When you hear the words ‘restaurant’ and ‘chain’ in the same sentence, expectations for a great meal tend to dwindle somewhat. Many restaurant chains hit the proverbial mark, while others are so far off base that they should close up shop and leave the neighborhood. One chain, however, is on the right track and is dispelling at least a handful of the myths of the sometimes fateful standardized business model.
Against my better judgment, I recently visited a local restaurant that is part of a chain of over two dozen eateries located in at least 16 states across the country. can proudly boast that it is home to the only in the state of Connecticut, and, for the most part, the good people of Stamford can eat a little better because of it.
On weekend evenings, Kona is packed to the gills with hungry Stamford citizens and our surrounding neighbors, but on this breezy Saturday mid-afternoon, we had our choice of seats in the sparsely occupied dining room. In total contrast to the dining room, however, the bar was lively and full of energy.
The cuisine at Kona reflects a desire to please a myriad of diners. Although they specialize in sushi and modern American cuisine, there is a definite international influence as some of the dishes are Asian fusion with a blend of Hawaiian and Japanese styles. To those without the desire to explore their culinary boundaries, the menu can seem all over the map, and, indeed it is. However, the variety comes in handy when you don’t want to be bogged down with the same old, same old.
Offering a full sushi bar with everything from Atlantic Rolls ($6.50) to Yellowtail Scallion Rolls ($5.50) and everything in between — including special Kona Rolls, like the Sunshine Roll ($11.50), a spicy salmon roll topped with fresh salmon and thinly sliced lemon — diners will enjoy watching the sushi chef as he skillfully prepares the colorful plates.
On Monday-Friday, frugal-minded diners can choose from the “Perfect Pairings” lunch menu. Create your own delicious duo from such tasty items as Oriental Salad, Tomato Basil Bisque, Mini Cheeseburgers, Clam Chowder and more for just $9.95 for the twosome.
Perfect Pairings is not available on weekends, so my dining companion and I perused the scattered menu and, after much deliberation, made our selections.
The Miso Soup ($4.00) was pleasant, but failed to set off any major bells and whistles. Although good, it was too salty for my taste. The Chicken Chili ($6), however, had a totally different tale to tell. A generous portion served in a bowl, not a cup, the chili was practically a meal by itself. Ripe with ground chicken, chunks of tomato, beans, and topped with green onions and white cheddar cheese, it was satisfyingly hearty and filling. The big “ta-dah” moment for me, however, had to be the three steaming hot and dense, yet spongy jalapeño cornbread muffins that sat atop the chili. Nice touch, Kona; very nice indeed.
By the time my Miso-Sake Salmon Club ($12.75) arrived to the table, I was unsure if I would be able to finish it, but I gave it that valiant schoolgirl try. The miso marinated salmon with sesame-soy aioli, mixed baby greens and tomato applewood smoked bacon sandwiched in between the crisp and airy Ciabatta bread offered more than a substantial bite. With just a hint of salty goodness from the miso, the salmon was juicy and grilled to perfection. The accompanying Taro Chips served on the side were sensational. Made from coco malanga, a potato-like plant from Southeast Asia, the paper thin chips were crisp with a flavor unlike any other I have ever had.
While I worked my way through the Miso-Sake Salmon Club, my companion was busy digging into his BBQ Chicken Pizza ($12). The spicy-sweet barbeque sauce was the foundation for tender grilled chicken nestled among three cheeses — cheddar, parmesan and Gouda — and topped with garlic, red onions and cilantro. The hand stretched crust was golden brown and crispy with tiny pockets of air throughout — not bad for a non-pizza joint.
There is a small but respectable offering of salads available (ranging from $9 to $13.50 with side salads priced at $5.50), and for $4 or $6 more you can add chicken or salmon to any salad. Entrées include a hodgepodge of dishes from comfort food (Big Island Meatloaf, $13.75) to Asian specialties (Pan-Asian Noodles, $13) to Hawaiian-themed poultry (Macadamia Nut Chicken, $13.75) to delights from the sea (Pan-Seared Ahi, $15.75).
There is enough diversity on Kona’s menu to please just about any palate. And while I have only had one meal here, I have no doubt that Kona is a place that I will return to once again. Although the service could have been better — our waitress was not the most attentive woman in the world and on at least a couple of occasions we had to track her down — the atmosphere was welcoming, the food was interesting and appetizing without being over-the-top and overall a great value for the money.
Kona Grill is open Mon-Thur 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m. -11 p.m. and Sun 11 a.m.-10 p.m. The above costs reflect lunch prices.
230 Tressler Blvd.
Stamford, CT 06901