Greek to Him

Costas Spiliadis demonstrates the deliciousness of his homeland’s authentic cuisine, this time in Vegas

“Have found wonderful green stone. Come at once.” These were the words Zorba the Greek once cabled to Kazantzakis, summoning him to Crete. Spontaneity is a Greek concept. You’ll get lots of it at Milos, and from the restaurant’s owner, Costas Spiliadis.

“Look at these beautiful fish,” he says, swelling with pride, picking up a live Mediterranean lobster. The native of Patras, Greece, has spent more than 30 years cultivating relationships with fishermen on both sides of the Atlantic. He’ll take you on a tour of the fish market next to the kitchen here at the Cosmopolitan, so you can choose the fish you’ll eat for dinner.

Spiliadis has brought fine Greek dining to Las Vegas, and already, stereotypes about diner cheeseburgers and plate smashing have been dissolving, as if by magic. Greek food is about product and simplicity. That’s his story and he’s sticking to it. A meal at Milos will completely and permanently change the way you perceive Greek food.

His shock of black hair and intense passion for his native cooking are testaments to the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. He looks much younger than his 64 years and has the energy of a man half his age. It must be the olive oil (see sidebar).

He first came to this country in 1965 to study sociology at New York University, but later decamped for Montreal, where he ran a nonprofit radio station. During his years at the station he became progressively frustrated by how his native food and culture were represented.

One day he brought some prize olive oil to Canada, which had been a gift from his mother. His friends reacted to his enthusiasm with disdain and sarcasm, which so insulted him that he pondered returning to Greece.

Instead, he decided to open the first Milos, in 1979. Things weren’t so easy in the beginning. He’d regularly drive his beat-up Chevy Impala to New York City’s Fulton Fish Market, which is a 14-hour round trip. But before long, Milos was a smash hit, so much so that it led to his doing a second Milos in New York City, which he opened in 1997.

What’s really amazing is the man is a self-taught chef. He learned to cook from his mother, the wife of a judge, who did extensive home entertaining.

The Las Vegas version of Milos is a rustic, elegant restaurant designed by architect Jeffrey Beers, with an abundance of marble and a wood-beam ceiling. The fragrances of lemon, olive oil, oregano and the ocean are everywhere here. Spiliadis has replicated the experience of his two restaurants on the East Coast here, which is no mean feat.

“Fish is a noble food,” he says, offering me a slice of bottarga, the roe of the Aegean gray mullet—a delicacy to rival the best Caspian caviar. I bite into a crisp round of toast, dipped in fruity Greek olive oil, with the bottarga sliced surgically thin on top. It’s transcendentally delicious.

“Taste the purity of this thyme honey,” he says, spooning it onto some thick Greek yoghurt laced with freshly shelled walnuts, one of the best desserts on the Strip, and so, so simple. “I’m trying to bring my country to Las Vegas,” he tells me, in his eloquent but still accented English.

The country that gave us democracy, geometry and the Olympics now has one more notch in its belt, as far as I’m concerned.

Seven Things Costas Spiliadis Cannot Live Without

1. A dive in the Aegean. It restores me, mentally and physically.

2. Olive oil. It keeps my hair black.

3. Flowers. I keep them in my home, my garden and my restaurants. I especially love yellow roses and tulips.

4. Sea salt. It is the one ingredient that really brings out the natural flavors of a food.

5. Music. I love Beethoven’s Ninth, but I also get in the mood for Greek composers like Hajidakis and Theodorakis.

6. My grandchildren. I just recently got the gift of a fourth grandchild.

7. My iPad. It keeps me connected.