Koo Zee Doo

614 N. 2nd Street
(215) 923-8080

One needn’t be Magellan, exploring the landmarks of Northern Liberties, to head straight to this picturesque Portuguese BYOB. What used to house the semi-Sephardic Aden restaurant has been nicely transformed into two eating rooms: one long, one square. The former is as you enter, bared brick to your right into which have been inserted wall-recesses. Flickering votive candles are encased within them, covered by faux opaque windows, making the “fado” feeling a solemn Sintra touch. A bar-icaded open kitchen sizzles to your left where chef-owner-husband David Gilberg sails among pots, pans and condiments as if he were Henry the Navigator bounding between countless continents at the speed of oven lights.

The back room has real windows on one side, adorned with laced curtains, allowing light to respond without kindness on the army-green-colored opposite walls. Square tables with marbleized brown cork veneers abound, as do large typical blue Portuguese scenic tiles.

Dark wooden-backed slatted chairs comfort your spine, which bounds forward when gorgeous rounded powdery Portuguese rolls are served gratis with plates of butter and edamame bean pods.

The bread is coarse, dense and chewy. Rip it into mouthfuls; add a small pat of butter to a torn piece and augment with the slippery beans (which you must peel first). Throw the meld between your lips, take a sip of the Vinho Verde wine brought from home, and allow your jaws a life of their own. Guttural utterances of “Vasco da Gama” begin sputtering clearly from your vocal chords in perfect unison with the movement of your soon-to-be-aching facial muscles. Your larynx, albeit flaccid, will helplessly ask the waitperson for more.

When you regain your other five senses, order an Entrada. One fine starter is Espetadas de Moelas ($9). They are roasted chicken gizzards (thick-walled tiny muscular pouches of the stomach of the bird), served in a grilled lemon-based gravy overflowing with the intense flavor of chicken broth. The textures rebound on your tongue between those of plump snails and/or bitsy morsels of sautéed liver. These ragged ovals of poultry offal had been served upon skewers months ago, but now arrive stickless as bared, unencumbered bathers. “Scrumptious” sounds too superlative for a gizzard, but your taste buds will applaud your spunk.

The Sapateira Recheada ($11) is a stuffed crab salad that highlights the appetizer list. The shelled body of a crab serves as a dish upon which rest huge chunks of creamy white portions of piled chest meat. They glisten in a tangy sauce below a pre-staged overhanging claw that points to them. Your eyes must refract from the shell shock before you begin to use your nearest utensil as a shovel to cart the pristine crustacean up and in. Pale leaves of purple and green are sprayed with tomato bits and breading to complete the salad. The claw is already cracked so that you can sip at the inner cartilage to complete the festivity.

Now the entrées begin. Warnings are given that ordering is “family style,” and most main courses can be shared with others. For instance, the Milho Frito, a fried corn porridge served upon fennel and fava beans can easily serve six. Three huge triangles of one-inch-high lightly scorched polenta parcels jiggle geometrically upon a confabulation of vegetables and legumes. The slightest touch of your fork infuriates the steam out of the crusted corn-meal. Sweet kernels expose themselves to be golden yellow and gush in all directions like lavish lava. The aromas are subtle and sweet. Nasal passages welcome the perfume of the liquid shucked cob. I would be remiss not to advise that the too salty aftertaste is overwhelming.

The same saltiness spoils a beautifully prepared deep-fried Rabbit ($28), whose four ample thickly breaded parts burst with bristling fresh rabbit, with flesh glowing in the rumor that they will taste just like chicken, only five times better. And they do, if you discard the outer sea-salted crust. The denuded long thumper thighs are to be dipped in a pink remoulade sauce that is so highly and heatedly spiced that it takes your eyes prisoner. The flash expires and the subtle flavors return, saving the experience by a hare.

Do not attempt the Bacalhau à Lagaeiro ($27), grilled salt cod with punched potatoes and onions, as the sodium content will raise your blood pressure for a week. I suggest, that in so fine a restaurant, you simply ask the chef to omit the salt. Since everything is made to order, I’m certain he will do so. Try instead the Arroz de Polvo ($29), thick whip-long octopus arms to succor over rice, emerald peas and chouriço. Authentic Portuguese cuisine could not be more deliciously on target.

Finish with Prato de Chocolate, described tersely on the Sobremesas (Dessert) Menu as “Chocolate salami, whipped cream, fig.” Don’t be fooled. Turns out to be crushed cookies encased with chocolate covered figs. Go fig-ure! It’s out of this world.

You will be thanked by co-owner-wife Carla Gonçalves on the way out, and you will want to return her smile with your gratitude.

Copyright 2010 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back