is one of those fall-back restaurants that always comes through for you. You now the scenario. Chinese? Naw. French? Too rich. So’s and so’s place? Too stodgy. How about …? Too expensive. The one that just opened? C’ mon already — we tried that one last week. Okay, let’s do Mediterraneo.
Then how about this scenario: One night four of us decided we needed some light fare, and fish should do the trick. So we went to a place that supposedly was all about fish but when we read the menu and saw more than 20 species “done any way you like it,” we wondered how many were fresh. What finally drove us out, however (before the basket of bread arrived), was the hullabaloo at one table (the only other table occupied besides ours at 7 p.m.). Those diners were absolutely oblivious that there were people present uninterested in how soused ole man Sammy got one summer’s night years ago. The raucous laughter, fat hands slapping the table, voices raised as high as Renee Fleming’s did not portend a pleasant evening. We beat a quick exit with all due apology to the staff.
Out on the street we went through the familiar routine of trying to decide where to go next. Again, we ticked off the names and stopped at the mention of Mediterraneo. Of course. We ended up sitting at an outdoor table just as dusk was gently descending and a sweet breeze whispered up Grigg Street. With only four or five fish on the menu, not counting the shell denizens of the deep, Mediterraneo promised freshness and simplicity. The bronzino, a sweet relative of sea bass, was anchored with an earthy artichoke and potato hash and the yellow fin tuna with its lush butter beans side was tempered by a bracing puddle of broccoli rabe. Both dishes were satisfying and delicious. Veal medallions, judiciously napped with a mere hint of sauce, were fork-tender, and the mussels, ah the mussels, tender, juicy, a bit briny, perfect.
The Monday night after Irene whistled down our lane and in a nasty bit of business cavalierly took down power lines and worse of all, knocked out cable and satellite, home cooking was not to be despite the piles of food we lugged home from Whole Foods before it shuttered the day before. Who could believe that there would be empty shelves in that market where an exaggeration of riches normally has cans and boxed goods so perilously packed to the edges you are bound to get bumped on the head by a falling object on at least one visit.
So here we were, again, on Greenwich Avenue, five of us at 8:30 p.m., debating the merits of this restaurant and that kitchen. What about Mediterraneo, someone asked. It’s bold and brassy, someone said. Silence. Okay, let’s do it.
True to form, the place was jiving when we got there, with a line out the door. Behind the bar, boxes of pizza piled up waiting for pick up and patrons squeezed between the handful of bar stools to order Stoli on the rocks. The tables were packed together as tightly as sardines in a can and voices were raised in a boisterous cacophony that ricocheted off the sea map painted on the ceiling. There is always a happy, loud, very loud, merriment in Mediterraneo. You either go early to avoid the crescendos or you wait for a later sit-down. Or ignore the noise, relax and just enjoy.
There was plenty of frenzied goings-on in the tiny open kitchen on the Monday après Irene — its wild pace would have had Linguini the cook in “Ratatouille” and Remy, his mentor rat, hightailing the culinary world for a sail on the high seas.
At 9 p.m., when we were finally ensconced at a table, the kitchen had run out of bread, sea bass, yellow-fin tuna and bronzino. Talk about a run at a popular restaurant!
There was plenty of dishes left from which to choose, however, and undaunted, two of us ordered halibut. It came as four small tender medallions with a browned parmesan crust surrounding a pond of sautéed spinach. It was a dish to rave about — it’s one of their signature entrées. Succulent chicken, a great comfort food, caused one of our friends to exclaim, “This chicken has changed my opinion of the Amish!”
The wild card was the buffalo tenderloins one gent at our table thought might be interesting. He greedily hugged the dish to his chest, it seemed, for we got nary a bite. Must have been good because the plate was clean within minutes.
We ordered wine by the glass and tho’ the Pinot Noir was too warm by far (the waitress did not charge us for it after our complaint), the Sauvignon Blanc was nicely chilled. Two desserts to serve the five of us, the oozing chocolate cake and the apple bread pudding, had us purring. A lovely ending.
Earlier during the summer, when the July sale days were in full swing, we lugged our purchases to our favorite corner restaurant for nourishing pasta and found ourselves seated near friends at the next table, a common occurrence here. The eatery is as social a gathering place as the aisles of Whole Foods.
Perhaps that’s the point about the success of Mediterraneo. In this post 9/11 era, we seem to eschew the grandeur — and haughtiness — of times past in restaurants of old. We want constancy, reassurance, familiar faces and food we recognize without flourishes and swirls and potato slices tortured into cartoon shapes. New restaurants are welcomed, but it’s the old friends who never disappoint us. We want strawberries that are fragrant, squid that is succulent and shrimp with flavor. We crave good tasting food made with high-quality ingredients. It’s a formula that has worked for Mediterraneo for 16 years.
366 Greenwich Ave., Greenwich, CT.
Lunch: Monday through Saturday
Dinner: Monday through Sunday
Reservations highly suggested.