DUNEDIN — A mythical Greek island that was enveloped by the ocean, as Plato insisted, "in a single day and night of misfortune," is an unlikely allegory for a new restaurant. But so it is at the new Bistro Atlantis in Dunedin, its mascot a pensive mermaid looking into the distance as if for that fateful rogue wave. • At the beginning of July, Bistro Atlantis took over the space just vacated by the wonderful Walt's Seasonal Cuisine. • Visiting a new restaurant at the site of a beloved old restaurant can be a bit queasy-making, like meeting the new love of a recently divorced friend. Steve and Penny Tingas, fresh New England transplants, didn't change the interior too much in the transition to Bistro Atlantis: a new mermaid mural, a long sideboard and wine storage system. The rest was left as Walt Wickman had it, a comfortable but upscale room with a central bar and open kitchen recessed just enough to reveal cooking drama while minimizing noise.
The menu is a departure entirely (well, they kept Walt's crab cake recipe). The culinary paradigm is now Greek, but a more sophisticated (and slightly pricier) version than you'll find at many places to the north in Tarpon Springs (see the Weekend section on Thursday for a roundup of top spots in Tarpon). Some dishes verge on Greek-inspired, as with a series of sautes ladled over angel hair.
Beyond the inviting inherited space and a service staff of warm and personable folks (the Tingases among them), the high points at Bistro Atlantis are clear: Phyllo dough dishes are brilliant, the paper-thin layers of pastry cooked long enough and with enough care such that they shatter like the thinnest glass against a fork and lend a buttery crunch to their filling, whether a spinach-and-feta spanakopita ($8 as appetizer, $14 as entree) or a drop-dead-delicious baklava ($4). This latter is so far from the cloyingly sweet, syrup-soaked mess one often finds, that the sliced pinwheel of cinnamony, nut-studded pastry should almost have a new name. Order it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (an extra $2) and it makes for serious spoon wars at the table.
A classic horiatiki ($10 for two) is proof positive that the Greeks were on to something when they eschewed lettuce in their salads (the ancient Greeks may have had democracy and Euclidean geometry, but no iceberg). It's a generous jumble of ripe tomato wedges, cuke, bell pepper, feta, kalamatas and onion in a tangy, oregano-flecked dressing, the kind of appetizer that does what it should — awaken the taste buds and prep them for more to come.
Under the heading "Old World Entrees," classic, rib-sticking dishes like moussaka ($14) and pastitsio ($14) appear, solid examples of their breed but not likely to launch a thousand ships. The more interesting dishes appear under the heading "New World," although there are a couple of kitchen-sinkers (the "In-Fusion salad": a salad topped with angel hair pasta, souvlaki or salmon and then "blasted" with a house seasoning blend) that might be rethought.
Still, the chicken Atlantis ($14) is the kind of balanced melange of flavors and textures that wins hearts, a mix of sauteed chicken breast, artichoke and sun-dried tomato with a tart-but-lush sauce rich with feta and basil (I only wonder if chewier, more tooth-resistant pasta might ratchet it up even further?). Meats are also given expert treatment here, whether delicate pink lamb rib chops (market price) or a tender 4-ounce filet mignon that appears alongside a passel of bread-crumb-gussied sauteed sea scallops in a surf and turf ($20, and I'd ditch the bread crumbs and bump up the pan temp on those scallops to get a nicer sear).
Bistro Atlantis offers a short but well-priced wine list (even better during the early bird happy hour), an abbreviated lunch menu of dishes that hover around $9, and a harpist and a classical guitarist a couple nights a week. As is the way with all new restaurants, Steve and Penny Tingas will have to tweak and refine as they get to know the community, but even in this rough restaurant economy, Bistro Atlantis is not at risk of slipping quietly into the sea.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. She dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.