First Bite: Morou and Amadou Ouattara Chart a Sleek New Course in Crystal City
Save for its high ceiling and pizza oven, there's little about Kora, the new family affair in Crystal City, that will remind diners of Bebo Trattoria, Kora's predecessor. "We wanted to be very, very, very different from the previous restaurants," including the Mexican-themed Oyamel, says Morou Ouattara, co-owner of the fresh face on the block.
Named for Ouattara's youngest daughter and designed in part by his wife and co-owner, Heather, Kora is a sleek dining room bathed in purples and grays and set off with white dividers that reveal bubble lights behind mesh screens. A Warholesque touch comes by way of a blown-up photograph on the wall depicting the girl four times in four colors.
The lead in Kora's kitchen isn't Morou, who established an avant-garde reputation at the recently shuttered Farrah Olivia in Alexandria, but, rather, his older brother, Amadou. His cooking career dates back more than 25 years, to the early days at I Ricchi downtown. More recently, Amadou opened and closed Italian dining rooms in Rockville and Middleburg.
"We don't cook the same way at all," says Morou, who focuses less on recipes than on presentation here.
Kora's menu finds lots of Italian standards, from fried calamari to chicken Parmigiana and from risotto to pork osso buco. A few weeks after it launched in August, we enjoyed a respectable margherita pizza (the guy stoking the oven is a carryover from Bebo) and veal scaloppine. Although it was nice to be able to order pasta by the half-portion, an order of spaghetti was decked out with overly dense meatballs.
The eggplant gazpacho brought back memories for us. The green soup -- lively with lemon grass and decorated with "caviar" formed from tomato water, herbs and agar-agar, a thickener -- was a signature at Farrah Olivia, which closed in May after Morou and Heather Ouattara lost their lease.
If everything had worked out according to plan, the couple would now be watching over two places to eat. The good news for the restaurateurs' fans: Morou is scouting locations in hopes of reopening his Old Town original somewhere in the area, sometime next year.
2250-B Crystal Dr., Arlington. 571-431-7090. http:/