A few years ago, while my wife and I were seated at an outdoor seafood restaurant on the island of Santorini, a seemingly frail and elderly lady astonished us by repeatedly rising from her chair and punting puddy cats further than one would have thought possible by someone even triple her size; and then sitting down again with the nonchalance of having just gotten up to confiscate a gum wrapper. Admittedly it was distracting, even unnerving, to dine as flying felines swooshed by the table, though it's not difficult to explain why we, and, for that matter, the cats, kept coming back night after night: The fish, fresh and simple, was delicious.
At Mylos Restaurant & Bar, located in the Hotel Château Bleau in Coral Gables, there are no kicked cats, or even smashed plates (one might say that Greeks possess a perverse sense of what constitutes restaurant entertainment), but red snappers are handled in much the same way as on the Greek islands. The fresh, whole fish are even displayed in a similar manner, lined up atop a bed of shimmering crushed ice in a wooden cart situated between the restaurant entrance and two dining rooms (the first a small, formal space for nonsmokers; the second a larger, livelier, more casual psarotaverna, with colorful chairs and blue-and-white-checkered tablecloths). Next time we saw our snapper it was on a tableside tray, the waiter removing the grilled fillets from the bone and plating them with a splash of vibrant olive oil and a smattering of capers. Other "charcoal-broiled" seafood picks include salmon, swordfish, and catch of the day, on one visit grouper topped with tart lemon-caper sauce; not bad, but commonplace in comparison to the lightly delectable snapper. Heartier appetites might be better served by one of three surf-and-turf combinations involving filet mignon, lamb chops, and assorted shellfish.
All things considered, if I had to be an animal in Greece I'd rather be a cat than a lamb, the unfortunate fate that befalls this animal reflected in a duo of dishes: broiled baby lamb chops, and leg of lamb "cooked in the oven with Athenian potatoes." The description should have read "overcooked," as the withered strips tasted like the meat scraped off one of those giant souvlaki cones. A gloppy brown sauce helped only to resuscitate memories of the sort of gravies school cafeterias use when attempting to camouflage Salisbury steaks. Furthermore there was nothing "Athenian" about the few slices of roasted potatoes, unless that term has come to imply lukewarm. Same potatoes were paired with most other entrées too, along with an equally tepid lump of white rice, which became a real starch overload when presented with potato-eggplant-and-beef-layered moussaka. A snowy blanket of bechamel sauce topped the otherwise delectable square of adeptly cooked ingredients, though ground lamb arguably yields a more flavorful result than beef.
Mylos Restaurant teau Bleau), Coral Gables
305-461-0403. Open daily for breakfast 7:00 to 11:00 a.m., for lunch noon till 4:00 p.m., and for dinner Sunday through Thursday 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 6:00 p.m. to midnight.
I suppose it's wrong to bicker about the superfluity of starches here, especially in light of my habit of criticizing restaurants for not providing any; I should be grateful that Mylos offers up such a generous amount of food at very reasonable prices. The bounty begins with a predinner plate of warm, grilled pita bread with pungent cucumber-yogurt tzatziki. Starters are ample, and entrées are accompanied not only by those stodgy starches but also dilled carrots and broccoli, and a choice of salad or soup -- including a topnotch avgolemono, the truly Athenian balm that soothes with chicken stock, eggs, lemon juice, and rice. That's a lotta meal for as little as $10.95 (the moussaka); the most expensive main course, at $25.50, is the Mylos Platter of lobster, shrimp, mussels, calamari, scallops, and pasta with clams, plus accompaniments.
I like that our waiter, José, whose name I mention only because he was exceptional, had the good sense to suggest a rearrangement of our order. The two of us had planned on sharing a horiatiki salad, progressing to the pikilia combo appetizer platter, and then each tackling a main course. José told us we'd be better off starting with the salad and having the pikilia as our entrée -- although the menu says it feeds two, he insisted it could easily satisfy twice as many. After a recent spate of restaurant waiters trying to pad my bill, it was refreshing to see that José was concerned more about our enjoyment of the meal than how high he could hike his tip percentage. And he was right -- we were quite filled by the time we finished all of the pikilia's components: crackly fried calamari; "Greek sausage" (which tasted suspiciously like spicy Italian); long, charred tentacles of tough, overcooked octopus; two densely delicious dolmades of beef and rice wrapped in grape leaves and draped in lemon sauce; crisp squares of bacalao fried in olive oil; a couple of incredibly moist grilled shrimp; and a phyllo triangle apiece of spinach (spanakopita) and cheese (tiropitakia). The pikilia costs $24.95; individual starters run from $4.95 to $9.95.
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Mylos dishes up a lettuce-based Greek salad, as well as the more authentic, leafless horiatiki of ripe red tomato wedges, cucumber, green pepper, red onion, black olives, and a full rectangular slab of soft, creamy feta cheese -- all tossed in an oregano-flecked vinaigrette. Unlike the lackluster starches, the impeccable horiatiki flashed the sort of sparkling-fresh quality you'd expect from this year's Best Greek Restaurant.
Rule of thumb concerning Greek desserts is either you like them all or you don't like any. Baklava is the litmus test. The one here was, as always, intensely sweet, though not due solely to an infusion of honey; nowadays most restaurants blend in sugar syrup, perhaps partly as a means to sate this country's cane-oriented sweet tooth, but mostly, I suspect, because it's cheaper. Galactobourico features a thinner phyllo crust wrapped around a wedge of milk pudding. Still not salivating? Better order the plate of seasonal fruits.
Greek coffee is also an iffy proposition for some, but, again, there are alternatives -- regular coffee, cappuccino, tea ... or a shot of flaming ouzo from the bar. I'd suggest the last, maybe alongside a Greek coffee, because part of the charm of dining here undeniably lies in the festive atmosphere achieved when the rooms fill to their 156-seat capacity -- there's live Greek music every Friday and Saturday night from 8:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. Mylos is fun, its food fresh and affordable. That's why, despite some flaws, it's still as good as any Greek restaurant in Miami.