Oko Kitchen

6 Wilton RdWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8404 • okokitchen.com

If you love The Cottage than you will, um, really struggle to like this place as much. As The Whelk is to Kawa Ni, they are sister restaurants, linked by the same chef, who, definitely upped the sushi game in Westport without a doubt. But if you’re going in with expectations that it is The Cottage in Japanese form, you will be disappointed.

Appropriately starting with the starters, I found the attempt at inventive edamame to be noble, yet messy and nowhere near as good as the ones at Koku in Armonk. Jazzed up with garlic, soy butter, gomashio (sesame salt) and shio kombu (a form of dashi). But net, net it’s a lot of pomp and circumstance without a lot of flavor.

Same goes for the shishito peppers, although the slightly better of the two, made novel with chickpea miso, guanciale and shoyu-koji (soy sauce).

For small plates, Oko didn’t wow much either. The deviled eggs with pork belly being the least wowiest and a far cry from two other versions in Westport alone- both Rothbard and The Whelk making far superior versions.

The sticky ribs fared much better, sauced with smoked maple, gochujang and sesame crunch. But the real winner of the smalls is the miso black cod, or as they call it “Torched Black Cod.” It’s cedar grilled and done in a madieira shoyu glaze with shitake and scallion and it…is…killer! As good as the one at Matsuisha in LA, the place that invented the dish.

But what about the friggin’ sushi? Okay, I get it. After all, it is a sushi joint, right? So, long story longer, it’s very good. The fish is fresh and the preparations are inventive without being gimmicky, for the most part- the one exception being the foie gras, which shockingly I would forego and just follow the omakase. Oh, and great news, this is more like it is in fine sushi restaurants in Japan, where you don’t even use or need soy sauce or wasabi, because the preparation is so wonderful on its own.

Speaking of wonderful, come dessert, you have to try the- okay, bare with me on this one… The soft serve. I know! What am I, like five years old?! But I’m not joking here. They take Dairy Queen’s invention to another level. Especially with the friggin’ Oko crunch!!! I mean, other than the miso cod it might’ve been the best thing we had. And that’s not just the killer gin cocktail talking (yes, they also have a killer gin cocktail).

It’s no Cottage, but Oko is definitely a strong three knives and the best Japanese in town. Give it a few more weeks to iron out the kinks and I’d imagine it will be a four or five.

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East

East Hotel Simon-von-Utrecht-Str. 31 – 20359 Hamburg, Germany • +49 40 309933 • east-hamburg.de

To sum this place up before I even begin, it’s Peruvian meets Asian meets Gaudi meets catacombs. An odd combination by most accounts with trendiness pouring out of every crease and crevasse, but somehow it all works. From the projection of tropical settings on the twisting white walls, to the deer antler wine racks and the polyp ornamented bar, you’d think you were back at Iridium near Lincoln Center in the 90’s.

But acid trip-inspired décor aside (pictured), the food impressed. Starting with a decent showing in the sushi department- but the clear winner of that course is the tuna tataki. This is a must-get. No seriously. If you don’t I will hunt you down and force-feed you.

Other top dishes were the red Thai curry boasting some kick-ass heat and moist-ass fish. The salmon poke was also the shiznit. Fresh and flavorful and smarter than your average bowl! Both are strong winners in the entrée round. The duck and the ribeye, however, were just okay.

For sides, ya gotta give it up for the truffle fries. And for dessert, I say skip the chewables and go for the liquid. The liquid tiramisu that is. Holy caffeinated hangover batman! Might just be an Ultimate in two categories at once- Cocktail and Tiramisu.

The Vault

2112 Bull StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 201-1950 • vaultkitchen.com

 

The name doesn’t scream Asian fare, but once you discover that it’s a stunning renovation of a former bank, it all makes total and complete cents. Get it? No seriously, whoever did this renovation deserves a ferocious high five, because they didn’t miss a trick, from the safe deposit box art on the walls, to the bar made up of the same. To the private dining room inside the safe, to teller cut windows and nickeled bathroom floors it is a smile everywhere you look.

Speaking of smiles, the service is delivered with big ones. Regrettably, however, the servers are bit off with the recos and even worse with clearing the plates, leaving us with more of a grimace.

The food, on the other hand, will have those corners spreading ear to ear. In fact, considering my expectations walking in, I couldn’t have left too much happier. My greatest joy coming in the form of an Ultimate Tuna Tartar (pictured) served over a bed of seaweed with a layer of avocado for creaminess, masago for saltiness, spicy mayo for heat, sesame seeds for texture, all topped with crispy crab for fucking awesomeness!

Also worth its weight in gold is the lemon coconut soup with shrimp, mussels, ginger, lemongrass and red curry. It’s perfect on a “cold” day (I use quotes because cold is obviously relative in Savannah) and just perfect in general. Might even be an Ultimate soup, still ruminating on that one.

The embarrassment of riches continued as Vault even served up one of the best stir-fry noodle dishes I’ve ever laid chopsticks on. The Nickel Noodles are a clinic on proportions and balance as the wide rice noodles hold up handsomely to the overloaded goodies within, like beef and shrimp, scallions and onions, bell peppers, egg and basil. Yummity Yum!

And making it rain in the Asian-Mex category were the FICO Fish tacos (see, it’s not just me with the money puns). Jazzed up with mango, cabbage, daikon, chipotle sauce and kimchi dressing.

But then, just like the market, things leveled off. The roasted duck dumplings, while very good, were decidedly more of this earth. As was the grilled calamari. And then, just like the market, things started sliding in the other direction, with a doughy miss, the steamed BBQ tofu buns. Which is crazy when you read what’s in them (spinach, shitakes, Szechuan glaze, Sriracha) – and yet all you taste is bun, bun, bun. Hard to believe the same restaurant made this.

Another pair of misses, per the aforementioned poor recos, are the desserts, which came highly recommended by the waiter compared to the lure of a trip to Leopold’s Ice Cream. Well, learn from our mistake and go to Leo’s. The key lime cake tasted like something you’d get on a plane and the pecan pie was way off balance with a meager dusting of pecans across the top and the rest all goop, whipped cream and crust.

Transgressions aside, The Vault is still a gem, albeit one knife shy of a diamond.

Kazu Nori

15 W 28th St. New York, NY 10001 • (347) 594-5940 • kazunorisushi.com

The concept of this place is Japanese minimalism at its finest. No host. One bar. One offering. Hand rolls. Okay, so they have other things, but not many. It’s really intended to be all about the hand rolls and let me just say, mission accomplished. And not the George W. Bush bullshit kind of accomplished that leads to a twenty-year war and occupancy. I mean done and done. Fresh fish. Crispy kelp. Booyah!

So here’s how it works; when you enter, walk to the outer corral and wait in the queue for a spot at the bar (maybe peruse a menu on the wall while you’re there). Once the number of seats at the bar opens for your party, you sit down and order either a set meal (e.g. 3pc, 5pc, etc.) or you can go a la carte. I went with the six piecer and there wasn’t a single miss. Toro, salmon, yellowtail, crab, bay scallop and lobster. All on point and priced pretty darn reasonably for Manhattan.

I think I’m in love.

Pink Sumo

4 Church Ln. Westport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8080 • pinksumoct.com

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I’ve heard great things about Pink Sumo so I wanted to kick the tires on some of their more inventive dishes. Sadly, I found a lot of flats.

For starts, the “Special Lobster Roll” is very pricey and not very special, so put that money back in your IRA. The other dish that sounded great but proved lackluster was the Fiery Madal. It was neither fiery, nor madaly? It is, however made of lots of great stuff like red seabream cucumber, micro cilantro, black truffle oil and Sriracha, but for whatever reasons, none of that seamed to matter to my mouth.

After that, things got mildly better with the always reliable staple, the yellowtail sashimi with slices of jalapeno and yuzu sauce. The unagi was also a solid good, but I can’t honestly say I found the fish quality to be exemplary on either.

The only thing that I would go so far as to decree a Trumpian “great” would be the big league pepper tuna hand roll. I’m not sure if it was truly great though, or just great by association, but if I ever try Sumo again, this and the unagi will be my only repeats.

***Okay, so I went again, only this time I went omakase and Pink Sumo proved much better than round one. For $50 you get a ton of food and could probably split one between two people. The dishes are also very inventive along the way, ending on a boat of sashimi. And while this was a much better showing versus the last time, I still stand by what I said. The fish quality isn’t that impressive compared to places like Azuma and Koku over in Westchester. Also, the best thing from both rounds remains the black pepper tuna hand roll.

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Koku

454 Main StArmonk, NY 10504 • (914) 730-0077 • kokujapanese.com

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I am sad to have only just discovered this place right as I was moving away from a reasonable proximity, but happy to have at least had a meal there before I departed, because hot damn is it good!

The fish isn’t quite at the level of Azuma, but it is far more inventive and the setting is probably the best of any sushi joint in Northern Westchester. Hell, even the website is more blows the aesthetic doors off of the competition. Service was also great, and quite warm and friendly with a killer recommendation on a special dish consisting of a fish we had never even heard of before (and struggled feebly to pronounce), coming straight from the one and only Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Best thing we had. No surprise.

My second favorite dish was the spicy tuna tacos. Though I gotta say, the whole mexi-sushi thing is getting a bit overplayed right now to the point of annoyance, but when it’s this good, I find it hard to bitch. Okay, no I don’t. I love to bitch. But not about these tacos. They do both mexipanese prouder than Senora Tiger Mom.

A very close third, but less inventive than the other dishes we tried were the salmon skin hand rolls and the unagi. Great flavor in the eel sauce and just awesome texture and saltiness in the handrolls- as good as any I’ve ever had.

Surprisingly, however, one of the most touted dishes of all at this place was a bit of a disappointment for wifey and I. The spicy edamame is not only messy as all hell, but it’s also not very spicy, making the humiliation to worth-it ratio very unfavorable.

What is in favor is the whole package because Koku makes almost every other sushi joint in Northern Westchester look like amateur hour.

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Hai Street Kitchen

230 Park Ave. New York, NY 10169 haistreetkitchen.com

HaiStreetKitchensushi

Have you ever found yourself eating a maki and thought, “hmm, if only this could be 20 times bigger? If the answer is yes, then you are about to go cuckoo for cocoa puffs, because that’s essentially the concept of Hai Street.

For example, the Slammin’ Salmon is not only fun to say, it’s also made with raw salmon tataki, rice, shredded carrots and cucumbers, gouchujong sauce and for two bucks extra wasabi guacamole, all wrapped in seaweed and cut in half so it looks like a pair of maki pieces gone preggers.

But is it any good you ask? Very. As is the lemonade and iced green tea, which I mixed to create, you guessed it, an Arnold Palmer. I’m so damn predictable.

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Le Baoli

Port Pierre Canto Bd de la Croisette 06400 Cannes, France • +33 4 93 43 03 43lebaoli.com

Le Bâoli - Cannes, Alpes-Maritimes, France. Sushi and sashimi

As one might expect, the seafood in Cannes is pretty damn good as a norm, so it would only seem logical that perhaps the sushi in Cannes might also be quite exceptional, despite its unfavorable proximity to Japan. Well, it’s not. In fact, it’s god-awful. No, I think that’s sugar-coating it. I think it just might be the worst sushi can possibly be without getting you sick. I’m not kidding. I’ve had better sushi in the desert for Christ sake!

Everything was so flavorless I could’ve easily bitten off the tips of my chopsticks by accident and I would’ve never noticed the difference. From the rice to the seaweed to the fish (no matter whether it was salmon or tuna or anything else for that matter), it all tasted the same. Even the friggin’ wasabi didn’t help because it was just as bland as everything else!

Then, adding salt to the wound, which I suppose we should’ve put on the sushi, the service was shit and the music was so brutally loud that it took away from the fact that we were sitting on the beach overlooking the Mediterranean. But instead, we felt like we were a captive in the movie Saw.

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Exit 4

153 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 241-1200exit4foodhall.com

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The concept of this place is interesting to say the least. Sort of like a mini food court that’s not located in a mall and not made up of your usual chains like Panda Express and Sbarro’s. It’s actually all locally sourced, serving up a jack-of-all-trades menu from all over the map (or more specifically all over Northern Westchseter), yet somehow they manage to let you put it all on one bill (that you kinda have to carry around with you from pavilion to pavilion- it’s complicated).

It’s also a dynamic than can easily become a recipe for disaster should you arrive and not know what you want. Especially with young kids who will quickly become more overwhelmed with the choices than Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson.

On the upside, most everything is surprisingly good, so it’s kinda hard to go too, too wrong, unless you have wildly high expectations. When I say “surprising,” however, I want to temper that by stating that I mean it only in the context of lowered expectations. Nothing will have you swinging from a star, but if you’d rather eat a pig, a fish or a mule, they pretty much have you covered (that was for all you Sinatra fans).

So here’s how I recommend playing it:

Step 1: Grab a table. Put your stuff down and have a member of your party stand guard. The last thing you want to do is get caught with seven trays of grub and nowhere to sit.

Step 2: Order the stuff that takes longer to make first. This would be your pastas, your pizzas, your burger and your bahn mi that are all cooked to order. Whereas the tacos, and barbecue offerings are much more prepped and take about two minutes or less to hit your table. So, assuming you like your family or friends, and want to actually eat “together,” then I recommend doing these options near the end of the batting order.

Step 3: Order stuff that doesn’t need to be ice cold or nice and hot dead last. This would be your sushi and glasses of red wine.

Step 4: Bon apetit!

So now that you’ve circumnavigated one of the more complex dining matrixes in the tri-state, here are my thoughts on the offerings themselves.

First up, let’s start with the sushi, sourced from Mt. Kisco Seafood down the street, so you know it’s pretty darn fresh. But more than just fresh, the sashimi bowls and the maki are really quite inventive and a step up from a lot of other places in the immediate vicinity. Yes, that goes for you Hito and Spoon.

Next up, let’s go Italian. Or more specifically the pizza, because the only pasta I’ve had there was my daughter’s kidsy butter and shells. So not really fair to judge them on that. My daughter, on the other hand, has a ways to go in terms of expanding the ole horizons. As for the pies, I liked both the fig, prosciutto and caramelized onion pie and the one with Brussels sprouts, smoked pancetta and gruyere. Neither compare to the likes of The Parlor in Dobbs or Zero Otto Nove in Armonk, but they hold their own handily against Old Stone and Village Social, which I actually think has one of the best pies in town. Nonetheless, the pizza is good enough to make you forget all about the fact that this place used to be Belizzi (RIP).

And now let’s take things down a notch. As in down South. As in TexMex and barbecue. Starting at the top, I’d go with the brisket sammy. It’s quite solid, topped with a bourbon sauce, slaw and cornichon. After that I’d go with the pulled pork. The sauce has a nice kick to it and it also comes with slaw on it as well. It’s not what I would call a runaway smash hit, but unless you’re willing to roll your bones all the way over to Portchester for Q, then it’ll do the trick. That said, little known secret- Dinosaur BBQ is available via Fresh direct. As is some seriously spicy slaw and brioche sliders. So if you don’t feel like venturing out for your barb-e-fix, then call in the reinforcements. Oh, and skip the tacos if you ask me. Truck and Hacienda are both miles better.

And most importantly… the booze. They have a nice selection of beer and wine by the glass so no complaints there either. Nor do I have many complaints on the whole. Exit 4 is a nice addition to the hood and the only other “something-for-everyone” deal in town apart from Village Social. So, if you’re like me and you’re saddled with two kids who don’t agree on anything when if comes to food, this “good enough” fare quickly becomes good on ya!

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Nare Sushi

115 E 57th St. New York, NY 10022(646) 666-0061naresushi.com

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I only ordered take out from here based on the recommendations on Yelp, my craving for sushi and my desire to try someplace other than Hatsuhana, which I already know and love. Plus, I was intrigued by the Mozukusu, described as fresh caught seaweed with sweet soy and Japanese mountain yam. The “fresh caught” seeming to imply that the seaweed must try to escape in some fashion. I’m not exactly sure how, but I had to see for myself.

Sadly, the seaweed wasn’t flopping around like marlin on the line, but I do have to admit that it was the most interesting seaweed salad I think I have ever had. Granted it was also the goopiest, looking like something out of Ghostbusters. But if you just close your eyes and can work past the consistency, the flavors are really nice.

I wish I could say the same for the fluke sashimi (Usuzukuri), but I found it rather bland despite the ponzu sauce and spicy daikon radish.

And as for the edamame, yellowtail and tuna sushi, as well as the dragon roll, they were all reasonably good, but nothing beyond the expectations of your run of the mill NYC delivery sushi, making the four stars on Yelp seem a bit much by my ferocious standards.

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