Japanese Kappo Style restaurants are intimate spaces where the chef prepares a broad range of dishes in front of the diners and serves these over a counter. Orlando is now fortunate to have a restaurant in this style simply called Kappo. This small, 7-seat restaurant is located in Audubon Park’s East End Market (3201 Corrine Drive).
(Update: Beginning January 2016 Kapo will operate their East End space as a Japanese convenience store while they look for a new restaurant location.)
At Kappo, three University of Florida graduates — Lordfer Lalicon (Lo), Mark Berdin and Jennifer Banagale — have partnered to bring Kaiseki style Japanese dining to Orlando. During the afternoons an ala cart menu is served that focuses on Chirashi, Nigiri, Sashimi, Maki and Kashi (Sweets). But Kappo really soars on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights when a reservation only, Omakase menu is served.
The meal cup of saki poured for each of the guests and the staff followed by a traditional Japanese toast — Kampai! This is followed by a delicate amuse bouche of a savory macaroon flavored with mushroom
While diners are enjoying the amuse, Chef Lo prepares an assortment of mainly west coast oysters (accompanied by a single bivalve representing the east coast) and Chef Mark begins preparation of a trio of local vegetables. The Chefs collaborate together during the meal with moves in the small kitchen that seem choreographed. All three communicate without audible voice, or drama.
The next two dishes were preparations of seafood. Both quite different and both among the many highlights of my experience at Kappo. The first was a dish of lobster than includes tomalley and roe in a delicate sauce. This was followed by a brilliant preparation of bonito served over a savory jelly which I really enjoyed.
The seafood preparations where followed by a light and balanced mushroom soup — a welcomed segue to a beautifully plated sashimi course including both familiar and not so familiar selections of fish. Garnish on this plate included small round leaves that I understood to be nostrum. These leaves added a slight bitter taste that complimented the sweet fish.
After sashimi, the menu progressed to a salad of fresh tomatoes followed by a dish of kumquat over foie gras. Coming back to Orlando from San Francisco where foie is now banned, I welcomed the opportunity to enjoy this ingredient again.
For those of you who have been keeping track, we are eight dishes into the Kappo experience at this point. I thought the dinner might start to wind down. But, there was plenty left to enjoy starting with a selection of more robust dishes including a “one-bite” ramen consisting of house made noodles and pork belly served with Kappo’s version of tonkotsu broth. This was followed by braised mushrooms served over a light “mash” consisting of daikon.
The star of the evening was a dish of sliced Australian Wagu beef served with an incredible sauce alongside. The dish was plated with “swipes” of broccoli rape puree that I found to be an excellent counterpoint to the beef.
Two uni dishes were served nigiri style. The first was uni from Maine on the east coast of the U.S. and then second uni from Santa Barbara, California on the west coast. Both were great and those at the counter enjoyed commenting on their favorite. I found myself enjoying each equally.
Uni signals dessert for me when I am at a restaurant serving sushi. So it made sense that dessert followed the Uni tasting. This is when pastry Chef Jennifer steps in beginning with a beautiful egg nog served as a tribute to the Holiday season and finishing with two courses of dessert .
The trio of Lo, Mark and Jennifer have brought Orlando a fresh interpretation of a traditional Japanese dining concept. Reservations for the omakase dinners are hard to come by and for good reason. The restaurant is more accessible after the busy time at lunch most days. But, if you are interested in an innovative omakase experience that strives to be as locally sourced as possible, be patient as Kappo will exceed expectations. I certainly plan on returning.
Boxed sweets offered to take home.