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.

Advertisements

Till & Sprocket

140 W 30th StNew York, NY 10001 • (212) 239-0570 • tillandsprocket.com

At first I thought I had found a diamond in the rough. No, not Aladdin. I quaint little charmer tucked away on the Flatiron-Chelsea fringe. And while the décor is cute as a button, the service is not so cute. Infuriatingly slow actually. As in the food is probably grown and harvested in less time than it takes to make its way from the kitchen to your table.

Once it does come, it’s a bit all over the map. For example the faro salad is so bland you would probably enjoy acting like a mime and chewing on air about the same. Marginally better are the meatballs. But then there are the deviled eggs with horseradish, which are very good and start to give you hope. I also found the caprese salad to be pretty decent as well.

And that’s just what this place does, it gets your hopes up one second and then drops you like a White House Press Secretary the next. For example, the burger. Granted it’s not a complete letdown, it’s not exactly a let up either. It merely passes as sustenance.

You probably already know what’s coming next, don’t you? You guessed it, more hope. In the form of a chocolate chip cookie this time. Yes, dessert managed keep the mixed messages going.

So I guess it comes down to this, if you feel like gambling with your mouth, be my guest. However, if you want a sure thing, the only thing this place is sure to do is piss you off.

The Whelk

575 Riverside AveWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-0902 • thewhelkwestport.com

Having been to Le Farm (RIP) many, many years ago and loving it, I was pleased to learn that The Whelk was actually the mother ship. Plus, I had heard from just about everyone who lives within 50 miles of Westport that this is the best place to eat in town, so expectations were as high as the studio producers who thought Office Christmas Party was a good script.

But The Whelk delivers, hype and all. With its casual Cape Cod charm and equally warm service, I was sucked into being a convert faster than Vin Diesel, strapped to Usain Bolt, glued to a cheetah, duct taped to a rocket booster, wired to nitrous oxide packs.

A great deal of that being due to our adorable server who made us feel welcome, special and taken care of. What more could you ask for? Well, good food, of course, and The Whelk answered that call without a moment to spare, starting with some heavenly deviled eggs topped with fried oysters (pictured). They were literally amazeballs- ball-shaped and amazing. Oh, and an Ultimate in two categories; deviled eggs and oyster dishes.

And just as we were descending back to earth, up we went again with the scallop crudo and another Ultimate, which is also amazeballs, but not literally this time. Blessed with heat and blood orange, this place definitely knows how to handle its mollusks, which shouldn’t come as a shock I suppose considering the name of the establishment is a mollusk.

Another brilliant starter is the crab toast. Bright and lemony with the perfect hit of spice on the finish. Simple, but perfection.

For entrees, I highly recommend hake if it’s still on the menu by the time you go. It’s cooked like a boss, with a beautiful preparation that I won’t taunt you with because it was already gone by the second time we went, replaced by a trout with collard greens that didn’t quite fill the void left by the wonderful hake.

What is always there, however, is one of the best burgers I’ve had in a very long time, so if you’re not feelin’ the fish, you will not go hungry my friend.

The only mortal dish for me that I have discovered thus far (apart from the trout, which technically I didn’t order) would be the salt and pepper squid. I mean it’s good, but no better than any halfway decent fried calamari you could get a bagillion other places.

Capping things off on high, we ended the night with the white chocolate and cherry bread pudding, which if you’ve been following me for any length of time you know is my weak spot. But weakness aside, The Whelk finished strong. And while the Banana Bavarian is also good, it’s not even worth comparing it to the bread pudding, therefore I won’t.

The place packs ‘em in almost every night, for good reason, so be sure to make a reservation, go on an off night or an off hour, or prepare to wait. Fortunately it’s worth it, because as those before me suggest, it truly is the best restaurant in Westport. Hell, I think it gives Pearl and L&W in NYC a run for their money!

The Spotted Pig

314 W 11th St. New York, NY 10014(212) 620-0393 thespottedpig.com

the-spotted-pig-nyc-chargrilled-burger-fries-610x360

I have to applaud Yelp for not buying into the hype hook, line and sinker just because James Beard and Michelin apparently have. That said, I still find Yelp’s 3.5 stars to be a bit overstated as well.

Let me explain by starting with the “spotted” service. Not only do they make it painfully annoying to get a table as a result of not taking reservations, they get so crowded that the wait can grow as steep as an hour and 45 minutes by 6:30pm! So right off the bat, you’re basically going into the experience with a this-better-be-fucking-worth-it mindset, which is never good for anyone. I mean, by that point the only way a restaurant is ever going to fair well is if every bite on the menu is on physiological par with an orgasm. But on the plus side, as ridiculous as the wait is, the hosts handle it well. No attitude and they text you when your table is ready so you can go off and drink at another bar until your table is ready. Which also doesn’t bode well for them, because now you’re an angry drunk waiting far longer than is reasonable, only to be seated in an overcrowded dinning room that is so warm you’d swear you were going through menopause, all for food that simply isn’t worth it (more on that later).

As for the actual waiters, they are slow in both senses of the term, getting us the deviled eggs instead of the devils on horseback and then trying to charge us twice for the devils on horseback. But what was especially annoying was the lack of attention to speed of service. After all, wouldn’t one think, “hey, these people just waited nearly two hours for their table, perhaps I should try to make them wait as little as possible from here on out.” But nooooo, not here. It was the longest burger and beer experience of my life, lasting nearly four hours.

Now for the “spotted menu,” which proved to be so disappointing, starting off with the Spotted Pig Bitter, made with bubbles so infinitesimally small that it comes off as flat. But at least it had good flavor to it. Just pales in comparison to Blue Bird Bitter if you’ve ever had it.

As for the infamous Devils on Horseback, they are definitely good, but a bit too moist through and through, if you ask me. I much prefer the contrasty version, where the crisp bacon gives way to the moist, gooey date, like at Boqueria.

The runaway surprise hit of the night was the Apple Salad. It’s just awesome, but bone simple, hence we made a dead ringer of it at home the very next day without even having to look up a recipe online. It’s comprised of Pink Lady apples cut in large chunks, fresh parsley, a bit of arugula, sharp (aged) cheddar or manchego and a dressing made with apple cider vinegar, red chili infused olive oil, Dijon, honey and red pepper flakes to taste.

The most over-hyped dish of the night was easily the burger (pictured). Hidden beneath a tower of shoestring fries in hopes of masking its inadequacies. Sure, the patty is good, but it was so boring without ketchup and mustard, relying way too heavily on the roquefort cheese to carry it to greatness, toward which it falls miserably short. Instead, I highly suggest you head to Minetta Tavern for the Black Label Burger, which actually lives up to its legend. Or the Bash burger at B&B Wine Pub, which has won the best burger in the city five years running. Or even Élan’s Duck Burger, which few know about, but blows the spots off of this pig.

And finally, there’s the Skirt Steak, which not only skirted around our order of medium rare, but came in horrendously chewy, filled with sinew to the point of almost making it off-putting had it not been for the mushrooms and kale on the plate with it.

Unless you have a bizarre foodie fetish and like the masochistic notion of waiting forever for food that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I vote that you skip the Pig and just make that apple salad at home. It really is quite something.

2 teeth

Cock & Bull

23 W 45th St. New York, NY 10036(212) 819-1900 • cockandbullnyc.com
thumb_275

Before I jump right into this review, let’s take a moment to really appreciate the name. I mean really take it in. Cause the way I see it, we’re talking truckloads of confidence (or money… or both) it must’ve taken to name this place what is essentially synonymous with bullshit. A name most people wouldn’t exactly flock to as a draw. But, on the other hand, a brilliant play toward lower expectations, because if you wind up having a shitty meal or terrible service, well what did you expect? It says bullshit right on the door!

Name aside, Bullshit fashions itself quite faithfully after your typical British Pub with its dark wood walls, Guinness on draft, a healthy selection of scotch and rugby on the telly. And contrary to my theory above, the service is pretty attentive and on the ball.

In terms of food, one must first calibrate themselves in reality, after all, it is bar food, and worse still, British food. A culture known for such culinary contributions to the world as shepherd’s pie, pot pie and fish & chips. So, now going in fully calibrated I would like to start with a major shout out to the fish sliders, done “fish & chips style” with batter-fried cod on little buns with slaw and nicely seasoned wedge fries- er, I mean chips on the side. In fact, they were so good I much preferred them over the regular fries which you can also order by the basket or with a burger.

The only misses for me were the deviled eggs. As in the devil himself was missing. No heat. No spice. No seasoning. No bloody anything other than mayonnaise as far as I could tell, making them way too creamy and not all that tasty. Oh and in case you’re wondering what in the hell that dish is in the picture above, that’s bacon wrapped meatloaf ladies and gentleman. Talk about devilish.

Come drinks, the Guinness was good, poured like it should (look, I’m a poet), nice and smooth. And while the bourbon selection is a little light, the Bulleit Rye is always a crowd pleaser, so box checked on hooch.

In general a solid choice for a drink and a bite with friends before hoping on a train at Grand Central and slipping into a food coma.

3 teeth

Measure

400 5th Ave. New York, NY 10018(212) 695-4005 measurenyc.com

6-image-386-258-crop

I’ve only been here for lunch but the decor is cool and the food is solid. I had the deviled eggs which are very good (not as good as Resto, but very good). And the kale salad, which I added grilled shrimp to, and it was also quite good. Nothing reached incredible status, however. But good enough that I would happily return.

Platings are handsomely art directed and service was friendly and attentive. And while the menu isn’t extensive, it would seem that the one thing they didn’t put on it was a miss, because everything both of us had hit the spot.

3 teeth

The Libertine

38 E Washington St. Indianapolis, IN 46204(317) 631-3333libertineindy.com
 IMG_2041

Ya gotta love low expectations. They never cease to amaze. Sure, call my skepticism snobbery, I’ll admit it. But c’mon, it’s Indianapolis. It’s not exactly runneth over with culinary cred. However, cred is definitely something Libertine doeth haveth.

From the moment you set foot in the bar-ish restaurant, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. Or Indianapolis. Same diff. A bit on the narrow side, but made up for in spades with healthy does of cool. Feels like a mod version of something out of Sweeney Todd, granted that could’ve been partly due to our server’s attire.

Speaking of service, that was one of my major nits. First, she missed placing not one, but two different orders and then, to make matters worse, she brought a dish that we didn’t even ask for. Which would’ve been fine if it were awesome, but sadly it failed on my other major nit- too many over-cooked dishes. Three to be precise: the burger (which we didn’t order), the brisket and the parpadelle. The flavors in all, however, where very nice, they just need to learn when to take it off the heat.

Wait a second. This review isn’t going as intended. I actually loved this place. So, as Chris Martin would say, go back to the start, with the cocktail… The Rose Anonymous. Well, Rose is about to get famous, because it deserves nothing but accolades and exclamation points. Made with 4 Roses Bourbon, rosemary, lemon and ginger beer. It’s drinks like these that make cabs a necessity.

Then, right on the heels of my cocktail came the trio of bacon- pork, jowl and lamb. Accompanied with harissa, sweet apple and cherry mustard. Definitive proof that three is a magic number.

Keeping pace, were the heavenly deviled eggs. Groan away, but just make sure you get them, because they are ultimate worthy. Topped with whitefish and two types of caviar. Which equals three types of awesome.

And like the Beatles, the hits just keep coming. The lamb ribs were so moist a saucy it was ridic! If my tongue could marry these ribs I would be happy attend that wedding.

Even the Scotch egg was mighty fine. Done with a slightly thicker crust than usual, but it held up nonetheless. Crispy on the outside, gooey and yolky on the innards. And yummy-ass-yummy all over.

On the mortal side, the bok choy was also very good. Refreshing amidst the see of decadence on the table, with it’s bright hit of vinegar.

The mussels were also good, but compared to the waves of bliss before them, it was hard to get out of my chair for yet another standing ovation.

And naturally there were a few misses as well. The toast with chorizo is a big blah. And both desserts (there were only two options) were very unsatisfying. A beer, not of the root variety, float and a shortcake with blueberry compote. Both were so lacking that it both literally and figuratively left a bad taste in my mouth after such an awesome meal. A crime almost punishable by three knives- but considering how many hits there were, I’m squeaking out four… but barely.

4 teeth

Resto

111 E 29th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 685-5585 • restonyc.com
 20121120-steakcraft-Resto-Lede--ribsteak-cooked-top-view-thumb-500xauto-290059

What a nice find. Met a friend here for lunch and I have to say, it gave a strong showing.

Right out of the gate the decor is charming and cool at the same time, with great touches like the inventive “drink menu.”

For an appetizer, we split the deviled eggs, which were heavenly. Sorry, couldn’t resist. But seriously, best I’ve ever had. Granted they are a twist on the classic, but so incredibly creamy it was like eating a pillow of delicious.

For an entree, I had the special rib eye sandwich, which was also very good. But not quite at the level of the eggs, and not quite as good as other steak sandwiches such as BLT Steak’s or even Mangia’s Shortrib Scicciata.

The brussel sprout side was also good, but compared to Illili they are just okay.

And the biggest miss for me was the salted caramel sundae for dessert. Just eh.

The kitchen is also a bit slow. And by “a bit” I mean very. We were one of only a handful of tables and yet it took 90 minutes for our meal, and that was only because we ordered the dessert and the check while still finishing our entrees, otherwise it would’ve been easily two hours for lunch. What is this, Mad Men?

But net, net… I like. And if I did half knives I’d probably go 3.5. And I’d also probably go back in a second, if someone asked me (hint to friend).

3 teeth

Cookshop

156 10th Ave. New York, NY 10011(212) 924-4440 • cookshopny.com

cookshop-huevos-rancheros

I went here for Mother’s Day brunch, so the stakes and expectations were high. My wife had already tried it once for dinner and was underwhelmed, but I kept hearing so many people rave about it that I convinced her to give it another try, and on her special day no less… (gulp!)

Fortunately, the place, and the Yelping, lived up to the hype. The bread basket alone is worthy of poem. That zucchini bread? Oh daddy.

As for the actual courses, for starters we tried  the deviled eggs and the chocolate, banana croissant and both were quite good. Personally, I was partial to the eggs though.

Then for the mains, I got the scramble with salmon and it was fantastic. The eggs were light and fluffy, and the biscuit they serve it on goes so damn well with the flavors and texture of the eggs, it’s like eating a charming, old married couple.

Speaking of married, wife also went with eggs, choosing the special quiche of the day, which was also quite excellent. Leeks and ramps I believe.

And my Mom, yes, she was there too, she got the cinnamon apple pancakes… and WOW! So good, but a bit much for an entire meal. Fortunately we did sharsies and got to have a little savory and a little sweet. The only way to fly.

But gun to my head, I’d stick with egg dishes. They REALLY know how to do their eggs at this joint. For example their huevos rancheros (pictured) is money as well. Granted I had the huevos at a subsequent visit. I mean c’mon, I’m not that much of a pig. Well, unless it’s on an expense account. 😉

4 teeth