Kozy’s Steaks and Seafood

WHEN KOZY’S OPENED IN THE GALLERIA late last summer, it certainly had big tables to fill. Its “older brother,” Jax Café—the legendary Nordeast supper club—has been the star of owner Bill Kozlak Jr.’s family since 1933. In its heyday, Jax was the special-occasion spot (the restaurant purportedly had the first lobster tank in Minnesota). It was popular with the kind of man who might play a round of golf, knock back a stiff vodka on the rocks, then put on a sport coat and take his wife out in the Jag for a nice steak dinner. These days, Jax attracts a mostly mature clientele (especially between 3:30 and 6 p.m., for the discounted early-bird supper), but the wait staff still knows the regulars by name. How do you follow a run like that?

Kozy’s is Jax reinvented, though sometimes it’s hard to figure out as what. The name Kozy’s implies a folksier feel than the restaurant’s slick décor conveys, with its dark wood floors, gold-colored walls, and high-backed, curved VIP booths. The place is populated mostly by retired couples and families with kids. Middle-aged blondes exchange birthday gifts. A parade of guitar-wrangling teenagers passes the door on the way to lessons at Schmitt Music.

While Kozy’s ambiance is contemporary, its food is mostly old-fashioned. The Boston clam chowder was mild and comforting, as you’d expect. The caesar salad was straightforward, though it could have used a tangier dressing. And, of course, there was a classic shrimp cocktail, served in an ice-filled urn set on a paper doily. The four jumbo shrimp were tasty, but their sheer enormity was aesthetically unnerving.

Another silly-sounding but sincere complaint: Kozy’s menu lacked detailed descriptions. The entrée listed simply as “Salmon in a Paper Bag” left me with many questions regarding ingredients and preparation. The fish had a flavorful, fruity note, having been baked in parchment paper with white wine, garlic butter, and citrus slices. But its wrapped presentation was gimmicky and awkward—the paper just got in the way.

The tersely described beef carpaccio came sprinkled with capers and a thick crisscross of garlic aioli whose pungent flavor overwhelmed the beef. And the beautiful peppercorn-crusted top sirloin steak suffered from a similar problem: the first few bites were like swilling straight from a spice jar. After recovering from a coughing fit, gulping down a glass of water, and scraping off the blackened crust, I found a nice piece of meat, nearly the size of a paving brick but deftly cooked. Overall, the restaurant hasn’t yet hit the mark of contemporary classic cuisine, though the Key lime pie nails it—sweet, sour, and smooth, with a ginger-flavored crust.

Having dinner at Kozy’s doesn’t feel like a special occasion. But maybe that’s partly due to the clientele. For this new-money crowd (and the one packing the Epcot-esque row of restaurants at Southdale, across the street), ordering a $30 steak on a Tuesday night has become routine instead of a treat—just throw it on the credit card. At Kozy’s, Mom lets Johnny play his GameBoy during dinner, whereas at Jax, Grandma might have rapped him on the knuckles with a swift tsk, tsk.