Review Kouzzina by Cat Cora
Popular Iron Chef Cat Cora, of Food Network fame, and Walt Disney World have teamed up to present Kouzzina by Cat Cora, located at Disney’s BoardWalk Resort. The restaurant, Chef Cora’s first table service eatery, serves hearty Greek-inspired dishes that are a tribute to her family heritage.
Kouzzina opened in 2009 in the space that was formerly Spoodles restaurant. I admit to wanting to enjoy dinner at Kouzzina ever since it starting taking reservations, and I was eager to see how Disney reinvented the space. (For those who follow Walt Disney World dining, Spoodles was also a Mediterranean inspired restaurant.
We were greeted with typical Disney efficiency and friendliness by the hostess, who invited us to browse for a moment while our table was prepared. My guest wished for more lobby seating while I looked over the Cat Cora cookbooks and olive oils available for purchase. It was only a few minutes before we were invited to follow another host to our table (I had made reservations, which I recommend doing). On our walk, we were informed that kouzzina is the Greek word for kitchen
Kouzinna has all the bustle and noise of a big, family kitchen—the desired intent I guess. Our table was in the thick of things, only a few rows away from the open kitchen which features a wood burning oven (which makes the place smell heavenly!) and, unfortunately, right alongside the restaurant’s main thoroughfare, only three feet away from the server station. It was an incredibly loud atmosphere, and I soon grew tired of hearing the “kouzinna is Greek for kitchen” spiel shared with every party that paraded by our table. I also found it distracting throughout the meal to have a flurry of servers constantly getting things prepped for their tables just steps from where I was trying to have a conversation.
But I was here for the food. While I am familiar with Greek cooking, my dining partner was not. Cat Cora and Disney have struck a home run with a menu intriguing enough for those knowledgeable about Greek food and safe enough for those trying it for the first time. Simply stated, the menu is accessible with something for everyone.
Our server greeted us with a delicious basket of bread that had been warmed in the wood burning oven. It was paired with a welcoming trio plate of kalamata olives and two wells of olive oil, one imported from Greece. My partner made short work of this starter, and I was drawn to the intense briny flavor of the olives, especially when I ate them with a bite of oil dipped bread.
My eye was drawn to several items on the menu, making the choice of wine, appetizer, and entrée samplers the best option for me. I treated myself to the “Cat Flight” a trio of Cat Cora’s own Coranation Wines which just happened to the suggested pairing for the entrée I was planning to order. Though I am not a sauvignon blanc fan, I loved this well-balanced, light, fruity wine. It was a delicious accompaniment to the appetizer we selected, the Kouzzina Sampler. Made for sharing by two, this plate of kalamata olives, dolmades (aka stuffed grape leaves), tzatziki, hummus, and grilled pita came with our choice of skewers—we picked the spicy gulf shrimp and the sesame-lamb meatballs (chicken is the third option). My “new to Greek food” guest relaxed over sampling the tasty food, finding the shrimp and meatball skewers flavorful and well-cooked. I enjoyed the authentic dolmades and tzatziki. Our only wish was that a few more triangles of pita bread had been included.
For our entrees, I choose the Kouzzina Trio and my guest ordered the Wood-grilled NY Strip Steak. The Kouzzina Trio, while a great way to try many of the restaurant’s signature dishes in smaller versions, turned out to be hit and miss for me. The char-grilled lamb burger, the size of a slider, was my favorite item of the evening. It was packed with intense Greek flavors which made my mouth dance. It went very well with the Coranation Russian River Chardonnay that was next on my wine flight, the mellower notes of the wine balancing the spiciness of the seasoned burger. The Greek-style lasagna, Chef Cora’s take on pastitsio, was a disappointment due to the mushy, overcooked bucatini noodles at the heart of the dish. As a note, this dish might be on the more adventurous side for many eaters since its meat sauce is flavored with cinnamon, a spice commonly used in savory Greek cooking but known in American as a dessert flavor. I left more than half behind, mostly enjoying the top layer of creamy béchamel sauce. The last trio item I sampled was the cinnamon-stewed chicken with orzo. The meat was tender and moist, but I admit to liking the herbed orzo pasta better. The Coranation pinot noir was lighter bodied than I prefer, but again was a good accompaniment.
The New York strip steak was topped with a fresh herb saltsa that added a new taste to my guest’s favorite cut of meat. His steak was excellently cooked and came with lightly seasoned potatoes. Alongside his meal, he enjoyed the Mythos Lager which had a strong hops flavor and long finish.
No special meal is complete without dessert. Kouzzina offers a menu of six sweet treats. We chose to share the loukoumades, traditional homemade Greek doughnut balls drizzled with honey and cinnamon. They came served in a paper lined coffee cup with a vanilla cream and a strawberry dipping sauce. Before we knew it, we had gobbled up these little gems.
Food – Wonderful introduction to Greek cuisine that will also satisfy those already in love with this cooking. Simple, distinctive flavors abound.
Atmosphere – Extremely loud due to the open kitchen, open floor plan, and lack of fabric.
Service – Disappointing. Our server was going through the motions; he failed to share the background history about Cat Cora that the server at table shared with her guest.
Tips – Make a reservation and request a table away from the main restaurant thoroughfare.
The DisDining Mama Says: Unless you have adventurous eaters, Kouzzina is unlikely to appeal to young children (but yes, the restaurant has a kids’ menu with pizza and macaroni as safe options). For preteens, Kouzzina can be an opportunity to try flavors from another part of the world and broaden their horizons. In any event, stop by to hunt for the hidden Mickey in the lobby.
Prepared by Michelle Johnston
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