By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
A few nights later we tripped lightly down to Avra Taverna, hope springing eternal, based in part on enthusiastic reports from local chowhounds. Avra distinguishes itself by its focus on seafood: The menu says the stuff is imported from Greece or comes via the Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx. Chef Andreas Kotsifos, originally from Crete, has made the rounds at restaurants in Paris, Florence, New York, and Palm Beach. Avra looked like a whole different kettle of fish. We were stoked.
Where Eros is chic and breezy, Avra is ticky-tacky, in a good way, mostly: prows of boats and taxidermied fish and fake grape vines everywhere. The restaurant is laid out in three tiers, a full bar on the third level, a mezzanine, and the lower floor next to the stage, so theoretically everybody has a great view of the stage.
Avra's menu is ambitious, particularly the roster of fish. Chef-owner Kotsifos has rounded up a mini-ecosystem of marine life: two kinds of white snapper, sargos (little sea bream), barbounia (red mullet), grilled sardines, lavraki (the butt-ugly sea wolf), pan-fried codfish, and tsipoura royal dorado from the Mediterranean (not all are available every night), along with local pompano, Maine lobster, blue fin tuna, and Pacific salmon. There's octopus and smelts, grilled shrimp, and a raw bar serving oysters and clams. We started our tour with appetizers of grilled sardines ($8) and stuffed squid ($9.95), and a plate of gigantes lima beans in a light tomato sauce ($5.95) to cut the richness of the seafood. We liked the squid stuffed with herby, soft cheese (watch out for those toothpicks!). Gigantic limas in tomato sauce, liberally sprinkled with chopped fresh oregano and parsley, were great with fresh lemon squeezed on top. But the grilled sardines, charred whole, had an overpoweringly dense flavor I didn't find entirely pleasant.
6298 N. Federal Highway
Boca Raton, FL 33487
Region: Boca Raton
11401 NW 12th St.
Doral, FL 33172
Region: West Dade
Whole grilled tsipoura comes black and sizzling from the grill, but this very moist and mild fish, with a texture just short of mushy, needs lots of lemon and requires the extrication of many small bones. At $25 it's still a bargain, even if you don't touch the bland side of potatoes, carrots, and broccoli. So is a kabob of grilled, marinated swordfish with shrimp, scallops, tomatoes, and peppers over rice ($19.95), but the swordfish was overcooked.
None of it was in the least memorable.
And the bathroom at Avra could ruin the heartiest appetite. If go you must, whatever you do, don't look up.
Would we return? Negative.
We had a brighter future. Taverna Kyma in Boca turned out the best of the lot: understated décor in oranges and blues (two trays of autumnal foliage hang from the ceiling), sexy Aegean club music, low prices, good food, a full bar. And no wonder. The menu's identical to Opa's. By now these folks know what to do with a grilled prawn. We loved: crisp fried rounds of zucchini sprinkled with cheese and served with skordalia as a sort of dip (this huge plate of food is a ridiculous bargain at $5). Steamed wild greens ($5) made us feel healthy, soaked in all that olive oil and lemon, though they could have used a pinch of salt. Their spanakopita ($5), the classic spinach pie, wasn't the most delicate version I've ever tasted, but the filling of mint-infused spinach and feta was delectalicious.
Twenty bucks could sate two reasonable appetites here, but ours aren't reasonable. We had tender, flavorful roast lamb ($18) served with a side of green beans and stewed tomatoes and a heap of lemon potatoes. A huge square of moussaka ($12) emitted scent of clove and cinnamon between layers of toothsome sliced potatoes, eggplant, and ground beef topped with a golden layer of broiled white sauce.
We were content. The unsettlingly handsome waiters, the plentiful bread, the hum and bustle of this busy, happy restaurant were enough to divert our minds from whatever our present and future leaders were getting up to. Mitt Romney? Who dat?