Bright, airy Kasa offers an ambitious sampling of small plates

Chefs Josh Lyons and Shawn Kaplan are the trendy boîte’s secret weapons


183 S. Orange Ave. | 407-985-5272 | | $$

Kasa, the latest in a line of trendy urban boîtes brought to you by the Bento Group (Avenue Gastrobar, Ghost Bar & Lounge, Bento Café) has one notable advantage over its sister restaurants – pseudo-celebrity/rocker chef Josh Lyons. The 2012 Food Network Star helped develop Kasa’s tapas-heavy menu before handing over the reins to current executive chef – and kitchen cohort at the now-closed Fuku Restaurant in West Palm Beach – Shawn Kaplan. (Lyons is based in South Florida, but still makes the occasional trip to Kasa’s kitchen.)

The restaurant sits in the former Urban Flats space on the corner of Orange Avenue and Church Street. It’s a prime piece of real estate deserving of a restaurant that can enhance the downtown food scene, and do so with a bit of swagger, and Kasa, by all indications, is that place. The bright, airy room is all blond woods and floor-to-ceiling windows, but it’s not just a pretty face. Granted, the menu could use some focus, but it’s hard to reproach Lyons, Kaplan and company when the kitchen, for the most part, delivers the goods.

Goods like the crispy polenta cake ($9): The five little pucks weren’t topped with adobo pork belly, as our excitable server stated, but adobo pork shoulder, along with a puree of avocado, pickled onions, queso fresco and cilantro. It was nevertheless a good recommendation. Next up was a trio of oysters ($9) embellished with honeydew foam, black masago and icy kiwi granita. They were wonderfully bracing, but when we asked about their origin, “Blue Point oysters from Chesapeake Bay” was the response. Now, meaty Blue Points hail from Long Island and from Connecticut, but these weren’t very meaty, so my guess is that we slurped Eastern oysters from Chesapeake Bay.

Crispy dumplings ($7) resembled mini-empanadas and could’ve used a whole lot more of the fire-roasted eggplant and cream cheese filling. The white fish ceviche ($14), on the other hand, was perfect. Adding watermelon to the citrusy mélange allowed for the occasional pleasant burst of sweetness.

From the list of mini-burgers, we liked the flavors of the beer-braised Kobe brisket ($12), but trying to hold these goopy numbers was a messy exercise: The bun disintegrated under the weight of succulent brisket, garlic cream sauce, horseradish havarti and pepper relish. The tamarind-grilled rack of lamb ($14) was the lone disappointment on the table. While the meat was perfectly cooked to our desired medium-rare, the flavor of tamarind was nonexistent, and the lamb itself was utterly bland. The dish did come with a heap of laudable slaw fashioned from mint, green apples, cucumber and fennel, though.

An uninspired wine, beer and cocktail menu could certainly do with an overhaul – but I must admit the bar area occupying the northern swath of the restaurant looks sweet. As did sweets like pound cake with yuzu custard and fresh berries ($8) or tempura-battered rolls of apple pie ($8), served with a Mason jar of salted-caramel ice cream.

Our server showed hustle and initiative, but could’ve been more informed in terms of the menu, ingredients and sourcing. While service has its deficiencies, it’s clear that at Kasa, the back of the house rules.

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