If you’re a daring diner, check out these bold dishes at local restaurants
Who says winter is dull? There’s plenty of adventure in Stamford when it comes to eating. Like trying Albanian cuisine, or experiencing the drama of swords of meat at a Brazilian churrascaria, or eating whole grilled fish the way they do in Greece, or gathering around a grill table for Korean barbecue, or facing down an aji sashimi. For those with an adventurous palate, here’s a culinary walk through the city, which includes drinks to explore too.
Kouzina Greek Taverna and Bar
Ninety percent of Kouzina’s customers who order Taipoura, whole grilled dorade, ask that it be deboned and head and tail removed in the kitchen before it’s served, but they’re missing a culinary pleasure. In Greece fish is always served on the bone with head and tail on. As it grills, the cartilage in the bones bathes the flesh. Learning how to lift the filets from the bone is an essential culinary skill, and part of the pleasure of eating fish on the bone is picking the remaining flesh from between the spine, and finding the sweet part in the cheek. If you are freaked out by the head and tail, get over it; we’re exploring. Kouzina’s chef sprinkles salt on the dorade, also known as Mediterranean sea bream and then grills it over an open flame. It gets finished upon serving with a little olive oil and lemon.
Just pronouncing avgolemono is an adventure, and the nourishing soup is one of the most popular items on the menu. The chefs start with homemade chicken stock, chicken, orzo, lemon and eggs.
223 Main St., www.kouzinataverna.com
Çka Ka Qëllu
When you enter this European village tavern, with stone walls and rafters and shelves of artifacts from Albania’s long history, you may wonder, Where is Albania? On a map it’s across the Adriatic from the boot of Italy.
The cuisine is Mediterranean with a tang—yogurt is a mainstay of the diet, and fermented, sour flavors appear in unexpected and delicious ways. Dips arrive with puffy house-baked bread. Sausage dip is creamy, cheesy and rich with pieces of veal sausage to spoon over bread. Burek, layered bread filled with seasoned chopped meat, comes with a bright red pepper dip. Sarma—cabbage stuffed with veal and rice—is comforting, with an extra sour tang from whole fermented cabbage leaves. Tave Kosi, lamb and rice baked in yogurt-egg custard, reveals how the rich meat is cut by the sour custard.
Çka Ka Qëllu is a warm, cozy place to try a new cuisine, especially with a glass of cabernet from Stone Castle, a 1,000-year-old vineyard in the Balkans.
15 Clark St., ckakaqelluct.com
Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse
The Brazilian churrascaria experience is an all-you-can-eat excess of grilled meats. Servers parade around the room with swords of meats grilled over an open fire, and stop at your table to carve slices of beef, lamb, pork or chicken. At Terra Gaucha in Stamford Town Center, there’s more than just meat. There are also platters of fresh fruit, vegetables, salads and hot and cold side dishes displayed at the buffet.
Our perfect plate is white rice and black beans, fried plantain, collards, fresh avocado and fresh fruit. Our favorite meat is the picanha, or beef rump with the thick fat cap, which flavors the tender juicy meat as it grills. To drink, we enjoy the intoxicating caipirinha, which is muddled lime and sugar with cane sugar rum. Chimarrão is a yerba mate, a warm drink rich in anti-oxidants and nutrients served in a gourd and sipped through a metal straw.
230 Tresser Blvd., terragaucha.net/stamford-ct
Love Meat Korean BBQ
This restaurant calls on fans of fire and fermentation for a fun group dining experience—Korean barbecue, featuring a grill in the center of the table. It’s an all-you-can-eat menu with lots of protein options, which the server cooks at your table. We love the kalbi, marinated beef short ribs, and bulgogi, marinated rib eye. Other customer favorites include Berkshire pork belly, pork jowl and shrimp.
Banchan—little side dishes to eat before, during and with the barbecue—include kimchi, the famous spicy fermented cabbage dish, radish ssam, paper-thin rounds of pickled cabbage, and pickled radish with jalapenos. Wrap the barbecued meat or fish and banchan in fresh lettuce leaves and bite into a packet of complete umami flavor.
485 Summer St., lovemeatbbq.com
For a restaurant that’s been in Stamford since 1986, Kotobuki has kept its stellar reputation with Masa Sato, a true master sushi chef, at the helm. The most spectacular dish on the menu is the aji sashimi. The sashimi slices are arrayed on the eviscerated fish bones, head and tail on. Aji, also known by the unappealing name horse mackerel, isn’t actually a member of the mackerel family, but instead jacks and pompanos. The culinary voyage continues as the bones are whisked away, deep-fried, and returned to the table to be nibbled upon.
Another adventurous dish is a bowl of squid sliced into noodles, blanched and topped with fresh uni (raw sea urchin), with a dollop of green wasabi and a shiso leaf. In a spicy version, the chef tosses the squid in chile sauce, adds a dollop of salmon roe and tops it with a quail egg.
457 Summer St., kotobukijapanese.com
photography: Kyle Norton