2.5 stars for North Miami's Sea Grill

 

Sea Grill a fish lover's delight

fish

Jodi Mailander Farrell

Sea Grill is a sprawling Greek restaurant along the Intracoastal Waterway in North Miami Beach, but don't go there looking for moussaka or gyros.

Instead, expect an excellent array of fish, fish and more fish, filleted and pan-seared, char-broiled or charcoal grilled. There's
whole branzino, dorade, pink snapper and red mullet flown in fresh from Greece and red snapper, grouper, tuna and swordfish plucked from our own coast.

And pompano. Oh, the pompano. The sweet, white meat of one of Florida's most prized fish will make your taste buds dance. Pompano is plentiful in our waters, but often shipped out of state and out of our reach. Sea Grill serves the fish whole, grilled and deboned, with nothing but lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Leave it to a Greek chef from New York to teach us how to enjoy seafood. Peter Spyropoulos, 48, was raised in Queens in a family that ran Greek diners. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America, cooked at restaurants including Le Cirque and opened Greek gems including Estiatorio Milos in Manhattan and Limani in Long Island.

We can thank his working mother for his culinary curiosity. A cleaning lady at the World Trade Center (she retired six months before 9-11), she worked evenings, leaving her sons to devise their own dinners. While his brother made "Skippy sandwiches," Spyropoulos took time to explore.

One of my few complaints about Sea Grill is that he doesn't explore more. Nearly every dish on the menu is seasoned with the same lemon-olive oil combination, which becomes redundant after a few meals.

But repetitiveness and splurge prices don't seem to deter the crowds, which pack the 240-seat restaurant by 7:30 p.m., both inside and out on a mangrove-lined patio, where boats can dock for dinner.

The formal, white-tablecloth interior defies the restaurant's location at the end of the Intracoastal Mall, where it shares space with T.J. Maxx and Old Navy. Conversations in Hebrew, Russian, Spanish and English buzz in a dining room staffed by courteous waiters in cobalt blue vests. (Training seems lacking, however; a young waiter couldn't answer our questions about the menu.) A white marble floor, blue lights under the bar and two large-screen TVs flashing aquarium Greek-landscape scenes add an odd frenzy to the atmosphere, but the tranquil wooden patio provides welcome respite.

The restaurant has a generous spirit. A basket of warm, crusty bread arrives within minutes of seating, accompanied by fresh hummus and seasoned oil. Complimentary house-made limoncello is offered at the end of the meal and, on one visit, a dense gingerbread dessert dressed with blackberry sauce, mint and candied walnuts appeared at our table unsolicited -- and uncharged. A plate of fresh semolina cookies is proffered as you leave.

Though fish is the focus, the large menu features eight meats, including a good-looking veal chop, New York strip steak, kebabs of perfectly-cooked chicken and beef filet and char-broiled lamb chops, seasoned with -- yes -- lemon and olive oil.

Two pages of appetizers can keep a table busy for an evening. Highlights include grilled, sushi-tender Portuguese octopus and baked oysters topped with feta, spinach and kefalotiri cheese. Fried zucchini and eggplant are thinly sliced into rounds, lightly breaded and served with tzatziki, a tangy cucumber-garlic dip. Shrimp, mussels, calamari, smelt, crab cakes and clams round out the small-plate options.

Here's hoping Sea Grill's success will encourage other South Florida restaurants to work harder at giving us the fresh fish we deserve.

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