Maneuvering through the throngs of excitable tourists and Mickey freaks cramming Disney's BoardWalk is well worth the effort ' if not to behold the Euro-Jersey spectacle of this lakeside village, then certainly to sample the dishes of Iron Chef Cat Cora. Cora isn't the first Iron Chef to open a restaurant in the city ' Roy Yamaguchi and Todd English have operated their restaurants since 2001 and 2004 respectively. Granted, they were chefs on UPN's short-lived Iron Chef USA (on which William Shatner played an absurdly over-the-top chairman) whereas Cora has showcased her skills on the Food Network's Iron Chef America, a much more respected cook-off vehicle.
Kouzzina (Greek for 'kitchenâ?�) pays tribute to Cora's Hellenic roots with a focused menu of Mediterranean dishes. The restaurant, not surprisingly, caters to families ' it's big, bright and boisterous ' and while the prices aren't exactly family-friendly, that doesn't appear to have affected the restaurant's popularity. The expansive open kitchen, a holdover from the Spoodles days, is but one of Kouzzina's many distractions ' a small nook in the back of the restaurant offers more privacy, but this isn't a place for quiet conversation. It is, however, a place for top-notch fare.
Roasted pepper and chickpea soup ($6.99), for example, was simply outstanding ' hearty, rustic and robust. It's a shame the multigrain bread didn't arrive until after the soup was completely slurped, but we settled on sipping our drinks (also served after we got our soup): namely, a sugary ouzo-tini ($9.25) and a glass of wonderfully complex Napa cabernet sauvignon ($17), from Cora's very own line of 'Coranationâ?� wines. The Kouzzina sampler ($17.99) offered a Mediterranean medley of pillowy wood-grilled pita served with marinated olives, spicy candied cashews, chunky hummus and light, refreshing tzatziki. It also came with two grape leaves (not enough), peppery sesame-coated lamb meatballs and chicken kebabs, the least flavorful item of the lot.
From the focused selection of mains, the cinnamon stewed chicken (pricey at $22.99) served over orzo hit all the right notes. Cinnamon, garlic and tomatoes struck a perfect balance, and the chicken, with a grating-over of tangy mizithra cheese, fell off the bone. But by far the most enjoyable dish of the evening was the traditional whole fish ($27.99), a flavorful pan-roasted yellowtail snapper atop braised greens, Greek olives, fennel and smoked chilies. Forking the soft tender flesh away from the bones was an absolute pleasure. Was it the best fish dish I've ever had? Quite possibly. Worth coming back for? Without question.
A number of interesting sides complement meals, though I wasn't impressed with the chilled salt-roasted beets ($4.99) served over tart, salty skordalia, a garlic-potato puree that overwhelmed the essence of beet. Sautéed brussels sprouts ($5.49) with capers and lemon, though, will have even kids fighting over the green orbs.
Completing the meal with baklava ($7.49) is a given. More walnutty than flaky here, it's a filling capper served with pistachio gelato. The sci-fi-sounding galaktoboureko ($7.49) was a far-out sweet of semolina custard baked in phyllo dough, served with vanilla-praline gelato.
Kitchen duties will be handled by Disney veteran Dee Foundoukis when Cora isn't on Disney property, which is likely to be often. Cora wasn't there the night I visited, but as far as I'm concerned, Cat still got my tongue. Allez cuisine!
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