At Sea Grill, the Seafood is Fresh… Even if it’s not From Here
“This fish was swimming in the Aegean two days ago,” declares restaurant owner Alex Kalas. That very fish, baked and filleted, is being served from a wooden dolly that our waiter has pushed to the table. The server deftly lifts the light, fluffy white meat of a Branzino – a Mediterranean striped bass – and places it onto our plates. Like the restaurant itself, the plates are white trimmed with blue. Which is appropriate, since those are the colors of the Greek flag, and Sea Grill is devoted to the cuisine of Greece in its most sublime forms.
Less than six months old, Sea Grill is the latest addition to the restaurant array that brackets the open square of the Shops at Merrick Park. Hidden in the northwest corner of this courtyard, Sea Grill is already bustling, brimming with enough energy to fill its bright, cavernous space. On one wall is a giant screen with aerial shots of Greece, reminding you picturesquely of where the food is from; the back wall, likewise, is stacked with pyramids of Greek products, like lemons, cooking oil, jars of sea salt, olives, etc. Overhead are strings of chandelier crystals, mimicking fish nets. And off to one side is a huge U-shaped bar with a translucent table top that looks like blue ice.
All of this is merely the setting, a clamorous sideshow to the real star: Greek seafood expertly prepared by chef Peter Spyropoulos.
Our first appetizer – the Sea Grill Pikilia, four plates of spreads – was a chilled, refreshing assortment of tarama (fish eggs in olive oil and lemon juice), melitzanosalata (eggplant salad), tzatziki (a yogurt sauce with cucumber and dill), and skordalia (a mash of garlic, potatoes, and walnuts). We dipped into all of them with enthusiasm – and with freshly-baked pita bread that had a savory, slightly sweet, almond taste.
Next came hot appetizers of fried zucchini and eggplant, thinly sliced and crisp, served with the tzatziki yogurt dip, followed by fried calamari, light and tasty, with a red sauce and a creamy spinach dip.
On the entrée side, we chose the lovely Branzino mentioned above, which was light, delicate, and clean, bolstered with capers to add a savory edge; and the flavorful lamb chops, charbroiled and seasoned with lemon, oregano, and olive oil. What slayed us, however, was the octopus, a grilled, sushi-tender Portuguese octopus in olive oil. Absolutely delicious, without any of the rubbery or slimy tendencies that manifest when poorly prepared. Several members of our party declared it was the best they had ever eaten.
We asked Chef Spyropoulos his secret, but he would only say that “it starts with a good octopus” and “takes a couple of days” in a process that involves slow baking followed by chilling. No further details. We asked our server, and he only said, “I can’t tell you, or the chef will catch up with me and leave me by the side of the road.”
Buttressing our entrees were some excellent sides – lemon potatoes, a nice, fresh take on the old spud; broccolini, sautéed in olive oil and garlic with feta cheese; and orzo, which is a short-cut rice-shaped pasta infused with parsley. All well beyond standard. We washed all of this down with a couple of Greek white wines, a 2016 bottle of Idisma Drios Assyrtiko and a 2017 Santorini Acroterra, and finished off with baklava and walnut cake with ice cream.
Sea Grill is an almost theatrical experience – a bright, boisterous bath of white with blue trim lighting. “This is such a beautiful place that I want to die here, and be buried here,” says owner Kalas, who has been running restaurants in South Florida with his partners since 1995. But they have been mostly Italian restaurants, such as the adjacent Villagio. Sea Grill (which has a sister establishment in north Miami Beach) is his ode to his home country. And, with all respect to Homer, if Odysseus had not been lashed to the mast, he would have eaten here.
Sea Grill | Shops at Merrick Park | 305.447.3990