By Madison Rutherford
Kovo means “to carve” in Greek, so it’s a fitting name for a restaurant that serves carved-to-order rotisserie meats in its pitas, salads, signature entrees and specialty pizzas. But KOVO Modern Mediterranean is also carving out a name for itself as the go-to place for gourmet, Mediterranean-inspired grub in Paradise Valley.
Though the restaurant opened in September, its owner, Yianni Ioannou, has been in the food and beverage biz for more than 15 years, both in the states and abroad. Ioannou was born in Cyprus and KOVO’s dishes put a modern spin on the Mediterranean flavors and recipes he grew up with.
The menu features a medley of authentic plates that highlight the traditional flavors of the region with a trendy twist. KOVO’s myriad menu options can be overwhelming at first, but the restaurant’s servers are known for providing well-informed recommendations to help you narrow down your options. When choosing an appetizer, they’ll likely tell you to lean toward the Dip Trio ($17) – tangy tzatziki with garlic, cucumber and dill, hearty chickpea hummus with tahini, garlic and fresh citrus and KOVO’s signature Crazy Feta, a spicy blend of whipped feta, olive oil, jalapeño and chipotle, served with raw veggies and warm, doughy pita bread for dipping. The Cheese Board ($15), which features fresh feta, brie and mozzarella, crisp strawberry and apple slices, Kalamata olives, pistachios, walnuts, jam, toasted bread and pita, is also a great choice if you want to try an inventive twist on a traditional antipasto. Be prepared for big portions – both appetizers are served on bulky wooden boards that nearly take up the whole table. If you want a starter that’s a little smaller, go with the Garlic Shrimp ($14): half a dozen perfectly cooked prawns smothered in white wine, garlic and olive oil, sprinkled with red pepper flakes, garnished with fresh lemon and served with two slices of toast. All that bread might seem a little superfluous, but trust me – you might even ask for more to dip into the creamy sauce when you’re done with the shrimp.
KOVO’s house specialties include kebabs, braised lamb, wood-fired salmon, Israeli couscous-stuffed peppers and the Mezze Signature Carved Meat Platter. In Mediterranean countries, “mezze” is a large sample platter of several smaller dishes. KOVO’s is a cornucopia of gyros, homemade Greek sausages, tzatziki, fries, village salad and pita bread. If you’re craving more seafood, the Pan-Seared Sea Bass ($28) is Cypriot comfort food at its finest. It offers a Mediterranean twist on meat and potatoes with crisp sea bass saturated in garlic and beurre blanc (white butter) sauce served on a bed of roasted lemon potatoes, carrots and broccoli and topped with fresh lemon. If you’re looking for something lighter, opt for the Mediterranean Grains Bowl ($13), a colorful mixture of cilantro-lime faro, tomatoes, chickpeas, onions, cucumbers, parsley and sliced avocado drizzled with sesame tahini dressing. Add salmon, gyro or falafel for a nominal additional cost.
KOVO also offers signature cocktails, craft beer and a well-traveled wine list with labels from Spain, Italy, Greece, France, New Zealand and South Africa. Happy hour is Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m., and offers $2 off appetizers and cocktails and $4 off drafts, wells and house wine. Every Monday and Tuesday after 8 p.m., guests can enjoy a select bottle of wine and a board of bruschetta or pizza for $20.
If you saved room for dessert, don’t skip the bougatsa ($8) – creamy Greek custard wrapped in layers of buttered filo dough topped with caramel, cinnamon and powdered sugar served with whipped cream and fresh strawberries on the side. Enjoy with a Mediterranean digestif ($8-$9) or Greek coffee ($3).
The 4,000-square-foot space features a modern design with an airy ambiance, lots of modern lighting fixtures and floor-to-ceiling windows for natural lighting during the day, ideal for taking food photos. Good presentation is a plus – and KOVO gets major points for making its plates look as good as they taste.
Subtle Mediterranean influences like Moroccan-style tiles, Italian wine crates and coastal accents can be found throughout the restaurant. Guests have the option to sit at a table, in a plush booth or at the wraparound bar, which extends to the dog-friendly patio.
Though KOVO is missing some classic Mediterranean staples like spanakopita (spinach pie) and dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), the inventive eatery makes up for it with modern dishes you won’t find anywhere else. And while some of KOVO’s dishes are a bit pricey, the portions are generous, so you’ll likely have a full meal to munch on for lunch the next day. Ioannou has done a stunning job of bringing his Mediterranean roots to an American market. KOVO is certainly worth carving out the time to check out.
KOVO features an industrial indoor-outdoor bar.