The Cottage

256 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-3701 • thecottagewestport.com

Oh dear my! This place is so friggin’ good it has me talking like an old lady from a Merchant Ivory flick. And I know it sounds crazy skeptical for such a snooty foodie to be dropping yet another 5 knifer in a small suburban town like Westport, but you’ve gotta taste it to believe it. Because it’s not me or my standards that have changed, it’s the game that has changed, and for whatever reason this tiny community of 26,000 has game out the wazoo, hence why I moved here.

Starting with good juju, The Cottage takes the place of another fantabulous restaurant, Le Farm (RIP). But as much as I would like to get all misty-eyed over its passing, The Cottage not only stepped in and carried that torch, they did it with the precision of a gold-medal-winning baton exchange. And then they threw a bucket of lighter fluid on the thing, because hot damn does this place burn bright!

Inside, it doesn’t look like they changed much in terms of the former digs. It’s still quaint and a touch rustic. In fact, many of the tables are so uneven I’d place your wine glass with caution or it’s likely to wind up on the floor.

Speaking of wine, they have a small, but decent selection. We went with the Tensley Syrah and it was perfect with our equally perfect meal. That said, if you’re fancying a cocktail instead, Cottage has skills there too.

Amongst the perfection, the Kushi oysters are my favorite way to start. They are light, sweet, refreshing and palate-cleansing. Not to mention friggin’ delicious with that ginger-yuzo mignonette! Plus, the town of Westport has a seafood vibe about it and this dish honors that swimmingly. Pun intended.

But to be fair, I’ve never had a Kushi I didn’t like. So, for appetizers that are more illustrative of the chef’s prowess, I’d say the crab toast is about as good as it gets, besting the already exemplary version at The Whelk and landing itself a firm Ultimate.

Even as good as the crab toast is, the scallion pancake, AKA “Okonomiyakia,” is every bit its equal. Made with pork belly and black garlic molasses.

And I’m not even remotely done yet with my swooning, because the seared foie gras with pineapple, crispy prosciutto, smoked macadamia nuts and butter toast blows them all away. In fact, it was so life-changingly good that my wife overcame her long-standing principles and said, “Ya know what? Fuck those geese,” as she sopped it up with that crack-tastic toast!

Another starter on the more decadent end of the spectrum would be the build-your-own wagyu beef buns. They are redonkulous! Served with a sriracha aioli, kimchi and thick-ass duck fat potato fries. Hells yeah!

The only mortal starter that I’ve found there is the fluke sashimi. It’s simply not worth your time compared to all of the other gems on the menu. And sure, they try to doll it up with habanero oil, pickled avocado, carrot and ginger ponzu, but the result is still the same. Pass.

Sadly, I am less experienced with their entrees, because I keep filling up on all of their damn, tempting-ass starters. But the one I did try was fantabulous. The duck fried rice is a thing of beauty, dressed with bok choy, maitake mushrooms and a sunny quail egg that mixes into the rice, complementing the savory duck meat like salt to caramel.

Speaking of sweets, The Cottage doesn’t let up there either. The Pavlova lives up to its name, making you drool like the dog you are and the bread pudding, as well as the dark chocolate pie, are like edible exclamation points at the end of a flawlessly written story.

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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Hinoki and the Bird

10 W Century Dr. Los Angeles, CA 90067(310) 552-1200hinokiandthebird.com

Hinoki And The Bird, 10 Century Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90067

Frequented by the agents at CA, this extremely trendy haunt rose up from demand, managing to fill that mid-city void between the beach and West Hollywood. Set downstairs in a building just behind Century City, the décor is clean and modern with high ceilings, a huge windowed outdoor space, and a dining room walled with earthy materials and flanked by a trendy open kitchen on one side, and an equally hip bar on the other, sporting a handsome list of cocktails, wine and sake (including the sparking variety).

Because of our large party we “ordered the menu,” which is my second favorite way to dine… Other than with the wife, of course. So please don’t think that I had each of this dishes in full at one sitting. If I did, I’d be dead by now.

So, kicking things off, let’s start with the starters. And the Ultimate within, the crab toast. A dish I normally find to be a bid of a whatevs, but this crustacean is on fleek. Not too mayonnaisey, a little heaty with it’s chili, coriander and spicy cucumber and a lotta goody. Another dish I’d call tops is the unique prep of the okra, served roasted in a simple, yet artful row, dusted with cumin and superb to the taste.

Also impressive were the roasted Brussels sprouts, which were refreshingly unfancied up, compared to those at Cleo, Ilili or All’onda. Another veggie side sure to please are the yams done as a slightly contemporary twist on the classic, using Asian (purple) yams with a sour cream/crème fraiche drizzle.

The third side, the mushrooms, were the only bore of the trio, marinated in nothing out of the ordinary and served in an equally pedestrian way. But if you dig on the fungi, they are far from bad. Unfortunately they are just as far from memorable.

Another starter sure to put a smile on your face is the lobster roll, which looks remarkably like a cigar, due to it’s narrow stature and its black bun. It’s only about two bites big, but by mixing green curry and Thai basil into the mayo, they are a flavor-packed couple of chews.

Another solid starter is the crispy suckling pig with apple jam and chili, albeit that one is somewhat of a lay up by description alone. Whereas the fried chicken is much more of a surprise with its perfect contrast from crispy crust to moisty bird. But both were outdone by the black cod (pictured), which might be the best I’ve had since Matsuisha invented the dish decades before.

As for the last of the starters, the fluke flunked. Just your standard sashimi with nothing unique to write about, and nothing so fresh to even swoon about.

But things starting with “fl” seem to cause Hinoki big trouble in little China, because the flank steak was also flucked up. So chewy, my jaw gave out after about three bites. Thankfully my friend with the kurobuta pork chop was kind enough for sharesies and while the chop wasn’t exactly divine swine, it was much better than chew toy on my plate.

And the downward spiral of entrees only kept spiraling through dessert as I found myself wanting to flick Hinoki the bird for wasting my caloric intake with buzz killers like the doughnuts with caramel dip and the ice cream sandwiches.

As a result, should you wish to follow suit, I think you would be much better served by ordering meze style here, with lots of starters and sides, as opposed to the traditional three course app, entrée, dessert. I know it almost doesn’t seem worth it to go now, but I give you my ferocious guarantee that if you stick to the top of the menu, you will be so happy with your order you won’t even think twice about what you’re missing, which isn’t much.

3 teeth

Contra

138 Orchard St. New York, NY 10002 • (212) 466-4633contranyc.com

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Well, Contra definitely lived up to its name, because it was the total opposite of what I was expecting. Unfortunately, I was expecting greatness the likes of Momofuku Ko. Or at least spots of brilliance the likes of The Musket Room. Well, no dice on either account.

The disappointments started early, first by making us wait over 30 minutes for our table, with a reservation. A duration I haven’t had to endure at restaurants far more popular and worthwhile. But while we waited, naturally I perused the menu to see what exciting dishes lied ahead, and that was the first sign of trouble. Not a single course sounded interesting. So much so that we were certain to pay the extra money for the bread, because at least that looked promising, by comparison to the plates passing us by. And it was. Definitely worth ordering. That said, don’t listen to your servers who will tell you that one order only serves two people. Sure, if that’s ALL they were eating for the night. For normal human beings one order will serve four people quite nicely.

Which brings me to my second gripe, the service. No one was technically rude in the normal sense, but the fact that I must’ve been bumped into by a dozen staff members throughout my dinner and didn’t receive a single apology or “excuse me” shows what kind of mettle they are made from. They did, however, show lots of concern as to why we weren’t finishing our courses- but perhaps those questions should’ve been redirected to the kitchen before serving such a pathetic string of losers.

It started with carrots and uni served over a bed of almond milk sauce and while it was interesting, it most certainly wasn’t amazing. And as tepid I may sound right now, this is actually one of the highlights of the meal.

Next up came the fluke. A relatively bland fish by all accounts, which usually allows chefs to wow you with their preparation of it. Well, no wows were to be found. The preparation was as bland as the fish, which wasn’t even cooked that well. For some of us it was overcooked, for others, undercooked, and no one had the Goldilocks version (just right).

Following the fluke came the biggest loser of the night, the chicken with “ham” and “chickpeas.” The reason the other two ingredients are in quotes is because they are nowhere to be found in this dish. Not by sight, nor taste. They say it is in the jus beneath the chicken, but if you buy that, I have a time machine toaster oven I’d like to sell you. On the plus side, I’d call this dish a win only for the fact that none of us wound up with salmonella poisoning, because the chicken was way pink.

After that came the two dessert courses, the first of which being strawberries and cream and to put it bluntly, you’d do better with a basket of strawberries and a tub of Cool Whip from Stop & Shop. Dead serious.

Fortunately, the last dish of the night showed some semblance of culinary skill but it was too little too late. And while I’d like to tell you about it, I don’t even recall what it was, because by that point I had lost so much interest I no longer cared. I just wanted to go home, call it a loss and lick my wounds, which by the way, were tastier than most of those courses. On the plus side, I hear Contra changes the menu often. Hopefully by tomorrow.

2 teeth