, are one of the finest treats of the sea. It was nearly like being transported back to Spain, and at least it's cheaper than a plane ticket.

But you don’t have to splurge to enjoy to Milos, really. Even the wine list, with a sizable selection from the Greek isles, offers some relative bargains, by South Beach standards anyway, which is to say that the markup may be in the 3x retail territory, but at least there are still several good choices in the $50-60 range. The crisp Tselepos Moschofilero or the Parparoussis Sideritis may not be profound wines, but they go exceptionally well with the food. Even desserts are a sweet deal in the Marketa, where $5.50 will get you a wedge of baklava with mastic ice cream or ethereally good yogurt drizzled with Greek honey and walnuts.

Amid the seemingly relentless baconization of so many restaurant menus, Milos is a welcome change of pace, relying on freshness instead of fat for flavor. And the Marketa offers a much more affordable way to experience it, where you can put together a few meze at reasonable prices and maybe add one or two big ticket fresh seafood items without completely going broke. But let's just keep it our little secret.

Estiatorio Milos
730 1st Street Miami Beach, FL

Estiatorio Milos by Costas Spiliadis on Urbanspoon

[1] I will no longer share the name of a certain sushi bar except with close friends who understand the value of discretion.

[2] That's South of Fifth Street, almost directly across the street from Joe's Stone Crab.

[3] On my first visit back in May it was priced at $29. On more recent visits I'm pretty sure it was $33 (prices are not listed online). It's very good, and a generous enough portion to share, but it's still $30 for zucchini and eggplant.

[4] Of course, another way to get incredibly fresh seafood that would probably be a lot less expensive is to get it locally, given that Miami Beach is literally surrounded by ocean.

[5] These really are great deals: there may not be a better $20 (or even $24) lunch than the "Canadian Classic" (Willy Krauch Nova Scotia smoked salmon on half a bagel shipped in from St. Viateur in Montreal), or maybe a meze plate with tarama, tzatziki, hpiti, and manouri cheese, followed by a grilled lavraki (Mediterranean sea bass), and a yogurt parfait for dessert.

[6]If the truth must be known, the Miami Herald already gave away my secret last week.

[7] The raw fish items are actually no cheaper on this side of the venue, with a small raw fish tasting going for $45, and oysters for $4 a pop – but you’ll still get better mileage overall with the lower prices on everything else.

[8] Everything but the raw items is available to take out.


  1. MR. F.
    Any thoughts on the Meatball Joint, Miami Beach?

  2. Hi, based on your review I went to Marketa today for lunch. The waiter informed me that there is no longer a different menu for Marketa as they decided to have one menu for both places. But the $24 lunch menu was worth it! BG

  3. BG - sorry, I've tweeted about Milos canceling the Marketa menu but didn't update this post (have done so now). It's too bad, but the lunch special is still available and a great deal.