Kouzina Greek Bistro
The Greek financial crisis is tragic, yet hopefully they’ll come out of it sooner rather than later. What it has meant to Miami is more Greek restaurateurs are coming over the pond in search of greener (as in greenback green) pastures, opening up restaurants at different price points. Until now the ones to top have been Mandolin and, more recently Milos, but enter Kouzina, 3535 N.E. 2nd Avenue, (t.305-392-1825) my favorite of the group. And, judging from the well heeled crowd on a recent Friday, the word is getting out about this authentic, comfortable and relaxed spot with delicious food.
The Greek chef, Alexa Apostolidis, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, takes traditional dishes her grandmother made and adds an exciting new take, whether it’s new herbs or an ingredient not usually paired with a particular dish. Menu intems are inspired by the cuisines of different Greek islands — so you have Dakos from Crete with barley bread, fresh crushed tomatoes, mountain oregano and creamy feta you didn’t know could be so good or Santorini chicken. Hot and cold Meze, appetizers, are standouts — grilled octopus, codfish croquettes served with roasted garlic puree and beet coulis, succulent ouzo shrimp with fennel and Greek green olives, and cheese envelope made with a goat like manouri cheese wrapped in phyllo dough drizzled with mountain honey and sesame seeds. There are also intriguing takes on lamb (grilled rack with dry cheese and mountain herbs crust), pork rib (glazed with mountain thyme honey, served with semolina cake and charred fennel), skewered items and original sides like semolina puree with graviera dry cheese.
You can seldom go wrong with fresh fish at good Greek restaurants, so not surprisingly the whole grilled branzino was excellent, garnished with spinach dill and artichoke Orzo.Traditionalists will enjoy the changing daily specials like moussaka, ground beef and eggplant with bechamel or pastitsio, ground beef stew and bechamel. Whatever you do, save room for the greek yogurt cheesecake with syrupy fruit of the season.
Drinking a glass of white Moschofilero wine in Kouzina’s marine inspired, rustic, and cheerful ambiance inspired by the colors of the Greek flag — marine blue and white, transported me back to a wonderful holiday years ago in Skiathos. Choose from seating on a spacious sheltered terrace outside or inside, at tables or the bar. Prices are reasonable for the quality. Meze average around $10 and big plates range from $16 to $27 (whole fish is market price) and sides are $6.A bottle of good Greek wine runs $32 (or $8 or $9 by the glass, a generous pour). Kouzina is the kind of place you’ll go back to again and again — comfortable, friendly, and very good food you can rely on.