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Restaurant Reviews

Greek and Good

Even in South Florida, it's possible to have a snowball effect in late fall. Just after Thanksgiving, bunches of family members -- a veritable My Big Fat Greek Wedding's worth -- were clamoring for a place to eat. It started with just one or two people, and then the ball really got, well, rolling.

After doing the math, my first thought was to haul them all to Mykonos, where bigger groups are handled with typical Greek aplomb. In fact, parties with multiple diners are actually solicited, particularly around holiday time. The restaurant has placed advertisements in local papers offering a complimentary dinner ("Simply bring a party of 4 or more, get 1 entrée free") and encouraging reservations for those tough-to-find-an-open-restaurant nights of Christmas Eve and Christmas. Hey, it's a nice alternative to Chinese food.

Mykonos courts the more complicated check for two main reasons: It has patient waiters and lots of space. Though the interior dining room of this 140-seat taverna can be close and loud -- yes, there's crashing crockery, belly dancers, people dancing on tables to reinterpreted Greek disco, and continual exhortations of "Opa!" -- the restaurant, located in Wharfside Plaza in Boca Raton, also boasts an 80-seat dock area that overlooks the water. The audiovisual melee occasionally trickles out through the doors, but for the most part, if you sit outside, you can have a conversation.

You can also have a tasty, three-course meal served family-style, which is ideal for hearty gatherings. For $40 per person, diners first receive a mix of mezedes, or appetizers, that run from tzatziki to spinach pie and are garnished with pungent kalamata olives and tomatoes. We found that aside from an acceptably seasoned hummus, the dips in general lacked finesse -- the tzatziki had no discernible cucumber flavor, and the eggplant "mouse" (mousse) tasted like pure mayonnaise. But the crisp spinach pie, fragrant grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice, and red bell peppers roasted with feta cheese were more accomplished. We especially enjoyed a salad of squid and octopus that had been dressed with lemon and olive oil. And the pita bread that accompanied the platter tasted like it had just been baked (as opposed to baked by someone else and reheated).

The starters were followed by another platter of Greek village salad, a veritable mountain of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and olives tossed with lemony oregano vinaigrette and capped with a cloud cover of just-salty feta. Separately plated, juicy grilled lamb chops seasoned with oregano and rosemary; succulent broiled Maine lobster tails; and assorted souvlaki-style meats are arranged around a forest of broccoli spears and a field's worth of roasted, garlic-infused, rosemary-scented white potatoes. Rather than belabor each individual item, I'll sum up: Everything we sampled in this highly flavored main course was excellent. And there was a bonus: The portions were an embarrassment of riches.

But rather than call the local soup kitchen to make a donation of your leftovers, look for creative ways of re-creating the leftovers (à la the remains of the 25-pound turkey). For instance, my sister-in-law packed up the remaining feta, onions, and tomatoes to make omelets the next morning, and I took the broccoli and potatoes for a follow-up of quick, delicious soup. Lobster, of course, is a cinch -- a sprinkling of celery, a touch of mayo, and a squeeze of lemon await -- and other meats and chicken can be sliced up for sandwiches or green salads.

By comparison, the dessert tray seemed skimpy, with just a few pieces of baklava and a couple of other non-Greek pastries like cheesecake. This may be, if you have the room, where you could supplement with à la carte items. Sure, it might beef up the bill a little, but keep in mind that the lamb chop entrée alone costs $29; the $40 prix-fixe is really a bargain.

Such desserts and dishes can be ordered from the regular menu, which includes all of the above as well as other house specialties such as snapper Greco (yellowtail sautéed inolive oil and lemon, garnished with artichokes, capers, olives, and tomatoes) or chicken Athens (chicken breast marinated in olive oil, lemon, and oregano, then char-grilled and topped with tomatoes).

There may be some confusion about the restaurant's appellation. Mykonos, you see, is really just a cosmetic cover-up. The place used to be known as Culinaros, and the menus, while they have evolved since 1998, when I reviewed the then-year-old place, still attest to it. There are items such as "angel hair Culinaros" (zucchini, squash, red peppers, mushrooms, plum tomatoes, and fresh basil); "shrimp Culinaros" (jumbo shrimp grilled and served over a Portobello mushroom cap with white wine-garlic sauce); and "Culinaros famous" crab cakes, which boast no filler at all, allowing the Maryland jumbo lump crabmeat to shine. Not to mention that positive write-ups of Culinaros from many local papers still hang on the walls.

If you don't want to go for the name brand, start with a block of saganaki, cheese doused with Metaxa and set on fire; this is one of the better versions I've had. For more Metaxa flavor, the supple jumbo shrimp, doused with liqueured cream sauce and served in the skillet, are phenomenal. Equally impressive, the char-grilled, pale-pink Atlantic salmon, a 16-ounce portion so fresh it tastes like trout, is heightened with a portobello mushroom-scampi sauce.

Vegetarians and nonbeef eaters can also make out well here. In addition to the salads and flaming cheeses, appetizers include delicious portobello mushrooms baked with a filling of goat cheese and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. And in keeping with holiday themes, the turkey gyro is irresistible, generous strips of spiced turkey breast roasted with onions and peppers, then moistened with marinara. Now this is the way I like to give thanks.

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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick

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