Ouzo Bay makes stunning debut in Harbor East

In just one month, Ouzo Bay has made a swaggering debut in Harbor East.

Every decision concerning the atmosphere, menu and service feels exactly right. The food is prepared with extraordinary care and presented with casual grace. Dinner there is fun. You're meant to enjoy the food and yourself equally. We did, without exception.

The fish and seafood program is spectacular. There are luxury items like Dover sole, wild-caught and flown in fresh from the Netherlands, and langoustines, a spindly lobster from the Norwegian Sea that you will fall in love with at first bite.

Whole fish are the star attractions. The regular daily offerings, a ravishing display in the dining room, include familiar names like black sea bass, bronzino, red snapper and dorade, and other specialties are promised. Except for the bronzino, which is farm-raised in Greece, the fish are wild-caught, which you'll know, your waiter discreetly points out, because they vary more in size than farmed fish.

I think you'll know it when you taste it. The fish are grilled over charcoal under the supervision of executive chef Rey Eugenio, whom Baltimore diners remember from Roy's. They are seasoned, very minimally, with olive oil and lemon, and deboned in the kitchen before arriving at the table.

Ouzo Bay isn't the only Baltimore restaurant to invite diners to stroll over to the fish display. Nor is it the first to make claims about freshness and overnight delivery. But this was the first time, I decided, that all of it was true and all of it mattered. We tasted a powerful mackerel, and then a sweet snapper, and thought, "This is better, no, this is better," until we had picked them both clean.

A jumbo prawn is a must, just to see how an appetizer can stop a show. But the buttery, succulent langoustines are even better. Charcoal-grilled calamari was fine but nowhere near the revelation that the charcoal-grilled octopus was. Tossed in a red wine and caper vinaigrette, it was the most tender and refreshing octopus I've ever tasted. Other seafood entrees, in addition to whole fish, include colossal lobster tail, grilled Alaskan salmon and seafood pasta.

When the menu isn't fish, it's Greek. You'll love the spinach pie, saganaki and meatballs, but you won't lose your mind over them. I lost my mind over some translucent zucchini chips, though, served with tzatziki. And I praised the elegant arrangement of a spread sampler until my friends asked me knock it off.

Meat listings include prime rib-eye, filet mignon, double-cut pork chop, roasted chicken and, of course, lamb shank and lamb chops. The lamb shank, served with toasted orzo, was fall-apart lovely and robustly flavorful. The charcoal grilled lamb chops were rosy and strong, served with perfect potato wedges and braised greens.

The Ouzo Bay team, Alex Smith, George Aligeorgas, and Pete Koroneos, are responsible, singly or together, for the Broadway Diner, the Harbor East Delicatessen and Pizzeria, and the Manchurian Rice Company. Who could have guessed they had Ouzo Bay in their pocket?

They've hired impeccably. Bringing on Eugenio on was smart, and so was entrusting beverage manager Julian Albornoz with Ouzo Bay's impressive wine list. The pastry chef, Ahki Agnoustou, is taking traditional Greek desserts and presenting them in Busby Berkeley spun-sugar dessert follies

The atmosphere in the dining room and elevated bar is lovely but never imposing. The scale is human and the blue-and-cream palette embracing and warm. On a nice evening, when the dining room windows are open to the terrace, things get a bit dreamy.

OK, I could do without the Greek music.

A family connection is worth mentioning. Smith's grandfather is John Paterakis Sr., whose name is synonymous with the Harbor East development in which Ouzo Bay has made such a promising entrance. Make of that what you will. It doesn't feel relevant, except in small, satisfying ways.

The amazing double-stuffed raisin bread they bring by the basketful is from Paterakis' bakery. The lovely photo mural on the dining room's back walls depicts scenes from his home village. And on more than a few late summer nights, the 83-year-old tycoon was seen spending late hours out on Ouzo Bay's sumptuous terrace.

Ouzo Bay was a long time in the making. Signs promising a Mediterranean restaurant in Harbor East had been up so long that they'd become part of the neighborhood's landscape, and a little bit of a joke.

But no one's laughing now, except in good spirits.


Ouzo Bay

Rating: 4 STARS

Where: 1006 Lancaster St., Harbor East

Contact: 443-708-5818, ouzobay.com

Open: Daily for dinner

Prices: Appetizers $8-$17; entrees $18-$75

Food: Charcoal-grilled whole fresh fish, Greek specialties

Service: Well-informed and attentive, occasionally overly attentive

Best dishes: Grilled octopus, langoustines, jumbo prawns, lamb shank

Parking: Valet parking is $8.

Reservations: Recommended

Noise level: Normal conversation manageable

Patio: The 70-seat patio will be partially enclosed by December.

[Key: Superlative: 5 STARS; Excellent: 4 STARS; Very Good: 3 STARS ; Good: 2 STARS; Promising: 1 STAR]

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