Balos restaurant invites you to take a vacation to Greece via West Hartford

If Besito was a gastronomic jaunt to a lavish Mexican resort, its successor, Balos, is a cruise through the Aegean Sea.

Balos, which takes its name from an exotic beach in Crete, is a unique new restaurant in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square — an upscale estiatorio that steps away from casual gyros and souvlaki to focus on more stylish Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, spotlighting fresh fish and seafood.

George Chatzopoulos, the owner of the local Chip’s Family Restaurant chain and two The Simple Greek fast-casual franchises in Glastonbury and West Hartford, partnered with co-owner Odysseus Rethis to open Balos in mid-October at 46 S. Main St. The partners announced plans to take over the former Besito space in April.

“It’s a dream come true,” Chatzopoulos says of the concept, something he says he’d been thinking about for the past decade. “We wanted to make customers feel like they’re away from West Hartford … like they’re somewhere else on vacation. We achieve that, I hope.”

THE ATMOSPHERE: The 170-seat space is Greek Isles-chic, with swaths of whites, neutral and blue tones; blond-wood tables and chairs; bamboo mats, thatch and lanterns extending from the ceiling and billowy white fabric dividing the bar and main dining room. Upholstered bench seating offers extra comfort from scattered throw pillows.

FEATURED/NOTEWORTHY DISHES: “The most important thing for us is to do fresh, Mediterranean seafood,” says executive chef Greg Zapantis. Balos offers what he calls “an education plus dinner,” displaying its daily fresh fish options on ice in the dining room and allowing guests to select from the bounty.

“Our servers will explain in detail every species that we carry for the night, how they taste, how we cook them and many other different options,” Zapantis says. Whole fish options ($32 to $38) often include royal dorado and branzino and other selections like red snapper and lobster, served with sides like lemon potatoes, spinach rice, steamed greens or gigante beans.

Other best-selling main dishes ($24 to $48) include grilled salmon, lamb chops and steaks (prime ribeye and filet mignon, grilled to order.) Diners will also find moussaka, a Greek specialty of layered eggplant, potato and seasoned chopped sirloin topped with béchamel sauce.

“Sometimes when you structure a menu and you’re looking for your flavors, there are classics you can’t do without,” Zapantis says.

Meal starters include traditional spreads like tzatziki, hummus, whipped feta spiced with peppers and skordalia (whipped potato and garlic.) These are available in individual servings ($8 apiece) or in a trio ($19), served with grilled pita and crudité.

Appetizers ($13 to $19) feature some of the most recognizable Greek dishes, like spanakopita and grape leaves, along with cornmeal-battered fried calamari, sesame-encrusted feta and Spanish octopus. Saganaki provides some tableside flash and drama, as a wedge of kefalograviera cheese is doused in liqueur and set aflame.

Desserts ($6 to $8) include baklava and baklava cheesecake, karidopita (honey walnut cake) and galaktoboureko, vanilla-bean scented custard layered with filo.

THE BAR: Balos specializes in Greek wines, offering varietals like assyrtiko, retsina, moschofilero, malagousia, savatiano, agiorgitiko and xinomavro, and suggests pairings alongside its entrees for those new to the grapes. Signature cocktails also feature Greek spirits like metaxa, ouzo and masticha liqueur. A “Balos Big Blue” evokes the turquoise waters of the restaurant’s beach namesake, with Blanc de Bleu sparkling chardonnay, Absolut vanilla vodka and blue curacao. Cocktails are $12 to $15.

Happy hour, available Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m., offers $8 cocktails, $7 wines, $5 beers and snacks like spinach pies, spreads with pita and calamari for $4 to $7. “Taste of Greece” Tuesdays feature half-priced bottles of Santorini wines.

LOCATION AND HOURS: Balos, 46 S. Main St., West Hartford, is open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to midnight. 860-231-0028, balosgreek.com.

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