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Review: Ouzo Bay runs deep in Boca Raton

Correspondent

 

★★★★

You may recall Zed 451, the Brazilian churrascaria that once occupied the space at 201 Plaza Real in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park. Or perhaps Michael Fagien's Jazziz Nightlife, which followed in 2013 and became known more for its live musical acts than for the restaurant’s New American cuisine. After a three-year run, Jazziz closed, and the 11,000-square-foot space was taken over by the Baltimore-based Atlas Restaurant Group.

Ouzo Bay Greek Kouzina, which opened in March, is the company’s first foray outside Baltimore. While its stated focus is on “seafood cuisine from around the world,” Atlas also owns a Japanese restaurant, a classic Maryland seafood house, a fast-casual delicatessen and the original Ouzo Bay. Additional establishments include an Italian chophouse and speakeasy concept slated to open this summer.

According to Atlas founder Alex Smith, the company spent two years renovating the space in Mizner Park. The interior design reflects this effort. A stage that once welcomed acts such as Acoustic Alchemy and Spyro Gyra is now surrounded by upholstered banquettes and circular booths that run the length of the dining room. Two rooms are designated for private dining, and a private cigar bar and patio can be found in the back of the restaurant, a holdover from the jazz club. A communal table and DJ booth are across form the extended bar area. Background music stays where it should, at least until later in the evening, when songs by the Four Seasons, SOS Band, Michael Jackson and similar artists kick in, the lights dim and a more youthful demographic shift takes place.

Warm wood tones, marble accents, illuminated glass objets d'art, white coral displays and tasteful touches of Mediterranean blue lighting create an intimacy you might not expect to find in such a a large space. Suspended pendant lighting is thoughtfully adjusted, allowing diners to put their best faces forward. What woman doesn’t appreciate great lighting? This is just one of many elements Ouzo Bay nails.

We arrived with reservations during prime time on a recent Saturday night, and were immediately shown to our table. Despite the grandiose foyer, we were not made to endure a pretentious wait or attitude. Just smiling hospitality. Water service was offered, and our glasses remained full throughout the evening thanks to a young, clean-cut man who intuitively stayed on top of the stemware. Our friendly and adept server, Charlie, suggested that we take a walk to the back of the restaurant, where an iced seafood display sits in front of the kitchen. He thoroughly and knowledgeably described the evening’s international catch, and pointed out a separate display of steaks and chops.

We returned to our table and nibbled on a plate of complimentary olive tapenade, tzatziki and toasted pita before starting with a mezze sampler ($45). I was impressed by the trained food runner’s ability to describe the array without skipping a beat or looking as if he were on the stand in a courtroom. The delicious assortment consists of a creamy baked feta atop a slice of beefsteak tomato with a balsamic reduction, spanakopita, one of the best I’ve had in years, combined spinach and leeks wrapped in crispy, buttery phyllo; tender gigante beans in a dill-tomato sauce; keftedes, moist, flavorful lamb meatballs; and four house spreads — almond skordalia, zesty tirokafteri, taramasalata and tzatziki. The platter easily serves the menu-suggested two to four people, and then some.

Four tender grape leaves stuffed with a generous amount of aromatic beef are topped with a light, lemony, avgolemono sauce that makes up the satisfying dolmades ($9) appetizer. Seafood mezedes include char-grilled octopus ($12 for half / $24 for full order), fried or grilled calamari ($14/$15), shrimp saganaki ($18) and tuna tartare ($18). A classic horiatiki ($12), or Greek salad, of ripe, beefsteak tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, feta and Kalamata olives is simply dressed with red-wine vinegar and olive oil. Based on the selection and quality, making a casual meal of just appetizers at the bar is on tap for a return visit.

Paidakia, or lamb chops ($28 for two / $52 for four), needed nothing more than the salt, pepper and char-grilled perfection that was presented. Roasted-lemon potatoes, asparagus and a judicious amount of rosemary-balsamic sauce are served alongside. Larger appetites might consider the 24-ounce prime tomahawk rib-eye ($58) or the slow-braised bone-in lamb shank ($32).

Plaki, or Chilean sea bass ($39), braised with tomato, onions and fava beans, strikes a balance with capers, shaved garlic and bursts of fresh oregano that make the moist fish shine. Head-on vasalikes garides, or colossal prawns ($22 each), char-grilled with wild Greek oregano are rich and buttery and served with a vinegary frisee salad. The impressive selection of whole fish and other ocean specialties includes Dover sole ($58) from Holland, Hawaiian Kona kampachi ($35 per pound), Mediterranean branzino and dorado ($29), langoustines from Norway ($14 each) and Japanese Hokkaido scallops ($36). Aside from the red snapper ($29), black sea bass ($34) and colossal warm water lobster tails ($45 for a 10-ounce / $95 for a 24-ounce), it would be nice to see a few more choices from waters closer to home.

It’s no surprise that the desserts at Ouzo Bay are made in-house. Blackberry compote dresses the plate of a double-layer chocolate cake ($8) filled and draped with a creamy ganache. While I’ve never been a big fan of baklava ($9), due to its typical overly syrupy and sweet profile, this crispy rendition, filled with nuts and a hint of clove and served with vanilla-bean ice cream, had me going in for seconds. Vanilla custard ($10) topped with a layer of phyllo and fresh raspberry garnish was a tad overcooked for my taste.

Friendly jazz ghosts of the past may be living on as Ouzo Bay hits all the right notes. If the restaurant has a shortcoming, it’s the Secret Service appearance of the suited gentlemen wearing earpieces who orchestrate the flow and seating. This estiatorio is too sophisticated for that.

Ouzo Bay Greek Kouzina

201 Plaza Real, Boca Raton

561-757-0082, OuzoBay.com

Cuisine: Greek

Cost: Expensive

Hours: Lunch and dinner daily

Reservations: Accepted

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Full

Sound level: Conversational

Outside smoking: No

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Parking: Valet, free area garage

Kids: Highchairs, no specified menu

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