The sign—“Coming Soon Greek Authentic Cuisine & Lounge”—was plastered on the Harbor East building for so long it became like wallpaper you hardly notice. The nondescript, awkwardly worded announcement certainly shed no light on the stunning restaurant that was to be unveiled in late August. Ouzo Bay may offer several traditional Greek specialties on its menu, but this is no blue-and-white-checkered-tablecloth eatery with a requisite mural of the Aegean Sea on the wall. The restaurant, at the corner of Lancaster Street and Central Avenue, is far more upscale.
A slate deck with outdoor marble tables welcomes diners as they enter the main dining room—a posh setting with mosaic-tile floors, cherry woods, and hand-blown glass lights that dangle colorfully from the ceiling. Lilting Greek music plays in the background.
Before the restaurant opened, co-owner Alex Smith gave us a tour, telling us, “Everything is custom-made and specially designed for us.” And it shows. We were enamored with the place then, and we hadn’t even eaten there yet.
Our new love didn’t let us down when it came to the food either. The dishes are beautifully plated and equally delicious. There’s a sensuality about their opulence. But you pay for it. The menu is pricey with items like a 20-ounce colossal lobster tail for $75, Dover sole for $55 a pound, and a seafood sampler for $75.
Most meals begin with a tour of the glass fish case, where your server describes the fresh, just-flown-in offerings—from shellfish to fin fish like bronzino, dorade, and red snapper—which eventually will be charcoal grilled whole or prepared in other dishes. (Yes, the presentation is just like the show-and-tell at The Black Olive in Fells Point.)
On one visit, we started with a wedge of delicate spanakopita, layered with flaky phyllo, spinach, leeks, and feta, and a pile of grilled calamari that will dispel the notion that squid ringlets are always tough and chewy. These grilled white bands were as tender as soft gnocchi.
Our excellent waitress also suggested we try the jumbo prawn appetizer. It was indeed a shrimp on steroids. The plate-sized, head-on prawn—the size of fat lobster tail—easily fed two of us.
We were primed for our entrees. It made sense to try one of the whole-fish options—and our black sea bass didn’t disappoint. The sweet white meat was a pleasing counterpart to the smoky grill flavor. (Be prepared for the price tag, though. Black sea bass was $26 per pound the night we visited. Our fish weighed in slightly under two pounds for a $45 tariff. Note: It’s now $29 per pound.)
The fish is deboned in the kitchen unless you specify otherwise. And we were perfectly happy to let the chefs use their knife skills. Unfortunately—and this was our only down note of the evening—there was an alarming number of pin bones in our fish, causing us to chew and swallow very carefully. On the positive side, the fish head was included, which is nice if you like the succulent cheeks—and we do.
Our other main dish, lamb chops, was superb. The two double chops were tender and flavorful, and benefited from being charcoal grilled, too.
Be prepared to be awed by the desserts. The pastry chef is from Greece and turns out an assortment of beautifully prepared delicacies like baklava served with house-made vanilla ice cream and galaktoboureko, a vanilla custard with phyllo, honey syrup, and orange reduction.
What really set these sweets apart is the decorative spun-sugar garnishes that are swirled into fragile sculptures and whirligigs atop the pastries. One dessert—a slice of Greek cake with shredded coconut and vanilla cream—sported a blue spun-sugar sail hoisted by a cinnamon stick. Cute and yummy!
Another time, we stopped by Ouzo Bay to focus on the mezzes. They are a meal unto themselves. The plump mussels were tossed with ouzo in a white-wine broth with chunks of feta cheese. The grilled langoustines were lovely, too, with fat, buttery chunks of Norwegian lobster meat. We also tried the lamb meatballs and the grilled country sausage on a bed of braised lentils.
We are equally impressed with the well-priced, thoughtful wine list, assembled by the restaurant’s beverage director Julian Albornoz. It features a range of foreign and domestic bottles, including several from Greece.
There are also several interesting ouzos (natch) and Scotches on hand as well as beers on tap from area breweries like Resurrection, Flying Dog, and Dogfish Head.
The restaurant has quickly become a go-to place to be seen and heard, meaning the Greek music and your own conversations can be overwhelmed by the buzz of the crowd. But the infectious fun seems to suit Baltimore’s most exciting new restaurant to date.