Tough on Others, Tougher on Himself: The Perfectionist Behind the Milos Restaurants

Tough on Others, Tougher on Himself: The Perfectionist Behind the Milos Restaurants

In those days, Mr. Samuels’ father had a rule: Never sell to restaurants. They were untrustworthy. When Mr. Spiliadis offered cash, he changed his mind.

“Back then we were selling in 100-fish units,” Mr. Samuels said. “Costas wanted individual fish. Usually a buyer would look at a box of fish, we’d negotiate a price, and he’d say, ‘I’ll take it.’ Not Costas. Every fish had to be picked out.”

By the end of 1980, after a year in business, Milos was full every night. David Dangoor, an early customer, recalled, “I had gone to the best restaurants in the world, and then I came to this hole-in-the-wall in Montreal — narrow entrance, ugly wood planks, looked like it had never been decorated — and had one of the best meals of my life.”

Mr. Spiliadis had difficulty believing in his success. “It was a Friday,” he said. “The restaurant was empty. I thought the magic was over. I panicked. The next day I told that to friends and they said, ‘It was the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur.’ So many of my customers were Jewish, and they were fasting.”

At first, the food of Milos was homey, the menu limited to seven or eight items. Then his unconventional culinary education began. He perfected his Milos Special, delicately fried eggplant and zucchini, with the help of a Greek doctor interning in a Montreal hospital. The secret? The flour coating had to be as thin as the flour-and-water mixture used to glue together bamboo kites in Greece.

A jeweler with a shop next door, a native of Pyrgos in the Peloponnese, told Mr. Spiliadis, “You do not know how to cook fish,” and gave him lessons. A Jewish customer, who came from a neighborhood in Alexandria, Egypt, where Jews and Greeks lived side by side, upgraded his lamb chops.

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