Downtown Orlando is primed for a restaurant renaissance. There are plenty of places to eat, but it needs more places to dine, restaurants where the meal is the experience, part of the evening’s entertainment, and not just a place to grab a bite before heading out for a night of drinking.
I was hoping that Kasa would be that sort of restaurant, but unfortunately it is not, at least in its current state.
It certainly looks as though it could be a dining destination. Occupying the prime corner space at Orange Avenue and Church Street formerly held by Urban Flats, Kasa has a bright, modern and chic feel. The space is large and open. Seat backs are low, enabling the see-and-be-seen clientele. The multilevel dining and lounge areas give an expansive feel.
If only the food could come up to the level of the decor.
The menu is confusing and unfocused. There are oysters next to arancini next to pad Thai calamari next to meatballs next to burgers. It bills itself as a tapas restaurant and raw bar, so most of the 50 plus items on the menu are small plates, though there are six or so “entrees.” The menu -- and the person who served me and my guest recently -- helpfully suggests three small plates per person. Some of those small plates do not have small prices -- many are over $10 -- so an order of three will put your total north of $30. Add on wine or drinks and you’ve got a pretty good check average for a tapas bar.
I wouldn’t complain about the price if the food were worth it, but that was not my experience. My friend and I started with the pad Thai calamari, which featured hard and chewy strips of squid coated with chopped peanuts and served with some sugar snap peas and carrot sticks. I’m giving it the benefit of a doubt that it was indeed squid -- I couldn’t tell from the complete lack of flavor.
We also had an order of sweet clams from the list of daily specials, which for some curious reason are presented on a card inside a small envelope. The clams had the same characteristics as the calamari (tough and chewy) and the liquor, which was dotted with fatty globules (not necessarily a bad thing) was bland.
The Moroccan glazed lamb meatballs did not taste lamby and were topped with bits of dried fruits. The “toasted baguette” that the menu said would be served with the meatballs was a thinly sliced section of one (untoasted).
Perhaps the kitchen could do better with one of the entree selections, we wondered. We looked over the list and narrowed it down to two: the grilled chimichurri hangar steak or the miso braised kobe brisket.
We decided to ask our server, who previously had offered her favorites unsolicited. She didn’t hesitate: go with the brisket. Why? I asked. Because it’s new, she said. Have you tried it? I wondered. No, she said.
I ordered the hangar steak.
And it was quite good. The meat was cooked perfectly, with a nice charred exterior and a beautiful juicy red inside. The flavor was predominantly garlic, but that’s to be expected with a chimichurri. Unfortunately, the fingerling potatoes that accompanied were overcooked. It was a larger portion than the tapas offerings, but I did not think it warranted its $26 price tag.
As previously noted, service was lacking.
The name is a thoughtful mashup of the Spanish word for house and omakase, the term used in a sushi bar for the chef's selection, meaning "from the chef's heart."
It seems that Kasa is trying to be too many things and to appeal to too many people, and as a result, appeals to only a few.
Kasa Tapas & Raw Bar is at 189 S. Orange Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-985-5272.