Sunday, February 7, 2010

Kouzzina on the Boardwalk;
A Restaurant Trip to the Greek Isles

From the time Kouzzina opened in August of last year, I was really excited about having dinner here on our trip in December. Luckily the meal plan was part of our package, so I know this was going to be a stop. First, I love the Boardwalk area, as it reminds me of some Jersey trips I took in the areas around my original home in NYC. But at Disney World of course, it's much better. Boardwalk is home to several great resorts that are walking distance (or short boat ride) from each other. It also has some free, nighttime live entertainment and is close to the International Gateway for Epcot. What could be better.

The view down the Boardwalk at Walt Disney World

Although Utica NY where I live is a very small city, and not what most would consider cosmopolitan, we are blessed with some great and real ethnic food eateries. Our population speaks dozens of languages as we are a gateway to refugees from around the globe. One of our most popular restaurants (measured by a parking lot that is full from the time it opens to closing) is Symeon’s. Still family-run, it was the first Greek cuisine in the Mohawk Valley and goes back to 1973. So I was really looking forward to comparing the quality and the experience. I also love Lebanese food, the character of which in several dishes in Kouzzina was easy to compare.

On the Boardwalk outside Kouzzina.
Orlando Attractions Magazine

I’m told that Kouzzina is “kitchen” in Greek, and if you remember where Spoodles was, that’s the location. The kitchen is emphasized by the open cooking area in the dining room where you can view the meals being prepared. It contributes to the homelike theme (if your home cooks for several hundred people every night). I liked the atmosphere, and also the very open seating plan including the real wood and really comfortable table and chairs. Our waiter was quick, helpful and provided some great recommendations.

The Open Kitchen Area

This is the Cat Cora restaurant. I remember Cat from some Disney short videos, but also of course as the first and only woman to win Iron Chef Honors. She has a personal web site and also one on the Food Network. She’s a successful restaurateur, a cookbook author, and of Greek and southern American heritage. I was always disappointed that Greece was not one of the nations at Epcot and was very happy to at least have a restaurant serving the spirit of Aristotle and Socrates and of the Gods from the land of Hellens.

The Main Dining Room

The menu is descriptive, including a Glossary which is really helpful is you don’t know what Kalamata, Mazithra, Pastitsio or Psari Psito are. Don’t get scared, the menu is easy to read and understand, but when eating in Rome (or Athens) it helps to speak the language. And when my wife ordered Galaktoboureko and then compared it to its Symeon counterpart, I was really impressed.

By the way, we’re not gourmets by any stretch of the imagination; in fact our tastes are generally pretty pedestrian so ordering will never be too exotic. But I love the smells, preparation and presentation of foods; which is why the Food Channel is preset on our remote. For dinner I had the slow-cooked lamb shank, served with oven-baked gigantes beans and pepper sauce. The glossary told me that Gigantes are baked beans with tomato sauce and various herbs. Mary Ann had the wood-grilled flank steak with fresh herb saltsa and Kouzzina potatoes. That meal photo of Mary Ann's dinner is from The Disney Food Blog.

On a scale of one to five, we both gave our meals a four, and well-worth the visit. I also had a red wine, which was selected by our waiter and I don’t recall the brand; but I do recall that it was delicious. As I said, Mary Ann had Galaktoboureko for desert, which was not as good as Symeon she decided. I had the Baklava which I thought was among the best I’ve tasted. That photo is below (the photo at right is Spanakopita).

I also had the Kouzzina Press Pot Coffee (remember, coffee makes the meal) which is the house signature blend and was very good ending to an overall enjoyable meal experience. As I said, it was a four out of five for us, we recommend it to others and it will be a definite return experience for the Brodsky’s (to perhaps be a little bit more exotic the next time).

Planning Tip: The official Disney Web site published the actual menusat Kouzzina, which is a great help in planning your trip. If you’re traveling with children or with people who are picky eaters, having an opportunity to review the menu BEFORE you make your reservations is really important. And you do have to make ADRs (the Disney form of reservations) and as close to as you can to the 180 days in advance that is allowed. I’ll talk in a future article about the importance of ADR’s for sit-down restaurants and some tips about making them, but for now take me literally at my word. You MUST make advance reservations for your sit-down meals and you SHOULD review menus to make sure that you want to try a specific restaurant. For Kouzzina, click on these links to view and print the current menus from the Disney web site: Dinner, for Dessert, and for Breakfast.

The beautiful wood tables and chairs
Orlando Attractions Magazine

I researched many write-ups and reviews about Kouzzina. Clearly the opinions are mixed and run the gamut from love to hate. For any restaurant, everyone has their own tastes. But I’m sure Greek food is a little different for many people. Here are some other places that I found reviews of Kouzzina. Remember to click on the PURPLE LINKS.

Among my favorite Disney information choices and one I go to first when looking for restaurant information is aptly named The Disney Food Blog. They do a Kouzzina dinner review and acknowledge that the food is not for everyone. They also had a photo of my wife's entree.

The Orlando Sentinel food blog The Dish by Heather McPherson also talked about the restaurant, but also at the time that it opened. WDWMagic.Com provides some news stories, photos and other information about Kouzzina. They include a handful of user comments about the restaurant and I'm showing some of their photos from this very useful planning site.

I wanted to make special mention of one web site, the Orlando Attractions Magazine Blog. They have several nice inside photos of the restaurant. But I mention them primarily to refer you to a podcast I regularly listen to while at the Gym (great personal quality time when you’re on the treadmill). It’s Inside the Magic hosted by Ricky Brigante who is a partner in the magazine. It’s one of my recommended podcasts. When planning a trip to Walt Disney World, start listening to podcasts. This and others are listed in the right side column of my blog.

I actually check out two sources of user reviews and always use them when planning my choices. These are AllEars.Net who listed Kouzzina at 6.13 out of 10 for dinner with 38 user reviews and 71% recommending the restaurant. On Breakfast it was 6.22 of out of 10 with only 9 reviews and 89% recommending.

My second regular source of user reviews is DISBoards , but they only had 3 user listings, rating it a 8.0 out of 10 plus 100% recommending people to go there. But another source I found is Trip Advisor, which many people refer to when travel planning. They rated the restaurant as 841 our of 1,220, but there were only 8 people voting whose scores were moderate at best.

Finally here's a video conducted by Orlando Attractions Magazine with Cat Cora:

So I hope all the mix and match of my thoughts and those of many others was helpful, particularly all the links to sources around the web about Kouzzina's. Mary Ann and I will be going again. Diversity of flavors, tastes and experiences is one of the reasons we travel to Walt Disney World. Kouzzina was a special part of that.