Just after I sat down on a stool at Kappo — one of only seven seats at this cubby-hole sushi bar at East End Market — I watched one of the owners rip apart a fresh spiny lobster. A few minutes later, its tail meat had been seared with a blowtorch and was part of my sashimi selection. And shortly after that its brain was floating in my soup. In case you haven’t gathered, Kappo is not your typical sushi joint.
Kappo is owned by Jennifer Benagale, Lordfer Lalicon and Mark Vyan Berdin. All three have impressive resumes that would belie their youthfulness, with such well-known restaurants as Blue Hill, Morimoto, the Oak Room and Aquavit scattered among the three. Lalicon was part of the opening team at Carbone in New York; Benegale and Vyan Berdin were on the staff at Umu in the Mayfair section of London. All three are graduates of the University of Florida. It was while working together at an Asian restaurant in Gainesville that they met.
When they decided to go into business together, they settled on Orlando because Benagale is from Ocoee. Kappo, according to Lalicon, means chef-to-guest dining, which is exactly what you have here. In fact, it doesn’t get any more direct than having the person who cuts the fish in front of you hand it directly to you for your enjoyment.
Besides the spiny lobster, which was topped with tomago, an omeletlike substance that Vyan Berdin piped from a plastic-wrap ball, my plate had lion fish and arctic char with trout roe. The nigiri included live uni (sea urchin), served in a seaweed cup. All of it was crafted expertly and served at room temperature rather than chilled, and I especially appreciated that each selection was a proper bite-sized portion. My sushi and sashimi box included the soup, which, as you might imagine, had a very earthy taste (if you’re a fan of eating a lobster’s tomale, then you’ll love its brain) and a cool sorbet dessert.
This is definitely a place for the adventurous diner. Don’t expect to find any Mexican rolls or even anything as pedestrian as a California roll on the menu. The menu, like the space, is small and changes to reflect the fresh arrivals. (That spiny lobster and sea urchin entered the building at the same time that I did.)
Part of the fun here is watching the action. Vyan Berdin was doing most of the crafting during my visit, and he executes each move with measured concentration, yet is personable and eager to talk about the offerings when asked. The seven stools face the kitchen, which looks more like one you’d find in someone’s home than a professional restaurant. And it doesn’t look much like a sushi bar, either. Instead of the refrigerated glass case with the fish selections that you’d find in your average sushi restaurant, Kappo has a small square box with a glass lid that sits on the counter in front of the chef. All of the fish had the vibrant color and texture of unmistakeable freshness.
The trio aren’t well versed in marketing. The posted phone number is one of the partner’s cell phone, it would seem. The web page link goes to an Instagram page. Requests for reservations, I suppose, are best made to the email link that is on the restaurant’s Facebook page. Reservations are mandatory for Thursday through Saturday evening services, which are omakase service only (chef selections). All other times are walk-in only. My sushi sashimi box was $18, which I found reasonable for the quality.
I’ve mentioned in the past that I thought the young people cooking at places like Scratch and the Smiling Bison represent the future of Central Florida’s dining culture. Please add the names of the Kappo crew to that list.
Kappo is inside the East End Market at 3201 Corrine Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.