Cuisine Scene: Kouzzina by Cat Cora
By Laura Gilbreath
AllEars® Disneyland Correspondent
Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor
This article appeared in the January 19, 2010 Issue #539 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
One of the newest restaurants on the Walt Disney World landscape is Kouzzina by Cat Cora. It occupies the spot on Disney's BoardWalk formerly home to Spoodles, a moderate eatery that featured Mediterranean cuisine.
Because Cora, the first female "Iron Chef" on the popular Food Network television show Iron Chef America, is of Greek descent, it's not surprising that Kouzzina (Greek for "kitchen") stays fairly true to its predecessor's familiar culinary path. Cora's signature restaurant features such items as Avgolemono (a traditional Greek lemon and egg soup with chicken and rice), Pastitsio (a Greek pasta with bechamel sauce) and spanakopita (phyllo pie with spinach and feta cheese). These types of foods would not have been out of place on the old Spoodles menu.
Similarly, the restaurant's decor hasn't changed much from that of the old Spoodles. With hardwood floors and high ceilings, the restaurant can be both noisy and chilly. At the same time, however, there's a casual feeling of camaraderie and lots of laughter reverberating throughout the place. Frequent shouts of "OPA!" (a Greek expression meaning something roughly akin to "HURRAY!") punctuate the buzz of the crowd, as birthdays and other events are celebrated.
One evening during the last Food and Wine Festival, when Cora herself was in town, our party of five dined at Kouzzina. As it happened, we were seated right next to the private room in which Cat Cora and her family entourage were dining. Cora made several appearances during our meal, and stopped by every table for at least a few moments, posing for photos and chatting with diners -- including us. The celebrity spotting was a fun bonus, but as for the dining experience itself, we came away with mixed impressions.
Here's our "She Says, She Says" review of dinner at this restaurant, along with Laura's impressions of a breakfast she had at Kouzzina's just a few weeks ago.
My husband Lee and I often look at restaurant menus and think: "Well, I could have that... or that might be OK," so making a decision on what to have isn't that difficult. That was not the case at Kouzzina -- there were so many things that looked interesting and different that we actually had a hard time choosing. As it was, in the interest of leaving room for dessert, we bypassed the appetizers completely, even though selections on the "Mezze" part of the menu, like the Kouzzina Sampler, Kouzzina Spreads, and Brick Oven Bread, looked very good. We indulged with some adult beverages instead, though. Lee had a beer, though it wasn't a Greek beer, and I had the Sangria Kouzzina ($7.50), which was excellent -- in fact, Lee enjoyed his sips of mine so much that he ordered his own. It was slightly fruity and very refreshing.
I have to agree with Laura -- the menu offerings were many and varied, with something for all tastes, even non-adventurous eaters. (And for those not familiar with Greek cuisine, don't feel intimidated! The menu sports a helpful glossary of terms.) My family and I also had hard time choosing so we delayed our entree decisions by going for some starters. My son and husband opted to share an order of the Calamari ($12.99), while I ordered the House Salad ($6.99). The calamari came super hot, lightly coated in an Arborio rice flour with spicy and garlic yogurt. Unfortunately, we have no visual record of this dish, as the guys practically inhaled the light, crispy rings before I could take a photo -- or even sample a bite! I hear that they were very tasty, though. The salad was also good -- fresh, crisp greens with the added crunch of cashews, all tossed in a light lemony vinaigrette that was not too overpowering. It made for a nice start to the meal.
For our "Piatos" (Entrees) we were somewhat torn. I'd heard good things about the lamb burger but our server advised us that it was spicy, so I ordered the Spiced Briami ($19.99) instead. This was a wonderful serving of oven-roasted vegetables, including squash, tomatoes, eggplant, and onions (but most importantly, NO peppers!), mazithra cheese and orzo. It was really excellent -- the spices were flavorful and not at all hot -- everything was cooked nicely (and not over-cooked). It was a good-sized serving and I couldn't finish it, but I did eat all of the veggies! I'd definitely order this again.
Since I had passed on it, Lee decided to try the Char-grilled Lamb Burger ($15.99) (http://allears.net/din/kouzzina31.jpg) instead. It was a big thick patty served on an onion bun with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion and feta. Our server was quite right to caution us about the spiciness -- it was too hot for me, but Lee really enjoyed it. It was served with sweet potato fries, which were quite good, also. He'd recommend this to those who like spicier dishes.
I love Greek food (well, except for octopus, which seems to be popular in that cuisine), so I knew that I would probably enjoy just about everything on the menu. As soon as I spotted Pastitsio ($19.99) on the list my decision was made for me. Pastitsio is a layered pasta dish made with ground meat spiced with cinnamon, and a creamy bechamel sauce -- sort of like a Greek version of lasagna. I'm not Greek, but my husband's college roommate is, and he's made the dish for us several times before -- I've even tried my hand at it, with decent results, so I know that it's a fairly labor-instensive dish to prepare. Kouzzina's patitsio was very good, with a nice combination of savory flavors and textures, but I found it to be a little on the dry side. Still, I could taste that it had been made with love, and my son and I devoured nearly every bite of our very generous portions.
My husband's Pork T-Bone ($26.99) (http://allears.net/din/kouzzina38.jpg) on the other hand was a different story. Thinner than he'd expected given the price tag, and slightly overcooked for his taste, this was definitely not the best entree of the evening. The meat was well-seasoned and tasty, but just too dried out to call it "good", though the citrusy fennel garnish that accompanied it was a nice touch.
The dessert menu offered a selection of Greek sweets like Galaktoboureko and Loukoumades (try to wrap your tongue around those!), in addition to the traditional baklava, Greek-style sorbet, Greek cookies, and a chocolate lava cake. We were all pretty stuffed, so we went with something "light", and requested two orders of the Loukoumades ($6.99) for our table. These are freshly made Greek doughnuts served warm and drizzled with honey. They come with two dipping sauces: a custard sauce and a raspberry sauce. These were VERY good -- I think there were five in each order, and they quickly disappeared. But as Lee said, "It's hard to go wrong with fried dough in any culture." It's one of those things you have to eat while hot, though -- even in the short time they sat at our table the ones at the bottom that were cooler were noticeably less appealing.
Those little fried doughnuts, Loukoumades (right), were miniature works of art, practically floating off the plate while they were hot (they did get a little heavier as they cooled). But my son -- AKA the teenaged boy -- also chose to try his own dessert. Feeling a little adventurous, he went with the traditional Greek Galaktoboureko ($7.49) (http://allears.net/din/kouzzina37.jpg). He was not disappointed -- the dessert is a creamy semolina custard wrapped and baked in the flakiest of phyllo. It was light and crispy and very sweet -- but also very good. Kouzzina garnished the pastry with mango and served it alongside a generous scoop of what appeared to be housemade vanilla-praline gelato. Yummy.
Overall, we found the food quality to be fairly high with this meal, with the notable exception of the pork T-bone. Our bigger concern is the restaurant's ambience -- or lack of it. It's not the place to go for a quiet, slow-paced romantic meal, that's for sure. But for a family looking for someplace with solid cooking and moderate prices, it could be just the ticket. I'd say that I'd definitely go back to give Kouzzina's chefs another chance -- the Mezze Sampler and Lamb Shank sounded very appealing.
Lee and I made a return visit to Kouzzina for breakfast on our December trip. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision for us so we did not have an Advanced Dining Reservation, but it was also late morning -- almost 10 a.m. We were somewhat surprised to see all of the people who were having breakfast so late. Still, even as walk-ups we were seated within less than 10 minutes, at the table right next to the one we had occupied for our dinner!
Lee ordered coffee, which came in an individual French Press, and I ordered tea. I was disappointed in the selection in the tea box -- no Greek, or "Cat Cora Signature Blend" teas, just the usual Twinings, but not even the one I prefer (Orange Pekoe).
The breakfast menu has all kinds of wonderful-looking items on it -- turkey-sweet potato hash, the Stacked Kouzzina Breakfast (with poached eggs, kalamata olive toast, sweet potato hash and bacon or chicken sausage), and a vegetable flatbread, among others.
The Spinach, Tomato, and Feta Scrambled Eggs looked really good, but I wanted something lighter so I ordered the Create Your Own Yogurt and Granola entree instead. It was served on a platter with a bowl of Greek yogurt topped with granola, and in three separate compartments on the side were some sliced strawberries, spiced nuts, blueberries and raspberries. The yogurt and granola were very good but I was disappointed with how little fruit there was -- for $10.49 I was expecting something more than that.
Lee was in the mood for waffles, so he ordered the Classic Golden Waffle ($10.49) (http://allears.net/din/kouzzina34.jpg). It was two waffles sprinkled with chopped pecans and some powdered sugar, but the best part as far as he was concerned was the large spoonful of whipped mascarpone cheese. He pronounced these the best waffles he had ever had. The waffles came with choice of bacon or chicken sausage, and he chose the latter. I was expecting it to be a sausage link but it was two sausage patties instead. He also ordered a side of the sweet potato hash, since that had looked intriguing. He enjoyed it, but it had peppers in it (and everything was diced, making them almost impossible to pick out) so I didn't care for it at all.
One of the other things on the menu was the Kouzzina Assorted Pastry Basket, and we decided to get that "to go" so that we would have it for the following morning when we had to get up and get moving fairly quickly. For $7.49 it was really a nice selection -- there were two pieces of an excellent cinnamon coffeecake, a large "sweet bread" cupcake, a small croissant and a mini blueberry muffin, as well as some dried fruit. We couldn't have gotten all of that at the Boardwalk Bakery for that price.
Our server was quite good -- there when we needed her to be, but didn't hurry us at all. Our beverages and food all arrived promptly.
Though I was a little disappointed in my selection, overall it was a very good breakfast and there's several items on the menu that we would like to try on future visits. And there WILL be future visits -- for breakfast and dinner!
Rate and Review Kouzzina Breakfast: http://land.allears.net/reviewpost/showproduct.php?product=560&cat=41
Rate and Review Kouzzina Dinner: http://land.allears.net/reviewpost/showproduct.php?product=561&cat=41
Jack Spence's Grand Opening Review:
Guest Blogger Cedric Ching's Soft Opening Preview:
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Laura Gilbreath, AllEars.Net's Disneyland correspondent, is a frequent visitor to Disney's southern California theme parks (only 84 miles away from her front door), as well as to Walt Disney World in Florida, where she is a Disney Vacation Club member. She maintains the Disneyland Resort section of the site and writes the Laura's Disney Lines blog for AllEars.Net:
Debra Martin Koma, AllEars.Net's Senior Editor, fell in love with Walt Disney World on her first visit there -- when she was 34! She's lost count of how often she's returned to her Laughing Place in the ensuing (16!) years, but knows that she still isn't tired of it. (And doubts she ever will be.) Read more of her writing for AllEars® here:
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.