It was a pleasant surprise to find out that the venerable Montreal Mediterranean seafood restaurant - Estiatorios Milos - was going to open in Las Vegas before our recent visit to the Consumer Electronics Show. (Read about my visit to the Montreal location here.) "Milos" (or the correct pronunciation "Milosh") has become "the" spot for my Montreal-based company to to take guests to dinner when they come in from out of town. It's a family-style Greek/Mediterranean restaurant where fresh fish is flown in daily and you can literally pick your fish for your meal as they lay in the iced case by the kitchen. It's really a fun time.
The Las Vegas edition of Milos opened in mid-December when the new Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino opened. We understood the project was about three months behind schedule, but already Milos was a tough ticket to get into. When my colleague Todd made reservations for us even before they opened the doors, we couldn't get a group of 12 into Milos until after 8 p.m. on the Wednesday evening before the start of the show the next day.
Estiatorios Milos in Las Vegas stays true to the philosophy from it's flagship restaurant in Montreal (with locations also in New York City and in Athens). Owner Costas Spiliadis (pictured right) brings his "fresh is first" philosophy to Las Vegas with the freshest fish brought in daily and fresh produce brought in from Southern California two or three times a week. But the simple presentation is still the highlight of Milos menu. While they feature their freshly caught fish on a daily basis, they serve it with a minimum amount of flair and pomp. Spiliadis feels the food should be the focal point - the center, if you will - of the meal without any additives to take the natural taste of the food away. Since Spiliadis opened Estiatorios Milos in 1979, he has never cooked with butter - only pure Grecian olive oil. Butter masks the real taste of the food, according to Spiliadis. Olive oil will help bring out the natural taste.
We drove from the Mirage down a very congested Las Vegas Blvd. to the Cosmopolitan for dinner that evening. Even though the Cosmopolitan is just down the street from the Mirage (see map), it's still too far of a walk. Well, actually we could have walked it and it may have been just as fast as if we drove and valet parked the vehicle. Then there was the obligatory walk through the casino at the Cosmo, up two flights and past a number of no-name stores before we finally found Milos in a corner on the third level of the entertainment area. It turned out that we could have used the east side entrance of the Cosmo instead of driving around to the "front" of the hotel which is literally on the opposite side of the Las Vegas Strip. It would have saved us a 10 minute walk from valet parking at the front of hotel to the restaurant which overlooked the Strip.
We were seated at a table near the center of the restaurant - which is much larger than the original Montreal location - just after 8 p.m. The hostess asked us if we were familiar with Milos and nearly everyone at the table sort of chuckled and said, "Oh, yeah!" Todd explained to the hostess that most of us were from Montreal and that nearly all of us had eaten at the original one in the past. She said, "Oh, great! That will save me about 10 minutes of explanation!"
We were brought out complementary baskets of Milos' grilled bread served with their house olive oil and fresh rosemary. The olive oil comes from a Spiliadis family-owned olive farm in Greece and it's bottled with the name "My Sister's Olive Oil". And it is out of this world - some of the best available. One of my colleagues from Montreal asked one of our waitresses if the olive oil was available to buy. She said there was a small shop on a lower level of the mall at the Cosmo that sold it. A couple of us stopped in after the meal to get a bottle but were stopped in our tracks when we found that a 12 oz. bottle sold for $35 bucks. Ow! I can get a 2 liter container of extra virgin Spanish olive oil at Caputo's in the Chicago area for the same money. Still, it was so good it was tempting to buy.
The head chef soon came over and introduced himself. He said, "I understand that you all are from Montreal? You're very familiar with Milos?"
Todd said, "Well, we're not all from Montreal, but we've all eaten at Milos."
My boss, Daniel, immediately said, "No, I don't think that's necessary. I think we want to do a whole fish with a bunch of appetizers."
The chef and Daniel huddled for a moment. The chef explained some of the freshest whole fish that they had to offer that evening. He told Daniel that he had about a 10 to 12 pound Mediterranean red snapper that would easily feed our group. Daniel agreed to that. He also ordered up ample amounts of Milos signature appetizers including the wonderful grilled octopus, calimari, and the Milos Special - thin slices of deep-fried zucchini, strips of eggplant and saganaki cheese served with tzatiki sauce. He also ordered up a couple bottles of a Greek 2009 Domaine Katsaros Chardonnay. We were set.
From the first appearance of the appetizers, we found that the Las Vegas version of Milos was different from the one in Montreal. While the Milos Special was similar in taste, it was much smaller in size and quantity. The calimari was absolutely spectacular, but we were very disappointed in the grilled octopus. The grilled octopus pieces in Montreal are very large - about the size of a half dollar and about an inch in depth. The ones at Milos in Las Vegas were barely the size of a nickel and about 3/8" of an inch deep. They were still wonderful to the taste, but I was highly disappointed in the size of them.
The staff began to set up the serving area and the fish was soon brought out to the table. The chef cut, chopped and de-boned the fish and served it on plates to us. Now, I've had bad luck with red snapper the last few times I've gotten it and I was sort of disappointed to find that we were getting red snapper that evening. I held out hope that it wouldn't be dry and overcooked - exactly as it has been the previous times I've gotten it over the past two or three years. Once again, disappointment set in from the first bite as I found the fish to be well overcooked and dry. Even my colleague, Todd, commented afterward, "The fish was a little dry, wasn't it?" Yes, it certainly was.
The high point of the meal, however, was the fact that I got to try my very first fish cheek. One of my colleagues told me on my first visit to Milos in Montreal that the fish cheek was considered a delicacy. It's generally moist and flavorful with a non-fishy taste to it. There was a fish cheek laying on the plate, someone offered it to me and I took it. It was exactly as described and it was the best thing I ate all night.
Well, that is, if you don't count the scrumptious desserts at Milos. Like my previous visit to the one in Montreal, we had a potpourri of desserts brought to the table. The homemade baklava is just out of this world, some of the best - if not THE best - baklava I've ever had. The key lime tort was just as good as I remember from the original Milos, and the loukoumades are sinfully great. Loukoumades is a traditional Greek dessert consisting of deep fried dough (arteries hardening as we speak) that are topped with pure honey and mixed with thyme, cinnamon and almonds. OH, my GOD!!! I'm glad I didn't eat much of the fish or it would have spoiled the dessert.
While there are a lot of similarities with the Las Vegas Estiatorios Milos and the original one in Montreal, the one in Montreal is still the better of the two. It could also very well be that they're still trying to shake the cobwebs out of the system in Las Vegas, too. It had only been open for about three weeks and I'm a firm believer that you need to be open for three months before any critical dining should take place. But we decided that it was good enough to give it a try at next year's CES and we will undoubtedly be back.