It's just after 8 o'clock on a Saturday night at Estiatorio Milos by Costas Spiliadis.
Try saying that five times. Or do what I do and just call it Milos.
An estiatorio is a step up from a Greek taverna. Milos is Greek for windmill, and Spiliadis is the owner of this and four other locations in Montreal, New York, Athens and Las Vegas. He added his name to the restaurant's Miami Beach moniker because there's already a Estiatorio Milos in Boca Raton.
Awkward name aside, Milos isn't so much a Greek restaurant as it is a temple to exquisite Mediterranean seafood. Don't come looking for moussaka or pastitsio, or bad belly dancers, deafening bouzouki music or diners dancing on table tops.
I'm told a refrigerated Mercedes truck makes multiple trips between MIA and Milos, dropping off fresh seafood that is expertly grilled over charcoal. The other night, European sea bass and red mullet both cost $57 per pound. Langouste or spiny lobster was $98 per pound. It's some of the freshest seafood in South Florida, which guests choose from an icy display on the counter near the kitchen.
To say the 12,000-square-foot restaurant is as simple as the seafood preparation is to ignore the lush expanses of white Dionysos marble that cover almost every surface in the restaurant. Imported from Greece, it's a signature of every Milos location. New York-based designer Jeffrey Beers, who did the renovation of Fontainebleau Miami Beach, evokes something rustic with the blond-beamed wooden ceiling. But it's that marble you remember.
Linger at the bar and take in the interior. The bartender pours a generous cocktail. And yes, those are fresh garlic cloves weighing down the sheer curtains that divide the main dining room.
The restaurant boasts some anachronistic and unnecessary South Beach touches. What's with the two burly guys in bouncer-style black suits opening the front doors? While the acoustics are outstanding, the music could be a tad lower.
But the pampered service starts with bread, when the waiter's assistant comes by with an oregano plant in a small pot. She clips some of the fresh herb to scent the olive oil for our just-grilled bread. Our waiter, his waiter's assistant and even the food runners seem to have been hired as much for their friendliness as for their skills. Even the sommelier, often such serious souls, cracks a friendly joke when we ask about Hatzidakis Winery. He accuses us of being wine geeks. We plead not guilty, and he leads us toward a vermentino.
If you eat just one appetizer, make it the Milos special ($29). Lightly fried slices of zucchini and eggplant are stacked in a circle. In the center of that circle is a dollop of creamy tzatziki ready for dipping. Kefalograviera — the cheese most of us know as the stuff that's flambeed tableside as saganaki — is sauteed and served alongside the veggie crisps.
Tomato salad ($16/$28) — with English cucumbers, red onion, green peppers, olive oil and oregano — contains some of the finest feta I've tasted. Charred octopus is indeed charred (perfectly) and tossed with oregano, capers, red-wine vinegar and olive oil. If there is any filler in the Maryland blue crab cake ($32), I can't see it or taste it. How does this cake keeps its shape?
Eager to try as much as we could on the menu, we ask for the smallest of the 16 fish choices being served. Our waiter suggests tsipoura ($57 per pound), a member of the sea bream family, which weighs in at just under a pound. Like most of the fish here, it's prepared and presented simply, with just a bit of oil and lemon. Order a whole fish in sea salt — minimum of three pounds — and the tableside show as the salt is removed and the fish is deboned is pure theater.
Milos is just as proud of its Creekstone Farms prime beef, most of it dry-aged. It's so incredible that $61 for a 10-ounce filet almost doesn't seem out of line. An 18-ounce, bone-in New York strip costs $59. Four prime lamb chops ($59) are grilled and served simply with a few French fries.
Not every dish is plated with a vegetable, so side dishes are in order. Steamed potatoes Greek-style ($16) are just a bit oversteamed and a little too starchy for this preparation. Better to go with a waxier potato. Horta ($12), a green that looks and tastes like red kale, is a perfect accompaniment to the healthful seafood.
Keep in mind that there aren't any chef-invented dishes here. Ingredients speak for themselves, except at dessert. There are too many layers of phyllo in the buttery baklava ($10) to count. And the very un-Greek chocolate mousse cake ($10) is exceptional.
Milos opened in May. Judging by the late-August crowds, it's already a hit.
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Estiatorio Milos by Costas Spiliadis
730 First St., Miami Beach
Cost: Very expensive
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Credit cards: AC
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Can be a bit noisy at peak times
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: $15 valet