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Published On: Sat, Aug 12th, 2023


“A Culinary Cruise of The Mediterranean”

By Kenny Spahn      

Medi Terra co-owners Chef Michael Velicu and son Danny Velicu

Have you tried Medi Terra Western Mediterranean yet?  If not, put this at the top of your MUST TRY list, because Medi Terra is the best, and most unique new restaurant in Boca. A bold statement, admittedly — but one visit to this charming bistro, and you’ll agree. Mediterranean cuisine encompasses a fusion of various cuisines and cultures. It’s always been popular, but Mediterranean diets and “Mixed Mediterranean” menus have really become trendy buzz words of late.  The term “Mediterranean” is often used (arguably, misused) as a sexier euphemism for “Middle Eastern” or “Arab” food, or even to describe a pizzeria or gyro shop.  But Medi Terra Western Mediterranean sets the standard for true Mediterranean cuisine.  As the name indicates, Medi Terra offers the sun-drenched cuisine of the western Mediterranean Sea, incorporating distinctive elements of Italy, Spain, and southern France – along with a few touches from Cyprus,  Morocco, Sardinia, Corsica, Greece, and Portugal.  This is no falafel joint or gyro stand, mind you — Medi Terra is a sophisticated, chef-driven foodie’s paradise, offering a fine dining experience, but in a relaxed, casual setting with friendly, personalized  service and reasonable prices.

Pan-roasted fresh Halibut w rolled yellow squash, potatoes, and special sauce

The modest-yet-magnificent restaurant is a true ‘mom & pop’ (or in this case, ‘pop & son’) labor of love, owned and operated by Chef Michael Velicu and son Daniel Velicu.  It opened quietly in Royal Palm Place (taking the former Sapori space) last year without much hype – but good news travels fast, and it’s already developed a loyal following of regulars. Fans of the beloved Sapori will hardly recognize the place, which has completely transformed into an inviting, contemporary, and casually elegant oasis.   

Chef Michael actually began as a structural engineer — and that same artistic talent and meticulous attention to detail show in his beautiful culinary creations – and the way he structures and builds layers of flavor and dimension into each dish. The affable chef incorporates his classic French training from The French Culinary Institute, where he was personally mentored by none other than Master Chef Jacques Pepin, the OG Celebrity Chef.  Michael then expanded his horizons by incorporating other Mediterranean cuisines and techniques at his iconic Mediterraneo restaurant in Ridgewood, NJ, garnering an enviable stack of accolades over two decades, including “Best Mediterranean Restaurant,” and “Best Mediterranean Chef.

Medi Terra sampling

When the opportunity arose last year to bring this same concept to Boca, Chef Michael and Danny took the leap of faith – much to the delight of local foodies (like you!).  The enticing menu captures the essence of Western Mediterranean fare, using simple, fresh ingredients, enhanced by Chef Michael’s true passion and creative spin on the classics – unlike anywhere else in town. As you’ll see on the menu, “At Medi Terra, our menu changes often, true to the Mediterranean spirit of cooking with seasonal, fresh, and inspiring ingredients.  Our dishes are cooked to order to provide you with the most authentic Mediterranean experience, and we promise it is worth the wait.” The humble-yet proud Chef later confided in me, “I don’t want to just cook – I want to create.”  

A quick tour of the kitchen confirmed my hunch: Immaculate, efficient, and precisely structured. It’s truly  amazing how such tremendous results can emerge from small confines. Even more impressive is the complete absence of any large freezer, microwave, deep fryer, or even walk-in cooler – just two small refrigerators, revealing small batches of the day’s fresh ingredients. Chef Michael’s devotion to perfection is witnessed by a simple hand-written sign reflecting his philosophy: “Only The Best Is Good Enough” (now there’s something you’ll never see at any chain restaurant!).  

Chef Michael’s constant reminder to his crew

Your Mediterranean adventure begins with Grilled Pita (still warm!), treated to an addictive Za’atar spice blend (which Chef Michael blends himself, from select spices imported directly from Morocco), teamed with the silkiest, most palette-pleasing hummus you’ll ever try.  Next comes an enticing array of made-for-sharing authentic Spanish tapas and mezze.  Grilled Octopus, a staple of Italian, Greek, and Spanish food, is perhaps the quintessential test of Mediterranean cuisine, and you won’t find any better in Florida (even at more expensive fancy joints) than right here at Medi Terra. The beautiful cephalopod arrives perfectly grilled, bearing the telltale char of the grill, literally fork-tender (the ultimate test), and delicately seasoned to accentuate, but not overwhelm the fresh catch.  A refreshing cucumber and arugula salad, along with some more of that incredible house-made hummus, a hit of Spanish paprika, and a squeeze of fresh lemon make perfect accompaniments.

Amazing Grilled Octopus with homemade Hummus and fried chick peas (worth the trip alone!)

Truffle Burrata combines two of Italy’s most revered treasures, starring hand-made local Burrata (a fresh mozzarella ‘ball,’ encompassing a sultry creamy interior), and sacred Tuscan truffles, enhanced with a savory balsamic glaze and unique Spanish heirloom tomatoes called Kumatos. Spain makes other notable appearances on the starters menu, like Croquetas de Jamon y Manchego, herbed Goat Cheese-stuffed Piquillo Peppers with Marcona almonds, Spanish Clams, and on our night, Escalivada – a Catalonian specialty comprising a delicious medley of smoky roasted eggplant, sweet red peppers, tomatoes, sweet onions, and other goodies, reminiscent of a tapenade or ratatouille, but with a distinctive smoky flavor and Spanish flair. Pulpo a la Gallega from the northwestern Galicia region, features fresh octopus medallions graced with EVOO, Mediterranean sea salt, and pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika).

For a truly unique treat, try one of the few items that is not made in-house: Haloumi Cheese. As with all his ingredients, Chef Michael insists on sourcing the very best, so he imports the real stuff directly from Cyprus, home of the world’s best Haloumi.  This unique cheese (a goat & sheep milk blend) has a mellow yet slightly tangy and salty flavor – like a marriage of feta, mozzarella, and Parmesan. But what makes Haloumi so unique is the way that it’s served — grilled (yes, the cheese itself is grilled, not just a grilled cheese sandwich!).  It’s semi-firm, slightly springy texture allows for direct grilling, although a deft hand and exact timing must be employed to ensure the precise texture. One bite of this grilled delicacy, accompanied by the delightful additions of fresh pomegranate seeds, house made balsamic glaze, and fresh mint, and you might just book a flight to Cyprus!  Other starters ($12 – $20) range from Garlic Shrimp and Ahi Tuna Tartar, to Filet Mignon Carpaccio and Steamed Mussels. Also check out the daily specials, soups, and intriguing Salads, like the Pear Salad with candied walnuts and gorgonzola, Goat Cheese Salad, Greek Horiatiki-inspired Shepherd Salad, and meal-worthy Smoked Duck Breast Salad with fresh oranges and orange vinaigrette.

Pear Salad with arugula, candied walnuts, and gorgonzola cheese.

With so many enticing choices, grazing your way through the starters is certainly a viable meal option — but then you’d miss the even more incredible entrees, where Chef Michael really gets to flex his culinary muscles. Each night brings different offerings, reflecting the day’s fresh catch and seasonality, as the tenacious Chef will not serve anything that’s not perfect. The signature Loup De Mer (French for Mediterranean Sea Bass, aka Branzino in Italian or Lavraki in Greek) filet is pan-roasted to perfection, with a beautifully bronzed crispy skin and precisely firm-yet-flaky texture.  The fish alone is amazing, but then elevated to the culinary stratosphere with the accompanying wild mushroom confit (yum!) and squid ink risotto. It’s a brilliant composition orchestrated by a true maestro, and probably the best execution of Branzino you’ll ever taste.  For a truly unique experience, try the Tagine– the quintessential Moroccan specialty, seldom seen anywhere else around here. Tagine is like a Moroccan stew, slow-cooked in the earthenware covered namesake “tagine” pot, readily recognized by its distinctive conical lid.  As with everything, Chef Michael ensures perfection and authenticity, employing authentic spices which he custom-orders directly from Morocco and blends himself, before infusing them into the fresh-cut chicken (or lamb) and veggies, all slow-braised in an authentic tagine pot – which also serves as a unique serving vessel.  

Chicken Tagine

Roasted Duck was highly recommended by a fellow foodie and world-traveler, who professed it to be “the best duck he’s ever eaten” – and after tasting it, I must concur. A full half of a young duck is roasted to perfection, rendering out the fat, resulting in a crispy skin, moist interior, and delicious flavor.  It’s treated to a light l’orange sauce, which accentuates the richness of the savory bird, instead of the cloyingly sweet “orange marmalade” treatment usually found in America. A side of duck fat-roasted fingerling potatoes provide the perfect vessel to help capture the savory juices on your plate (no wonder it often sells out!).

Roasted Half Duck

Other standard entrees (most around $30-$40, including sides) include Skirt Steak with a surprising Greek treatment; a few select Pasta dishes, and an incredible Paella Valenciana teaming with fresh seafood, chicken, rice and Spanish saffron.   

Medi Terra’s Paella Valenciana

But look for the nightly Chef’s Specials for the special treats – especially when it comes to seafood, which changes daily to reflect that day’s fresh catch. Our night featured an amazing Seared Scallops with Truffle Risotto, fortunate for us. This Holy Trinity of the culinary gods combines three of the greatest Foodie treasures on Earth – fresh dry-pack scallops seared to perfection, artfully presented atop a precisely form pillow of slow-simmered risotto, infused with real Italian truffles (NOT  just truffle oil!) – which you can actually see (and taste). The result: One singular sensation that will have your taste buds thanking you for bringing them to the party.  A smaller portion was also offered as an Appetizer that night.

Seared Scallops over Truffled Risotto (YUM!)

Halibut w rolled zucchini & yellow squash

Our night also saw a fresh Yellowtail Snapper, pan-seared in a vibrant white wine-lemon reduction (like a scampi or beurre blanc sauce, but without the butter). Chef Michael teamed his beautiful creation with potatoes pavé (crispy overlapping layered potato “shingles”), plus an incredible special Escalovida, a unique Catalan (Spanish) dish comprised of smoky grilled vegetables reminiscent of a caponata or ratatouille – yet another unique specialty you won’t find anywhere else.  Other fresh catches that night included Corvina with caramelized carrots and Italian Fennel; and pan-Seared Halibut on a bed of gingered  beans.

Loup De Mer (aka Branzino, Mediterranean Sea Bass, Lavraki)

Most entrees include side dishes, but you can also request some Side dishes for the table, such as Haricot Vert, Duck Fat Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Moroccan-spiced Caramelized Carrots, Greek-inspired Lemon Potatoes, and whatever fresh veggies are on that night (like that incredible Escalivada on our night!).

The Lunch menu features downsized versions of some of the main menu, plus a larger selection of soups and salads, along with a 3-course tasting menu (only $25, including a glass of wine or dessert!). Also check out Medi Terra’s enticing seasonal specials, including Tapas Tuesdays, Wine Nights (every Tuesday & Wednesday), and an amazing Thursday night Connoisseur’s Night, a multi-course Chef’s tasting menu of that week’s featured item. On our night, a sensational Duck Connoisseur Menu, offering six different duck dishes – plus two desserts and even wine — all for just $75.  The next week featured a Moroccan tasting menu.

Moroccan spiced Caramelized Carrots

Daniel is also a seasoned restaurant professional, having served pivotal roles with some major international players. He’s composed a thoughtful and select wine list, focusing mainly on boutique vintages and unique rare finds, in lieu of the usual generic mass-marketed grocery store name brands on most other menus. Most wines are under $80 by the bottle, with about 20 by the glass. Upon Daniel’s suggestion, we tried a Domaine Caboche Côtes-du-Rhône (2021), a fruity, medium bodied blend from the Rhone Valley of southern France – a brilliant choice indeed.  This distinctive blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan is beautifully balanced and delicious on the palate, delivering a fruit-forward nose of black currant and ripe red berries with a subtle backdrop of licorice, slowly unravelling to reveal hints of spice on the tongue. With its light texture, subtle elegant finish, and silky tannins, this is a very food-friendly and versatile wine, proving a perfect foil for the savory duck – but would pair equally well with fish, chicken, or pasta — as well as a pre-meal cheese and/or charcuterie board.  Meanwhile, the friendly full bar shakes up some killer cocktails, including some house specialties like the Fig Old Fashioned, Siena Spritzer, and Mediterranean Margarita.  

As you might expect from such a personal establishment, service here is friendly, cordial, and quite proficient.  In fact, old timers may recognize the Maître d’ /Head Waiter, Angelo Morinelli of the beloved Cucina d’ Angelo! In addition to being the friendliest waiter in town, Angelo is a veteran Executive Chef himself, and can guide you through the menu’s intricacies with utmost proficiency, answering even the most difficult questions posed by an inquisitive food critic with aplomb.  Daniel is also on hand, forever remaining vigilant to ensure everyone is happy, and also providing additional wine expertise when needed.  And don’t be surprised if Chef Michael himself makes an appearance, or even brings out a special creation himself, as the proud Chef truly takes joy in seeing his patrons enjoy his food.

Save room if possible for some dessert, including an ethereal Tiramisu (like eating an Italian cloud), and some new menu additions like house-made Rosemary & Olive Oil Gelato and Limoncello Sorbetto. Teamed with an after-dinner cordial or Daniel’s own house-made Limoncello (or another glass of that wonderful Côtes-du-Rhône), and you’ll feel like you’re returning from an exotic Mediterranean culinary cruise.  So put Medi Terra Western Mediterranean on your “Must Try” list – it’s definitely tops on my “Must Return” list!

Medi Terra Western Mediterranean is located at 301 Via de Palmas #99 (in Royal Palm Place) in downtown Boca Raton. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday – Saturday. Private parties and special events available. For more information or to make reservations, visit;  or call: 561/367-9779

About the Author:  Kenny Spahn is a renowned food critic, culinary columnist, and restaurant authority, and has published over nearly 1,000 culinary articles over the past 25 years.  Mr. Spahn is the CEO of Restaurant Placement Group, an exclusive recruiting, placement, and consulting firm for the Restaurant and Hospitality industry.


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