Local Bites -- Kouzina: Great Greek eatery
Brian Herlihy and Gina Douvas followed their passion for cooking by opening Kouzina, a Greek restaurant featuring the best of their family recipes.
This husband and wife team were raised in households where large family meals were a regular events (Gina in Astoria, Queens and Brian in Katonah, N.Y.), and each developed a love for cooking at an early age.
After numerous trips to Greece with Gina, Brian fell in love with the cuisine and their vision took shape. After Brian retired from the Pound Ridge Police department their dream became a reality and in June the couple opened Kouzina on Forest Street in New Canaan.
Originally envisioned as a specialty food store and market that would sell olives, olive oils (from Gina's family farm in Patras, Greece), cheeses, artisanal breads and prepared foods; the project expanded and now features a restaurant.
The location at the end of New Canaan's restaurant row on Forest Street was redesigned into a delightful space with 30 interior seats. When the weather cooperates, there are additional seven umbrella covered tables on the front terrace.
Since Kouzina's opening in mid-June, I have enjoyed many of Gina and Brian's family-inspired recipes that showcase Kouzina's traditional Greek roots as well as the couple's passion for quality products.
The mezedes (appetizers) and tapas (snacks) choices include a variety of flavors and range from simple and traditional Greek spreads to grilled octopus and calamari, plus appetizer-size versions of several entree choices.
The feta platter is delicious. A generous slice of feta is topped with oil and oregano and served with several slices of fresh tomato. The creaminess of Kouzina's feta is delightful and I would highly recommend this mezze. The tzatziki, the hummus, the taramosalata (cod roe dip) and the melitzanosalata (eggplant spread) are a very pleasant assortment of traditional Greek spreads.
Kouzina's tzatziki recipe includes Greek yogurt that is enhanced with dill, garlic, cucumbers and other seasonings and the hummus is made daily; both are light and mild versions.
The taramosalata and the melitzanosalata are very flavorful and these choices work well as shared plates. Pan fried pitas are included with these dishes and each sets the pace for a delicious meal.
The spanakopita includes the traditional combination of spinach and feta cheese baked between layers of phyllo dough. Truly delicious, the smooth and mild spinach filling is enhanced by the crispy baked phyllo sheets.
The filling is augmented by the addition of leeks, dandelions and eggs and is flavorful and perfectly seasoned. Tyropita, a variation of spanakopita with a cheese filling is also offered.
Kouzina's version of saganaki is the most bold and delicious as any I have tasted, but it is an acquired taste that may be a bit too strong for some customers. Kouzina begins with a traditional hard and salty kefalograviera sheep milk cheese and then the cheese is flambed using a Greek Metaxa brandy. Kouzina finishes the dish with a touch of lemon juice. The flavors of the brandy and lemon juice combined with the saltiness of the cheese are scrumptious.
The newly-introduced calamari is first marinated in olive oil, lemon and herbs and then quickly grilled. The result is a delightfully tender rendition of a simplistic dish. The flavors of the fresh herbs and lemon brighten the calamari and the dish is served with rice with diced carrots plus a mound of sauteed spinach and garlic to create another delicious selection.
Entrees include lunch-dinner options such as souvlaki, gyro, moussaka and pastitsio; if a larger dinner entree is desired, the menu contains salmon, several choices of stuffed burgers, plus Kouzina supplements the regular menu with daily specials.
The gyro is offered as either a traditional pita-wrapped or with the meat served on a platter with French fries. The meat is a lamb and pork combination that creates a mild flavor and the meat is nicely seasoned. Kouzina's gyro version includes the sliced meat, wrapped within a warm pita with tomato, tzatziki sauce and onions. The pita bread is lightly grilled and works well with the cooling tzatziki sauce. Overall the pita-wrapped sandwich is flavorful, but I think it would benefit from more savory tomatoes.
The moussaka is one item on the menu that must be included in a visit to Kouzina. This is my personal favorite and includes layers of delicious potatoes, sauteed ground beef, a layer of eggplant and zucchini, and topped with a creamy bechamel sauce. The menu describes this as "baked to perfection," and I agree and highly recommend this dish. The potatoes are perfectly cooked, the meat is absolutely delicious, the eggplant and zucchini slices are flavorful and all of these ingredients are topped with a layer of bechamel sauce. After baking, the bechamel sauce assumes a wonderful creamy texture that is a perfect complement to the deep flavors of the meat, squash and zucchini.
Kouzina offers seasonal selections and the current `daily specials' may include grilled baby lamb chops, sauteed scallops, shrimp, branzino and other fish dishes plus salads that will include beets, goat cheese and other seasonal ingredients.
The current specials of Baby Lamb Chops or the Kouzina Braised Short Ribs and both are scrumptious. Two lamb chops are first marinated in olive oil, lemon and garlic and then grilled. The slight acidity of the lemon brightens the mild lamb and the chops were perfectly seasoned and prepared. As an accompaniment, Kouzina includes a Greek rice pilaf. The Braised Short Ribs are a "must have dish." Brian allocates three days to prepare. The meat is first marinated in a dry rub for twelve hours, and subsequently braised with mirepoix, stock and finished with a demi-glace. A large portion is served with a simple polenta to complement the deep rich flavors of the short ribs and vegetables. Kouzina's version is one of the best short rib dishes I have tasted in Fairfield County.
Leave room for dessert as Kouzina's galaktoboureko is delightful. A thick layer of warm custard is encased in sheets of phyllo and finished with sugar-honey syrup. The custard is delightfully creamy and the sugar-honey syrup added a second level of sweetness. Complement this dessert with a cup of Greek coffee and it is a great way to complete the meal.
Add Kouzina to your list of great destination dining in New Canaan for a relaxing meal. It is a great addition to New Canaan's culinary landscape.
Kouzina Restaurant; 32C Forest Street, New Canaan, CT 06840; 203-594-9800.
Tuesday to Thursday, noon to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday noon to 10 p.m.; Sunday noon to 5 p.m.