“In Spain and Europe, even middle class people are proud to spend their money on the best, fresh food from farmers and fisherman. But too many people here (read: Americans) have gotten spoiled and now want everything cheap.” So says José Andrés (arguably the chef with the most food cred in America right now) to me as we discuss the most remarkable restaurant to open in Las Vegas in the past five years. Essentially, that restaurant is his competition — sitting as it does a stone’s throw from Jaleo (his just-opened spot) across the third floor of The Cosmopolitan — in what will soon be called The Ultimate Gourmet Food Court by every gastronome in America.
Our conversation about Estiatorio Milos is taking place while José is (literally) dashing to and fro, kibbitzing with customers, gently berating waiters, and rushing by my spot at the tapas bar to (literally) pop the occasional deep fried quail egg with artichoke or molecular olive into my mouth. The effect is like to trying to interview Andrés Iniesta during a soccer match, but in between his Spanish-flecked patter and good natured ribbing of the restaurant writer, he is full of admiration for what Costas Spiliadis is doing across the hall.
“When you consider the freshness and quality he is bringing to the table, his prices aren’t really that high at all,” Andrés offers, as he cuts up a quickly-fried egg for me and mixes it with Spanish caviar. “It is the way people who care about what they eat do around the world. Americans just need to be taught.”
What he’s referring to is the conceit that underlies both his restaurant and Milos — that of exquisite food meant to be shared. Both restaurants eschew the “I’ll have the Dover sole” form of ordering in favor of making the ordering and eating of everything a communal experience. While Jaleo may trumpet its wacky, fabulous tapas served in a blizzard of small plates, Milos, as befitting the standard bearer for the culture that founded Western Civilization, prefers a more formal approach. Both restaurants are best experienced in groups of 3-6 — the better to enjoy a variety of the bounty they offer, and at Milos, it’s also the best way to get the most bang for your buck.
Consider this: a whole, 3 pound fish will run your table around $150. (They don’t serve fillets here, believing rightly, that flavor and freshness is lost by cutting up a fish before it is cooked.) Split two ways, both the cost and the amount of fish is more than an average couple would want. Bring one or two more hungry souls to the table, though, and that pristine pisces now costs no more than the average strip steak. The same holds true for the appetizers and salads. The Eipirotaki salad — a major mound of sliced cabbage dotted with dill, Blue des Causses, and orange slices — seems expensive at $16.50, but not if you split it four ways…and there is plenty to feed four. Thus are all items on this menu made for a table of at least three adults, making the price/person more than reasonable — especially in the realm of high-end dining with such impeccable provisions.
Andrés won’t be the only one praising of Milos’ food once you bite into a perfect piece of charred, slightly chewy octopus, or dip your lightly fried eggplant into a tzatziki sauce from another planet. Paper thin, fried zucchini accompany the eggplant in the “Milos Special,” along with cubes of Graviera cheese saganaki. Crunch, cheese, yogurt and vegetables effectively becoming a celebration of all that is good and holy about the Mediterranean diet. Follow these with a platter of four spreads (tzatziki, fava, lemony hummus, and a silky taramosalata) and you’ll start getting with the Peloponnese program.
That program consists of a deceptively simple, two page menu, with eleven appetizers on the left side, five salads and vegetables on the right, two Creekstone Farms steaks, Gleason Ranch lamb chops, and a single heading that says simply: From The Sea. Under that heading are the entries: Fish in Sea Salt, and Astakomakaronada (an Athenean lobster pasta for two that will set you back a cool $120). But the deliciousness of this place is in the fine print at the bottom of the menu, that refers you to Milos’ “display” — the huge fish/seafood/vegetable counter against the far wall, beside the open kitchen, where the day’s catch is displayed for you to peruse and choose from.
Before you get to them, though, one appetizer is mandatory: avgotaraho aikieroto, aka bottarga — the famed roe of the Mediterranean grey mullet. One of the world’s great delicacies, you will neither find nor taste a better version of this briny, nutty, haunting essence of the sea. Not a bad deal for thirty-two dollars.
Of the whole fish, they beckon to you like Poseidon’s soldiers, begging to be eaten so their sacrifice was not in vain. After you are seated, your waiter will ask if you’d like to view the display — a cagey marketing move bent on capturing an already captive audience — and will take you through the pedigree of each fish as if each were a personal friend. Clear-eyed with glistening skin, each species is a wonder of the edible ocean so prized by seafood aficionados. Order the lavraki (aka loup de mer) roasted under a crust of Mediterranean sea salt (yes, even the salt comes from a certain supplier prized by Spiliadis), and you will get the whole show from Executive Chef Pericles Koskinas as he carefully chips away the crust, then rolls back that skin without breaking it, before portioning out the dense-but-soft, fragrant flesh. A few capers and a lemon/olive oil emulsion of unmatched intensity is all you need to appreciate your piece of perfection.
Most of these swimmers are also offered raw, crudo-style, and while the presentation won’t make any sushi chef jealous, the sparkling fineness of the meat will have you questioning what you ever saw in tuna tartare.
Landlubbers will feel right at home as well, since the provenance of the lamb chops (Gleason Ranch Sonoma) and the beef (Creekstone Farms) is as impeccable as their seasoning and roasting. We were lying in the weeds for those chops, expecting the same old, denuded, tasteless lamb that has become de rigeur in American restaurants ever since New Zealand figured out a way to sell lamb by making it taste like de-natured beef. Instead, a big platter of chops arrived (again, enough for four), just to the medium side of rare — instead of the other way around — best showcasing their intense, lamb-ness.
There is a serene elegance to Milos that strikes as soon as you enter the low-ceilinged, softly lit space, and continues throughout every refined, discriminating ingredient and taste placed before you. From a simple plate of lemon-grilled heli (eel) to the sweetest, thickest, creamiest goats milk yogurt circled with the best, thyme-infused honey you have ever tasted, this cuisine walks the walk of the best ingredients treated with the utmost respect.
It is the way Greeks have always eaten.
It is the way everyone should eat.
ELV tried to pay twice for each of his meals, but was denied the privilege. He left $140 in tips instead.
In The Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino
3708 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109