Thursday, February 19, 2009

Travel to Greece at Anise Taverna


One of my favorite restaurants was written up (the good kind) in the Miami Herald today!!

Simplicity rules at the third incarnation of Ouzo, a Normandy Isle darling that was done in by road construction after it relocated to South Beach. Now called Anise Waterfront Taverna, the Greek restaurant resembles a Mykonos hangout. Part a curtain of translucent capiz shells and take a seat at a rustic wood table in the simply appointed white dining room or head for the deck seats overlooking the Little River Canal.

Owners Liza and Gennaro ''Gigi'' Meoli met at the 71st Street original and married two years ago. She grew up the restaurant business in Sydney, Australia, before landing in Miami in 1993 as a flamenco dancer. They found their charming new spot (the original home of Renaisa Indian restaurant) for sale on Craigslist and fixed it up, adding a pocket bar.

The menu is inspired by their Greek, French and Italian heritages. (Gigi grew up in France, the son of a French dancer and Italian-American musician.) The Argentine chef, Pablo Cittadnia, contributes dishes like potato gnocchi in rabbit ragu and fettuccini with minced lamb, mint and garlic in yogurt sauce.

The place is named for the anise seeds that give ouzo its licorice flavor. When mixed with water or ice it turns cloudy, as you'll see when a small complimentary glass is served after dinner as a digestive.

About half the menu consists of sharable mezze. Grilled chopped octopus tentacles drizzled with lemon, olive oil and oregano; crispy fried smelts; mussels steamed in ouzo; grilled Portuguese sardines with lemon herb sauce; keftedes (grilled meatballs made from lean ground beef with yogurt dip) and baked eggplant rolls stuffed with feta in homemade plum tomato sauce are among the options.

Fresh whole fish (flown from Italy and Greece by an international distributor) include branzini (sea bass) and dorado (sea bream). The fish are brought to the table for inspection, cooked and fileted at the table by Gigi. Have it roasted with raisins, pine nuts and rosemary in balsamic reduction.

There's also bouillabaisse with mixed fish and shellfish in fennel and white wine broth with grilled herb baguette for soaking up the soup, lamb shank braised in red wine served over rice pilaf, and a light version of moussaka with half the b├ęchamel usually used to make the eggplant and beef casserole.

Liza's mom makes the desserts, including a scrumptious coconut cake soaked in sugar syrup. On busy nights when the mood strikes, Liza dances the Zorba and smashes plates. Kali orexi! (Bon appetit!)

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