Showing posts with label Greek. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greek. Show all posts

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 ...)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Anise Taverna - Miami Upper East Side

[sorry, this restaurant has closed; but Ouzo's in the same spot and with the same owner is quite similar]
Anise Taverna
Photo via Anise Taverna

I scoffed when Marco Pierre White insisted at a conference last year, in a not even remotely veiled attack on much contemporary cuisine, that the only proper way to serve fish is "on the bone, with lemon juice, olive oil and salt." To me, both traditional and contemporary styles have their place and can be immensely satisfying when done well. But that means that the simpler forms of cooking can't be dismissed either. This is an area where Anise Taverna excels.

The owners of Anise, Gennaro and Liza Meoli, started in Miami with Ouzo's on Normandy Circle in North Beach. After a couple years they decided to make the leap to South Beach, but unfortunately their move coincided with a massive and interminable construction project right outside the new location. After finally running out of patience, they eventually reopened as Anise Taverna in a location along the Little River in Miami's Upper East Side, just off Biscayne Boulevard (and just across the street from Red Light). Their persistence has paid off.

Years ago, the primary function of this location was to serve as a parking lot for visitors to the Immigration Offices across the street. It housed a procession of Indian restaurants - first the very good (but very dingy) Renaisa, then, after the folks who ran it left to open Heelsha in North Miami Beach, the imposter Renaisa, then the inconsistent Taj Majal, then, very briefly, the intriguing but even more inconsistent Cambodian/Indian Monarch Bay. When the Meolis took it over, they finally gave the place the good scrubbing it so desperately needed, and it now actually has some genuine charm, with rustic wood tables, colorful walls decorated with a sizable collection of (empty) ouzo bottles, and a pleasant outdoor seating area on the Little River, which feeds out to Biscayne Bay.

The menu sticks mostly to traditional Greek dishes but makes occasional forays into broader Mediterranean territory, with an extensive selection of meze as well as a decent number of main course offerings. We almost always start with the "combo dip platter," which features four dips - usually hummus, tzatziki, baba ganoush, and taramasalata (though sometimes the taramasalata is substituted with a feta and red pepper dip), accompanied by warm toasted pita. I'm usually the one eating the taramasalata, while if you try to get some of the tzatziki away from Little Miss F, you're asking for a fight (we often have to order an extra just for her). The hummus is good, and the baba ganoush has a nice smoky note to it.

Cheese and fire are also generally big hits with the kids, so the cheese saganaki is usually in order when we go with them, too, the kefalotiri cheese having the unique capacity of being able to be warmed and slightly melted without going completely gushy. Some of my other favorite things at Anise are also found in the meze portion of the menu: the octopus, marinated in olive oil and herbs and then grilled, is simply some of the best, most tender octopus I've ever had; and the grilled sardines (a generous three to an order for $12) are the paragon of perfect simplicity. For those not intimidated by getting a whole fish and picking its tender, slightly oily meat from the tiny bones, this is happiness on a plate. (Perhaps Marco Pierre White was on to something after all).

I've also enjoyed the "Prawns Anise," fresh head-on shrimp given a triple dose of anise flavor: served on a bed of julienned sauteed fennel, in a creamy yogurt sauce spiked with Pernod and dill. The grilled quail, rubbed with a marinade of olive oil and oregano, is meaty but tender with a nice bit of char from the grilling. We also like the loukaniko sausage, with a hint of orange to it, served over a bed of stewed lima beans. The "Spiced Lamb Fingers," almost like Greek spring rolls with ground lamb wrapped in crispy filo dough, were a good idea but were almost overwhelmed by the spice when we tried them. There are also a number of vegetable offerings, including grilled eggplant slices wrapped around feta cheese and topped with a tomato sauce, which were a hit on a recent visit.

Among the entrées, I usually stick with the fish, and they almost always have beautiful fresh dorade and branzino (or, if you want the Greek, tsipoura and lavraki) that are flown in fresh from the Mediterranean. Once again, MP White would approve, with the fish grilled whole and served on the bone, either simply with olive oil, lemon and herbs, or if you're feeling fancy, with cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives too. Though at $28, some folks would complain about the value,[*] it's hard to imagine getting a whole fish of this quality for much less; and particularly with some meze to start, one fish could easily be split among two people. The moussaka, now a more traditional version with ground lamb and eggplant, topped with a puffy, creamy burnished top, is rich, hearty and satisfying.

We closed our most recent meal with a slice of coconut cake, made using "mom's recipe," according to Liza, which was quite good and not nearly as cloying as the old standby, baklava. Meals will often conclude with a complimentary glass of Mavrodaphne, a sweet red Greek dessert wine.

Speaking of wine, the list here is surprisingly cosmopolitan for such a casual spot, and offers not only some of the new and significantly improved Greek wines (like the Boutari Santorini, a white made from the Assyrtiko grape with crisp flavors and great minerality), but some other esoteric choices such as Nicolas Joly Savennieres from the Loire Valley and Argiolas Vermentino from Sardinia.

Anise has a few nice promos going on. Monday through Thursday, they offer a "Miami Spice" style pre fixe menu, which includes a glass of Prosecco, a combo dip platter, either the grilled octopus or cheese saganaki meze, a choice from among a few entrées, baklava, and a glass of Mavrodaphne to close, for $35/person (with a 2-person minimum). There's also "Meze Mondays" during which you can choose 8 meze for $30, 10 for $35 or 12 for $40. And the last Saturday of every month they do a lamb roast, and for $35 you can have all you can eat of the lamb, plus Greek salad, roasted potatoes, and a glass of wine.

I will never relegate myself to only eating my fish on the bone, with lemon, olive oil and salt. But when that's what I'm in the mood for - or for the excellent grilled octopus, or the variety of tasty meze - Anise is often where I go.

Anise Taverna
620 NE 78th Street
Miami, FL 33138

Anise Taverna on Urbanspoon

[*]I found it peculiar that only a week after questioning the value at Anise, the same reviewer gushed over Eos - which serves the same fish, but for $36. I've been back to Eos since my initial visit, and while it certainly has its high points - the sea urchin risotto and the smoked octopus most definitely being among them - I hanker to go back to Anise much more often than I think of returning to Eos. And indeed, a meal for our whole family of four ran for less than what it cost for two of us to dine at Eos.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Eos - Downtown Miami

I may have come across as not so warm to Eos, the new restaurant in the Viceroy Hotel from the Michael Psilakis/Donatella Arpaia team. But, despite my mixed feelings about big hotel restaurants from out-of-town chefs, I was pretty excited by the preview menu I saw and was looking forward to trying it. We finally did so this weekend.

Actually, we started the evening at "Club 50," the lounge on the 50th floor of the Viceroy Hotel, which itself is just a small part of the Phillipe Starck designed Icon Brickell Tower development (the Viceroy's website actually says the club is for Icon members and hotel guests only - whoops!). The Kelly Wearstler-designed space is unique, combining 1930's era shapes with a 1970's era color palette (black and white marble floors, teal walls, lime green chairs) for a rather compelling Goldfinger-esque effect. There was a familiar face behind the bar - the former bartender from Sra. Martinez (and before that Michy's), whose name, I'm embarassed to admit, escapes me (my bar tab said "Freddy" but that doesn't sound right). I tried a "Viceroy Old Fashioned," a variation on the traditional drink made here with Ron Zacapa Centenario 23, a Guatemalan rum made with from a blend of 6 to 23 year old rums aged in former Bourbon, sherry and Pedro Ximenez barrels, along with a dash of simple syrup, bitters, and grapefruit and lime peels. It was a good drink, a little lighter on its feet than the traditional bourbon version. Mrs. F liked their take on a pisco sour.

The restaurant was somewhat challenging to locate. We went down to the 15th floor, and then had to pass through some unmarked black doors and around a hallway to find it (it may be easier if you go directly from another set of elevators from the hotel lobby). From the receptionist's desk, we wound around yet another hallway and eventually ended up in the restaurant, also done up in similar style by Kelly Wearstler with one wall of horseshoe banquettes and a few long rows of tables. By 8-9 o'clock the room was roughly half full (it's a pretty sizable space) and had a decent buzz without being terribly noisy.

The menu, created by New York wunderkind Michael Psilakis, is almost all small plates, priced mostly in a range of $10-15, which stay true to his reinvented contemporary Greek stylings. A good number of these are raw fish items with unusual pairings (many ambiguously labelled as "sushi/sashimi" - more on that below), supplemented by several vegetable items, and some cooked fish and meat dishes. There's also a short listing of larger fish and meat items which can be had as an entree or to split. Our waiter suggested ordering about 4 of the small dishes each for a meal or a couple and a larger item as an entree. We stuck with the small plates and had nairagi and salmon "sushi/sashimi", a botan ebi ceviche, a cheese plate, smoked octopus, lobster and uni risotto, and a spiedini sampler.

We weren't sure when we ordered the "sushi/sashimi" items whether this was intended as an "Option A and B" or a generic descriptor (we said "sushi" just to find out). After all, sushi really refers to rice (and more broadly to various items served atop rice), whereas sashimi is sliced raw fish sans rice. It turned out not to make a difference what we said, as each of these brought three strips of raw fish (no rice) bedecked with their unusual pairings. Chopsticks were brought out for eating these. The nairagi (a Hawaiian striped marlin, whose flesh has a whitish-pink hue) was very nice - fresh, a bit meaty and firm like a swordfish, and the pairing elements (pistachio, apricot and speck) worked nicely, the predominant one being the crisped-up speck.

The salmon, on the other hand, was an unmitigated disappointment - fishy and oversalted. I couldn't even tell you whether the unusual accompaniments of mastic (a resin derived from a Greek evergreen tree), rhubarb and pickled mushroom might have been successful, as the quality of the fish and overseasoning made it impossible to notice anything else.

The botan ebi (Japanese prawn) ceviche, spiked with cubes of papaya, was delicate and balanced, with the large dice of shrimp still tender, but not very exciting. The presentation, in a tubelike elongated glass bowl, was beautiful but did not completely distract from the fact that this was a rather parsimonious serving for $12.

The cheese plate which followed was decent but unexceptional. Three cheeses - a Cabrales blue, a Brunet (a nice creamy, oozy goat cheese), and one firmer cheese which I'm not now recalling - were plated with some membrillo, some macerated raisins, and pasteli (Greek sesame candy). This last was an unusual pairing, as its super-crunchy texture and tooth-sticking qualities didn't particularly seem a good match for the cheeses.

The smoked octopus came with a dice of pineapple and batonettes of sopressata, served over skordalia (a Greek garlic and walnut sauce). The octopus was tender and flavorful and the dish was an inspired combination. I am generally a sucker for the pairing of seafood and pork products, and this was a good one, with the pineapple and skordalia both providing nice complementary notes. I would have liked more of this - and indeed, the one skinny tentacle seemed a little dainty for the $13 price tag. For $4 more, the octopus dish at Michael's Genuine offers a serving nearly 2-3 times the size (given the difference in location, it would perhaps be unfair to point out that the great $9 grilled octopus app at Anise Taverna is also probably also about 3x the portion).

The lobster and sea urchin risotto which came next was the best thing we had all night. The waiter brought a rimmed plate, on which was a raw egg yolk, a couple "tongues" of uni, and a dollop of caviar. He made a little production of breaking up the egg yolk and uni with a spoon and then, from a small pot, dished over them a rich lobster risotto, mixing it all together at the table. The little production is not just for show, as it helped preserve the uni's delicate perfume and kept it from being completely overwhelmed and overcooked. This was a luxurious dish, with the egg yolk adding further richness to an already buttery risotto. The lobster - and there was quite a bit of it - was completely tender and perfectly cooked, also not an easy feat. At $16, this dish was a fantastic value, particularly compared to some of the other items we had (though Mrs. F still claims she can make a better risotto).

The spiedini "Mia Dona" brought pork involtini (stuffed with melting cheese), quail, sweetbreads, merguez sausage, and lamb tseftalia. The sausages were the real standouts here, both the spicy merguez and the more delicate but still robust tseftalia.

Despite my kvatching about value and portions on some of the items, we ended up eating a good amount of food for about $90 and did not leave hungry (though the desserts did not interest Mrs. F anyway). A couple other nice touches - some complimentary petit fours at the end of our meal (a little muffin-like cake, a coconut marshmallow, and a passionfruit jelly); and the valet parking is fully comped by the restaurant (one of the real drags of hotel dining is having to pay for parking). Service was friendly, our waiter was helpful in guiding us on how much to order, and they did a good job of grouping the courses to pace the meal appropriately. But there were some lapses. For instance, although we were sharing almost everything and the dishes were mostly presented as "small plates", we were never given any extra plates for sharing - even when the spiedini sampler was presented on a skinny wooden plank laid across the middle of the table.

One other real oddity is that there is basically no wine list to speak of. The menu lists about 5 each of whites and reds and a few bubblies, with prices by the glass and by the bottle. I asked for a wine list, and was told this was it. I'm all in favor of the "carefully selected" school of wine lists, but that's a little ridiculous. And, if I recall correctly, not a single Greek wine on the incredibly short list, despite tremendous improvements in the quality of Greek wines of late.

I appreciated the creative menu, I always enjoy the small dishes format, and some items - the nairagi, the smoked octopus, the lobster and uni risotto - were very good, but there were definitely some misses too. It was a place I wouldn't mind going back to, but don't know that I'd actively seek to return. Unfortunately, the overall experience did little to dissuade me of my concern that we are getting the "brand" but not the talent of the famous restaurants that are opening up satellite offices here in Miami. Michael Psilakis' Anthos is one of only two Michelin starred Greek restaurants in the world. Eos is not going to be the third.

Viceroy Hotel
485 Brickell Avenue
Miami, FL 33131

Eos on Urbanspoon