Award-winning star chef, Michael Mina has many successful restaurants in Miami including Bourbon Steak and Strip Steak. International Smoke at Aventura Mall in Miami, his latest venture last year, did not make a go of it. I reviewed it and found it to be respectable and pleasing, especially for its location at a mall. I found the choices to be on the heavy side, so it was not a restaurant I would normally frequent. For whatever reason, they decided to close it. I am sure the 2020 COVID shutdowns didn’t help either. But leave it to a progressive and modern thinking chef, he reinvented the space and opened an entirely new restaurant concept, one that seems to be flourishing, even during this cruel pandemic. And with that, Ornos Estiatorio was born – located at 19565 Biscayne Blvd, in the new section of the mall across from the Apple store.

The restaurant has a Greek island feel, casual, with lots of greenery, and done in Mediterranean blues and whites. There are private dining rooms and lounge spaces offered as well. There is a large patio with twinkle lights that’s perfect for outdoor dining, and the bar is inside/outside, servicing both sides. The 4,800 square foot space may seem large to fill with only 160 seats, but during a time of social distancing protocols, it enhanced the comfortability of eating at a restaurant because we were so well spaced out.

The menu is divided into spreads, raw, salads, starters, classics, sides, and fish market. I like that there are a lot of healthy choices, and options for people that have gluten allergies, are vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian. But meat-eaters don’t fret, there is also, lamb chops, roast chicken, and beef kebabs. That said, the focus is primarily on fresh fish and seafood here. They hired Chef Nikolaos Georgousis, previously from Milos, who knows a thing or two about fish. Actually, Ornos is also home to Florida’s first fish sommelier who sources the freshest fish from the Aegean Sea (which are then overnighted), or locally from Florida’s waters.

We started with a trio of spreads, tzatziki, hummus, and a whipped feta, that came with fresh, warm pita. Another great alternative is to order spreads with some ice-cold market vegetables. From the raw section, we selected scallop carpaccio in a yuzu vinaigrette, topped with crispy capers. My suggestion would be to cut down on the salt on this dish. A better bet was the Mediterranean Sea bass ceviche in a lemon citronette served with a crispy sesame cracker.

The Maine lobster pasta is a standout, served with fresh tomatoes, basil, and Greek brandy. From the fish market section, fish done on the wood fire, I selected a branzino filet. Again, I would ask them to cut back on the salt on my next visit. But the fish was of excellent quality.

Both our dessert selections were well done. The rice pudding is divine and the baklava was one of the best I’ve had.

With the notable exception of the salt, our dinner was palate-pleasing.

As for the beverage program, there are some interesting craft cocktail choices, along with a wide range of beers. The wines and spirits are mostly Greek and I’m not very familiar with them, so I can’t comment.

It is not often you can find a decent restaurant at a mall. Kudos to Micheal Mina for opening a crowd-pleasing option. I am sure people in North Miami and Aventura are thrilled about this new alternative, and latest venture. Open Tuesday through Sunday.

Happy dining,

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