Kouzina: New Greek / Mediterranean in New Canaan

Jeff "jfood" Schlesinger

Brian Herlihy and Gina Douvas followed their passion for cooking by opening Kouzina, a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant in New Canaan featuring the best of their family recipes.  This husband and wife team were raised in households where large family meals were a regular event (Gina in Astoria, Queens and Brian in Katonah), 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 envisaged 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.

This wonderful location at the end of New Canaan’s ‘Restaurant Row’ on Forest Street was redesigned into a simply designed space with thirty interior seats plus, when the weather cooperates, an 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 their passion for quality ingredients.

The Mezedes (Appetizers) and Tapas (Snack) 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 entrée choices.

Let's start with the Feta platter: 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, Hummus, Taramosalata (cod roe dip) and 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. 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 as bold and flavorful 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 flambéd 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 very well executed.

The newly introduced Calamari is first marinated in olive oil, lemon and herbs and then quickly grilled, resulting in a delightfully tender rendition of this simple 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 sautéed spinach and garlic to create another very good selection. 

Entrées include lunch-dinner options such as Souvlaki, Gyro, Moussaka, and Pastitsio; if a larger dinner entrée is desired, the menu contains Salmon, several choices of Stuffed Burgers, plus Kouzina supplements the regular menu with daily specials.

Kouzina's Gyro is offered in either the traditional pita-wrapped style or with the meat served on a platter with accompanying French fries. This classic is made with a combination of lamb and pork resulting in a mild but nicely seasoned dish featuring sliced meat,  tomato, tzatziki sauce and onions all wrapped in a warm pita. The bread is lightly grilled and works well with the cool 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, sautéed ground beef, a layer of eggplant and zucchini, and topped with a creamy béchamel 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 wonderful, the eggplant and zucchini slices are flavorful and all of these ingredients are topped with a layer of béchamel sauce. After baking, the béchamel sauce assumes a wonderful creamy texture, 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, sautéed scallops, shrimp, bronzino 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 top notch. 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

Tue-Thu 12pm-8pm; Fri-Sat 12pm-10pm; Sun 12pm-5pm

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