Egg & Dart: Sleek Greek in the Design District
"This is what a Greek feast would look like in somebody's home," the exuberant Cypriot waiter exulted. He was surveying the expansive array of mezze spread out on our table at Egg & Dart. We were drinking carafes of the house Greek wine too, which likely lent the layout an added aura of authenticity. Those who opt for quality over genuineness can choose from among some 40 global bottles that mostly range from $28 to $36 (including Hatzimichalis, a full, fruity Greek Cabernet Sauvignon).
Point is, mezze and wine are the way to go here.
The 202-seat space looks distinctively different from other Greek restaurants in Miami — meaning none of the ubiquitous blue-and-white-toned rustic trappings. The setup remains similar to its predecessor, Jonathan Eismann's Q American Barbecue: A Brazilian cherry-wood bar with a polished concrete top stands to the right of the front entrance; wainscot-backed seating still stretches the length of the rear wall. The rest of Q's cluttered roadhouse décor, however, appears to have been thoroughly stripped and sandblasted taupe and white. The minimalist design exhibits no murals of the Mediterranean, no posters or artwork, no classic egg-and-dart molding. It is a clean, contemporary space with a subtly upscale feel — a way to dine on Greek food without having to worry about plates being smashed or ouzo-crazed tourists dancing on tables.
The room is modern, but cuisine hews to the traditional. Partners Costa Grillas and Niko Theodorou are well acquainted with Greek restaurants. The latter's family owns a waterfront establishment in Mykonos, and his mother, Vagia Theodorou, runs a catering company in Athens (and helped orchestrate Egg & Dart's menu). Grillas's expertise comes from closer to home: His family has operated Maria's Greek Restaurant in Coral Gables for the past 28 years. The owners are on hand to oversee a friendly and effective staff.
Raw garlic travels the same biological pathway to the taste buds as wasabi, which might not make sense until you try Egg & Dart's skordalia. The foamy-soft garlic purée, only slightly mellowed with potato and olive oil, delivers such a potent wallop of flavor it almost makes you forgive the serving of thick-cut country bread rather than flatbread (worse: on one occasion, the crusty slices tasted as though left uncovered too long). People in some areas of northern Greece prefer sandwich bread, although for most Americans and Greeks, warm pita rounds are one of the highlights of the meal.
After we tasted the skordalia, garlic notes in a light, smooth, well-balanced hummus barely registered. Also terrific was tirokafteri, a spicy cheese spread made from creamy Dodoni feta hand-whipped with red and habanero peppers. Fromage fanciers have a few other options, such as phyllo-wrapped feta with honey; pan-fried cheese infused with ouzo (saganaki); and a platter of Greek cheeses — feta, manouri (semisoft sheep), kefalograviera (hard sheep), and haloumi (salty goat) — accompanied by a jam made from red grapes, figs, strawberries, walnuts, and dates lifted with cinnamon.
Seafood mezze followed cheeses and spreads. Four sizable shrimp saganaki , still sizzling from the skillet, arrived pooled in a bright and tart tomato-feta sauce. A pile of fried calamari exhibited crisp, blistery crusts and lots of tentacles. Bulky fried bacalao croquettes proved satisfying with a side of skordalia, and skinless seafood dumplings were delicate, divine little balls of snapper-and-shrimp mousse in a light saffron broth. The only meaty mezze we sampled were softly roasted lamb pellets scattered on a wide expanse of one-note eggplant purée.
An octopus tentacle was delicious as well — tenderly wood-grilled with lemon, Cretan olive oil, and oregano — but the portion was too small for $15. Mezze prices are otherwise fair: $6 for the spreads, $8 to $15 for most of the rest.
When in Greece, do as the Greeks do: Spend yourself into bankruptcy — I mean partake of horiatiki, one of the world's ideal salad combos. The rendition here of ripe tomato, cucumber, red onion, green pepper, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, olive oil, vinegar, and dried oregano was only minimally marred by an imbalance of too much red onion and not enough cucumber. The other "Greek salad" offered has similar ingredients but is served with Ambler gin in a cocktail glass. The drink features tomato water, muddled cucumber, pepperoncini, lime, and a garnish of feta-stuffed Kalamata olives ($9).
We weren't nearly as smitten with entrées. A leg of lamb special brought well-flavored but paper-thin slices that robbed the meat of its texture. The plate also contained a couple of squares of cooked pepper, a steamed disk of zucchini, and a few wedges of lukewarm roasted lemon-oregano potatoes. Better stick to meat you can sink your teeth into, like the herb-marinated, double-cut lamb chops.
The signature entrée is psari, whole fish grilled with olive oil and lemon. The catch changes semidaily. We got to choose between a one-pound branzino ($32) and a two-pound red snapper ($42). The branzino was overcharred on the grill, not only blackening the skin but also imbuing the delicate, fresh white flesh with too much smoky flavor. Judging from similar-looking fish being served about the room on all visits, I think this assertive grilling is done purposefully as a matter of replicating the authentic over-the-fire-pit Greek style. Still, they can take the black down a notch.
The branzino was presented in its entirety and then returned to the kitchen to fillet. Regrettably, the side vegetables took the roundtrip ride with the fish, so when the latter was ready to eat, the former was cold. Even if warm, the carrot and overcooked broccoli and cauliflower would not have impressed.
Galactobourico — a fresh wedge of orange-scented custard encased in buttery baked phyllo dough and draped in walnuts and cinnamon-infused honey — very much impressed. Chocolatina is a flat, intensely flavored square of brandy-boosted dark-chocolate cake.
A Greek feast indeed — and Egg & Dart is a nice place to have one.
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