To dine at Estiatorio Milos in Hudson Yards, one of the city’s most expensive seafood restaurants, is to witness the efforts of a small army. Over 130 staffers tend to fire-spitting grills, butcher whole fish, turn entire mackerel into tartare a la minute, and carve up turbot tableside in mere moments. To dine downstairs at Milos Wine Bar, however, is to witness a very different ballet, and arguably a more compelling one.
Just two or so chefs prepare every item on the much shorter menu. They slice raw tuna and anoint it with yuzu kosho. They lay a sinuous octopus tentacle on a wicked-hot grill. They drizzle Madagascar prawns with olive oil. They shave succulent pork off a rotating spit for gyros.
For this four-course feast, plus two glasses of wine, tax, and tip, you pay just $88. That much wouldn’t buy you half a lobster pasta upstairs at dinner.
I had strong words for Estiatorio Milos shortly after it opened, and again today. No matter how grand (or average) your Mediterranean-tinged meal there might be, you always feel cheated.
Milos Wine Bar is the less opulent endeavor. There’s no view of the Vessel or the Hudson river; the space simply overlooks the mall’s empty interior. But the wine bar is also the more affordable and generous concept. Not a single item rises above $16. That octopus the chef was grilling evidences as much technical expertise as other business-class cephalopods around town. There’s that purplish exterior, like a crisp baguette with suction cups; the middle layer of gelatin, ever-so squishy; and the meaty interior, firm and juicy. All that’s missing is that gas grill “kiss” from upstairs. Here it’s $10. There it’s $32.
Taramasalata, a Greek feat that takes briny cod roe and olive oil and transforms it into a product that’s silkier than hummus, is only available as part of a trio of spreads upstairs. The cost? Thirty-nine dollars. Here, it’s available alone, with warm pita, for $10.
Everything about the wine bar is an axiomatic argument against the absurd pricing of the main dining room.
This includes the wines themselves. Milos upstairs offers 11 whites by the glass, more than half of them at $17 or more. Getting ahold of a waiter to order one (or a cocktail) sometimes means eating through half a $100 entree, sans beverage. But the wine bar downstairs offers at least 30 whites (and 37 reds) by the glass, with the bulk below $15; a few hover just below $10. Every selection is Greek, a bonus in a city where Hellenic wines don’t get the representation that they deserve.
It’s also a rare menu to offer meaningful tasting notes, detailing the rose-petal notes of a Greek moschofilero (whose high acidity will cut through a sausage like a knife through butter) or the tropical aromas of a malagousia (whose medium tartness doesn’t obliterate the subtleties of raw tuna). The bartender will also offer pre-purchase tastes by default, a courtesy I didn’t encounter upstairs.
There’s a certain irony about the whole setup: The wine bar can offer the type of service and wine selections one might expect from a fancy chef’s counter tasting, while the massive 240-seat dining room, where dinner for two can easily run $500 or more, is more akin to an economy class experience.
That’s the Milos money machine. If you’re a millionaire many times over, and you know precisely what to order, upstairs can be a party. Otherwise, the right move is to hang out down here. Here are a few notes on the menu:
Spanakopita: The classic Greek pie, a blend of spinach, feta, and phyllo. The component flavors are stellar; the greens and feta express a vibrant sourness. But the pastry is stale.
Madagascar prawns: The $16 single-shrimp version of the larger $39 starter upstairs. The prawn oozes dark, heady juices when the head is removed. Suck out what you can and use soft pita to mop up whatever’s on the plate. The crustacean is cooked masterfully; the salty flesh packs a welcome chew and a midlevel maritime tang.
Bigeye tuna: A fat slice of raw tuna on a cracker. The product is unnervingly cold, but the fault feels less egregious at $10, versus the nearly $40 option upstairs. The condiments are louder and brighter here too, with an uppercut of dill and yuzu kosho making a higher-volume, more palate-whetting amuse.
Scallop skewers: Just three mollusks on a stick. Here, they’re barely cooked through, exhibiting a precarious balance of scallop sweetness, griddle sting, and maritime brine.
Keftedes: Veal meatballs, plain and simple. The wine bar serves them at room temp, letting the piquant, perfumey dill minced into the meat to express itself with aplomb. These aren’t ultra-juicy balls — they’re easygoing, chewy, fragrant snacks. Consume with beer.
Loukaniko: Just a big griddled Greek sausage. It’s everything one might expect, a chubby link that’s crisp and snappy on the outside and juicy and herby within.
Gyro: At $8, it’s not too much spendier than the streetside version. It was a whisper dry on a recent visit, but that didn’t detract from its overall complexity, porky crispness contrasted against slippery tomato and rich yogurt. Add a hint of hot sauce and you have one of the city’s better gyros.