To check another hot spot off our Best of Philly to-do list, we hit up the 2010 Philly Mag winner for "Best New BYOB," Koo Zee Doo.
If you're a more thorough researcher, the restaurant's website gives a really nice explanation of how the owners came to focus on Portuguese cuisine and how Portugal's culture is reflected in its food. The owners also previously worked together at Matyson, another one on our list, as well as several other Philly spots. At right is the small entrance way, where you are greeted by a giant peacock on the wall and the sous chef prepping away right in front of you. (Those people are strangers, not us. I just really liked the peacock.)
Koo Zee Doo's menu is relatively small but the waiter accurately advised that three dishes (two apps, or "entradasm," and one entree) would be plenty of food. You could go back several times and try something new each visit. I plan to! Anyone want to join??
As the website explains, fish is a staple in Portuguese cuisine so you'll find several sea-faring options on the menu. The Amêijoas à Bulhão de Pato - white wine steamed clams - were delicious, and I'm not much of a shellfish fan. As with mussels, it's the sauce that really creates the flavor and Koo Zee Doo's sauce was pretty much to-die-for. I shouldn't leave out that they give you fresh, homemade rolls that were amazing enough on their own, but pure heaven when doused in the extra white wine sauce.
I was a little surprised to find the Rissóis de Batata Doce, or creamy fried sweet potato turnovers, were my least favorite part of the meal. If you're visualizing sweet potato fries, stop now, because these turnovers were very different. There's more bechame inside than sweet potato, which I am not a big fan of, so they had an odd taste.
The best part of our meal was the Bife à Portuguesa, made up of Picanha steak, presunto, fried egg and fried potatoes. The photo above is from the restaurant homepage and does this dish better justice than any pics I could take on my flash-free iPhone. Interestingly, we've been seeing fried eggs show up more often on burgers and other meat dishes in U.S., and it did not disappoint on this one. Break the yolk, mix the egg with the perfectly-cooked, jamon-covered steak, and you will savor every last bite. I recall the egg-on-a-hamburger thing being popular back in my Parisian study abroad days (circa 2002) and not being a fan then, probably just because it was "different," but now I am glad this trend is catching on in European-style restaurants in America because it really does compliment the meat flavor and add a welcomed twist to any hunk of beef.
It is tough to get a table and the place is small, so plan ahead. We were able to get a day-of reservation at the kitchen bar, which we always enjoy anyway. It only has about eight seats but there's plenty of room for your food and you get to watch the chef and sous chef prepare all the food.
We opt for kitchen bar seating often and usually find the chefs start up good conversations with their newest guests. The guys at Koo Zee Doo that night never actually acknowledged our presence, which was a little disappointing, but admittedly they were pretty occupied with multi-tasking an entire restaurant's worth of meals.
Koo Zee Doo doesn't just have amazing food and a great little atmosphere with brick walls and homely furniture, it offers something different. I like all kinds of food, but can only do sushi, heavy Italian, Mexican and good ol' bar food so often. The mix of flavors, the menu options and their presentation are refreshing, making the experience at Koo Zee Doo unique and special, without feeling like it has to be a "big night out." Don't forget it's a BYOB designed for sharing dishes, so the bill should be pretty reasonable. We only ended up paying around $65 for one of the best meals we've had in a while. The restaurant could be a great date spot, a place to catch up with friends, or bring the family.
Give it a try and let us know what you think!