The Once-Over: Kanella

kWe’ll admit it. Our knowledge of Greek food doesn’t go much beyond Gyros, Baklava, Tzatziki, and Moussaka. We like it, we love it, but that’s all we know. We haven’t been pushed or challenged with any Greek dishes. Enter Kanella.
Chef Konstantinos Pitsillides has created the restaurant of his dreams and ours. A Cypriat by birth, his face could sell the restaurant if the food didn’t bring it. He’s SEXY folks, dead sexy. He cooks with passion, without fear, and won’t dumb down what he believes to be great food. If the dish needs to be cooked head-to-toe, that’s what it gets. Head of a pig? Check. Quail feet? Double check. Don’t be scared and keep your eyes open.

After the jump, Collin Flatt continues in words and pictures with The Once-Over.

Fresh herbs are grown in the windows of the dining room that flavor the plate in front of you. A sapling lemon tree awaits her turn to provide the acidic bite many of Pitsillides’ honest dishes require. You’ll get your turn little lady, you just need a little time. The rest of the space is an open and inviting white wash with earth toned floor. One wall of exposed brick is where dried herbs and copper pans hang like trophies of successful dishes past. Tables adorn the edges of the room and along the glass facing 10th and Spruce for the romantics, with a long row of seating down the center providing for the large family dining experience. Blue and white pillows grace the bench seat reminding you of the restaurateur’s heritage. Heartwarming.
Our very capable and charming server Dominic ripped through the specials as he uncorked the Chilean Carmenerre we brought. They’re BYO sans corkage and pretention. The menu looked ample enough without the addition of Sepia as a special, but it sounded like the right move. Warm bread was partnered with a nutty tahini sauce while we waited for the main attraction to join us.

The ‘Dips Of The Day’ is just that. Chef Konstantinos whips up 3 special blends to accompany grilled pita each and every day. The mild color of each dip was a perfect indicator of the taste experience. We never imagined a fish roe sauce could be smooth and sensual. Easily the star of the trio, narrowly defeating the potato/garlic, and fava bean relish. The former had an amazingly zesty flavor which removed all shyness from the table regarding snatching the last pita.
The Sepia arrived next, in all of its tentacled glory. A close relative of calimari, but meatier and much more challenging to do justice. No problem. The consistency was pitch-perfect with little cripsy bits of grilled goodness surrounding the skin making the charred cephalopod a success. Often calamari’s flaws are hidden behind overcooking and seasoning, Chef let the little monster sing it’s song. Pretty. She was accompanied by an aromatic portabella salad, heavy on vinegar, cilantro, and parsley in a very good way.
The Pan Fried Quail came with its digits. And we LOVED it. The sweet gaminess of the meat was framed by the smoky-wine flavored pasturma. A finger bowl accompanied the dish for heathens who eat with their hands. Perfection. A baby eggplant was grilled whole and separated the fowl from the roasted potato underneath. French knife skills were on display in the presentation of the starch. The sharp right angles were not representative of the consistency or flavor of the potato, creating a side-dish that was much more than a foot note.
Our next dish was the Top Loin Of Lamb. An unorthodox cut to be sure, the top loin offered the flavor of a steak and none of the gaminess that accompanies lamb. We like gaminess, but we’d never experienced sheep done this way. A beautiful mess of marbled juiciness kept in check by a crispy grilled exterior. Sliced and plated in half-moon shape, the ruby red sinew was Big.On.Power. It beat the crap out of our long-legged grape juice from Chile. Bulgur Pilaf was the sidekick, as rice wouldn’t have been able to handle the raw emotion of the meat. It was kept sophisticated with tinges of mint and fennel.

Not big on Flan, our server sold us with, ‘come on, it’s got apples.’ Thank you Dom, we’ll let you pick the cake for our wedding. The semolina base created a unique consistency somewhere between custard and cheesecake. Realness is honeyed apple slices with your dessert. The translucent shards of fruit pronounced the delicacy of Mediterranean shores where this dish was inspired. I’m a convert now. Flan4Life.

We got no beef with the other Greek establishments in town. We love Effie’s outdoor seating/Baklava and Dmitri’s simplicity. Kanella challenged us with its honesty. The flavors are beautiful and familiar, the presentation is raw and refined. Being blissfully unaware of real Greek cooking is no way to live. Let Chef Pitsillides show you the way. We’d follow him anywhere. He’s THAT dreamy. 

— Collin Flatt

Kanella is located at 266 S. 10th St. (215) 922-1773

  • Buckethead

    I agree, it’s pretty great. My only complaint was the quail, it was hard to get the meat off those little buggers. The three dips were fantastic.

  • epices6

    Had lunch at Kanella – something I highly recommend. The grilled eggplant salad was excellent and while the selection of dishes for lunch is much reduced, there are some interesting specials available. Don’t miss dessert – I had both the Galaktoboureko (luscious and not too sweet) and the ride pudding! I hope that lunch in this lovely restaurant will catch on with the surrounding hospital staff – chef Pitsillides has created many quick dishes that even the most time-pressed and harried employee can enjoy with time to spare for a coffee.

  • anastasia

    I am Greek and the food was pretty pathetic in my estimation. No Greek uses that much cilantro. Second of all, the waitstaff couldn’t even understand my order because I pronounced it correctly. A pathetic excuse for a new Greek restaurant, but good I suppose if you don’t know any better. I’ll stick with Effie’s, Estia, and my grand mother’s kitchen than waste my money on portions that would make any Greek faint.

  • CEF

    Chef Konstantinos P. is Cypriot. From the VV – “One distinguishing feature of Greek Cypriot cooking is the use of cilantro. Native to the Mediterranean area, this odiferous botanical was once a cornerstone of ancient Hellenic cooking and preserving. Since then it has meandered around the world, so that now Mexican, Chinese, and Indian food are unthinkable without it. Nevertheless, modern Greek cuisine virtually ignores it.”

    I used to like Effie’s (ate there probably 30 times in the past 10 years), but the last few meals I had there were not cooked well. Estia felt very cold, and every dish on the menu I had eaten before. I stand by the enjoyment of a great meal, Cypriot or Greek, which I experienced at Kanella.

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