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

Le Turtle

177 Chrystie StNew York, NY 10002 • (646) 918-7189 • leturtle.fr

I am shell-shocked. Get it? But seriously, I was not expecting this place to be anywhere near as fantabulous as it was. Charming the pants off me from the moment I stepped through the door with its small, casual meets quaint dining room, down to Earth service and killer grub. Almost reminds me of Pearl & Ash (RIP), one of my top 5 favorites in the city.

So how did I love thee? Let me count the ways. One, the bread. I know it’s six friggin bucks, which is absolutely absurd, made only worse once you see what that six dollars actually buys you- a small hunk of bread with some weird, green spread next to it. But trust me, once you take a bite with that killer wasabi spread, your bitching and moaning will turn into patting yourself on the back and ordering seconds.

Another simple starter that will blow your socks off is the charred broccoli salad. So much depth of flavor and yet as basic as it gets. And speaking of basics, the classic Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper) is nailed like Bob the Builder on meth with a twin-barrel nail gun and something to prove.

Better still was the oxtail risotto which was so rich it will probably benefit from Trump’s new tax cuts. Even the Whole Sasso Chicken (pictured) was quite impressive from flaming presentation to palate. Far more of a crowd-pleaser than Le Coq Rico, and half the price.

But as good as everything was, the best two things of the night were the scallops and the dorado. Both flawlessly cooked and magically prepared in a way that celebrated the flavors of the fish, while also showcasing the chef’s creativity and command of ingredients.

As we sailed toward the glorious promised land of five knives, sadly twas not to be as Le Turtle stumbled. The foie gras, while decent, comes with a stark warning – our waitress told us it was seared and it was actually terrine. Major issue for me and she should’ve comped the dish because I wouldn’t have ordered it had I known.

More egregious still, were the lame desserts of which they only offered two and neither were good. For shame! If you’re going to have such a small dessert menu at least make sure one of them is worth it! But hey, not even Lebron hits every shot, so I will not only forgive Le Turtle, I will return. As fast as a hare.

Le Coq Rico

30 E 20th StNew York, NY 10003 • (212) 267-7426 • lecoqriconyc.com

According to our waiter, the chef gave up his Michelin star to open this place. Which, in the echelons of stupid decisions, ranks right up there with Jordan’s decision to leave the Bulls so that he could play for the White Sox.

Why so harsh? Well, first because I’m ferocious. And second because this place is literally for the birds. It also just might be the first place I’ve come across that’s as overpriced and overhyped as Eleven Madison Park. Not one thing was amazing save the price tags, ringing in at digits you’re more likely to see at The Strip House. But without the gluttonous satisfaction you at least get from a steakhouse meal.

The Plymouth Rock whole Chicken for example, rings in at nearly $100 and is no better than the one you get at Whole Foods for less than the sales tax on this bird. But shame on us for listening to our waiter who always recommended the most expensive thing on the menu and never chose a single winner, including the wine, going 0 for 3.

The blah continued, even with a layup like seared foie gras, which is actually the first time in my life that I didn’t finish this dish because it was so bland. The terrine version is much better, but even that failed to truly impress me. It’s just the better of the two options if you simply must dine on goose liver.

The fries are also just okay, again, grossly over-hyped by comparison to the likes of the Phoenician Fries at Ilili. Even the profiteroles for desert were a big ole ball of meh.

In fact, the only dish of the night I would feel comfortable recommending is the artichoke salad with gizzards. It’s quite good and between that and the décor it’s just barely enough to keep this place from getting one knife… Barely.

Rose Hill

34 E 32nd St. New York, NY 10016 • (212) 448-1302 • rosehillrestaurant.com

I know this place is still green, so I will try to muster up a modicum of understanding while they get their footing. And boy do they need it. Starting with the layout of the dining room, which is a bit odd to say the least, situated to the side of a hotel lobby through a current. The room itself is long and narrow and I can only assume it was the coat check or storage once upon a time. Making matters worse, the tables are so tightly squeezed together along a booth that runs the entire length of the subway car dining room (pictured), that if you were sitting to the inside, you simply can not get out without displacing every table within a twenty foot radius, so be sure to empty the bladder before getting locked in. Fortunately for us no one was sitting next to us, but if the place had been packed, you’d probably have to go under the table, suffer the sneers of those around you or become very intimate with your new friends at your neighboring table as your genitals rake across the port side of their mesa.

The thing you will be sure to notice is that the staff comes off like a family of beaten children. All of them are so incredibly timid that the plates are shaking in their hands as they walk one overly cautious step at a time to and from your table. In fact, they were shaking so much one of our servers accidentally got some wine in my friend’s water glass while trying to pour in the wine glass! Fortunately she apologized and replaced it immediately, and truth be told I honestly felt worse for her than us because I can assume this only meant more beatings.

The wine itself though, was excellent. The 2015 Hosmer Dry Reisling from the Finger Lakes. Highly recommend.

But back to the beaten staff. Did I mention that even their voices are a bit shaky and they talk so softly you might think you were in a library?

So now the question becomes, is it worth it? Beyond the comedic novelty (and rarity) of seeing servers in New York act like this, as opposed to self-important, rude assholes. Well, it kinda is. I mean both starters were truly incredible. The first being the wonderful seared foie gras with cherry mostrada and black pepper. Simple and flawless. And second, the octopus was almost every bit as good, jazzed up with merguez, fingerling potatoes and smoked tomato. Again, nothing too crazy, yet crazy good.

Which only made the next course that much more disappointing, because the fall was from such a high. But both the lamb sandwich and the chickpea burger were as timid on the tongue as the servers were with everything else. No goat cheese or fire-roasted red pepper and rosemary aioli could save the lamb, tasting more like goat cheese on bread with some indiscernible meat. And the veggie burger was even blander still, the tzatziki and cucumber fading into the white noise of whole wheat and bland bean.

And so now I was really torn. The starters were a five. The entrees were a two. And the service and décor are teetering between a one and a two. Thus, dessert had to be the tie-breaker!

Well, it broke. The chef’s restraint on the appetizers fully escaped him on the deconstructed Key lime pie. It was so tricked-out that it tasted more like an experiment than it did Key lime. Rendering the final blow to Rose Hill and landing it a mere two knives. That said, I am feeling a rare streak of compassion for some reason. Maybe it’s the poor, beaten souls I feel sorry for. Or that the starters were just that damn good. Nonetheless, give them a chance. I think they will get there.

La Table du Chef

5 Rue Jean Daumas 06400 CannesFrance • +33 4 93 68 27 40

 

An acquaintance of mine who used to live in Cannes turned me on to this place, and if you are sick of the Cannes scene, Table du Chef is pretty perfect for you, because not many people know about it and there are only about 8 tables in the entire joint, so the odds of you running into anyone you’ll have to schmooze are slimmer than Christian Bale in The Machinist.

The concept is French Omakase. Four courses of whatever the chef wants to make you. Or in other words, whatever looked good at the market that day.

Our meal began with a yummy, garlicky gazpacho that cancelled out any chance for kissing later that evening. On the heels, we had surprisingly thin tuna steak served over white beans that was decent, but because the fish was so thin it was a bit overpowered by the totality of the dish.

Three is a magic number, and not just at School House Rock, because third in the line up was a killer duck entrée that somehow tasted like foie gras. I have no idea how he pulled it off. Perhaps he cooked is sous vide in foie gras juice? As I said, I have no idea and I have never tasted duck like this before, but I would definitely like to sign up for more!

For dessert, they served an artful tower of apple, cream and crisp and while it was certainly very good, it somehow didn’t wow. Similar to 3 out of the 4 courses, making Table a solid 3 knives, but just shy of greatness.

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.

Cask Republic

99 Washington StNorwalk, CT 06854 • (203) 354-0163 • caskrepublic.com

cask_republic_south_norwalk_2016v1

Located on the hip, main drag in SONO where you have no shortage of cool places to eat, you will find Cask Republic, which I’m not too sure I would ever label as “cool” based on its décor. But compensating for the ambiance Cask pushes the pendulum handily in the other direction when it comes to the consumables.

Kicking things off, the Christmas in Kentucky cocktail is a must get, made with Eagle Rare Bourbon, Luxardo Plum Triple Sec, Fernet (an Italian form of bitters), mulling syrup and even more bitters, of the black walnut variety. Now I’ve never actually spent Xmas in Kentucky, but if this is how they roll, book me a ticket!

For starters wifey and I shared the Bavarian pretzel with cave-aged Amish cheddar and grain mustard ale sauce. It’s not exactly light, but it’s pretty darn good. As are the roasted brussel sprouts with pancetta, carmelized onions and maple glaze.

Also labeled a “small plate” for some bizarre reason, unless you are Gulliver and all this time I’ve been blindly ignorant to the fact that I’m a Lilliputian, the beer braised beef short ribs with grilled bread and an egg yolk on top are a massive triumph. Best thing we had (pictured).

The IPA marinated freebird chicken also held its own, but head to head with the short ribs, it’s no match. Not for a lack of trying though, sexed up with a black truffle risotto and a foie gras demi glaze.

Closing arguments were strong as well, delivering the second best thing we had, two scoops of Big Dipper Ice Cream Factory’s finest. Never heard of it before in my life, and now I’ll never forget it. It was out of this world… and cue the pun groans.

4 teeth

The Ultimate Duck

2fec858fcc9bccc16449064e789b77e6

Cask & Larder – Orlando, FL

There is nothing quite like a Christmas ham, or should I say, there used to be nothing quite like a Christmas ham until Cask & Larder created their Christmas Miracle, the Duck Ham. Yes, naughty never tasted so nice. Faithfully emulating the pig that inspired it, the duck version, like any good apprentice, surpasses the master. Guess you could say it is the ultimate “Angry Birds” revenge. Served over a bed of nutty faro, the contrast between sweet and savory and earthy is like getting everything your mouth had on its wish list.

Elan – New York, NY

As if it weren’t bad enough that the duck muscled in on pork’s turf with the Duck Ham (above), now the bird is going after the cow. Perhaps this is retribution for the long-running Chick Fil A campaign? Well, whatever the reason, Elan’s duck & foie gras burger puts about 98% of your cow burgers in the city to shame, save the Black Label and the Bash. Admittedly it’s more of a hoity-toity burger, but if hoity-toity tastes like this, who gives a cow’s ass? Also, if you’re really into self loathing or simply find that you’ve been too healthy lately and want to swing the pendulum in the other direction, I highly recommend getting it with the Bearnaise sauce and a fried egg, coz you’re gonna die anyway, might as well do it with a smile on your face, because as the famous Long Island philosopher Billy Joel once said, “Only the Good Die Young!”

Mizuna – Denver, CO

There is an old saying, “Fuck a Duck.” And albeit crass, I finally understand its true meaning, because if ever there were a duck I would consider for such a bestial act, it would probably be this one. Granted it’s also dead so I suppose I’d be committing necrophilia at the same time. Oh my, has this review gone off the rails. I started with Christmas and now I’ve devolved into doubling down on sexual deviance. Well, getting back to it (assuming I haven’t already lost you), this duck, served with with foie gras dirty rice, is a Cajun masterpiece like no other, with the two poultry-born indulgences teaming up to make a buttery counterbalance to the spicy grains. It might just be the best thing a duck has achieved since Daffy.

 

 

 

Gabriel Kreuther

41 W 42nd St. New York, NY 10036(212) 257-5826gknyc.com

images

“Whoa Nellie!” as sports commentator Keith Jackson used to say. That’s about the only way I can describe what just took place in my mouth. And that sentence didn’t quite come out as intended. But that’s to be expected because this place is so good words will fail you.

From the very second you set foot inside the expansive, artful dinning room you feel as if you are in a forest designed by Phillipe Starck. Service is also impressive, but not quite as art directed.

The platings, on the other hand, are stunning, kicking things off with an Ultimate Gazpacho made from yellow tomatoes and loaded with little goodies set in an amphitheater of deliciousness, ranging from confit sungolds to parmesan tuile, which is French for “happy-inducing, bite-size cookie things.”

The second course was also sensational, a seared foie gras with spring onions, basil and pickled strawberries. I would say it was divine, but I fear you would think less of me for it. And even if you wouldn’t, I’d probably think less of myself.

The Dorade Royale entrée was equally spectacular. Worthy of scene in Pulp Fiction just to discuss the Royale-ness of the dish, because it was almost as if the fish had mated with a cloud and became as light and smooth as vapor itself. Yet packed with so much depth of flavor that that you almost need a submarine to appreciate it, like fennel and coriander and green tomato marmalade.

The only mortal dish of the evening was the Fleur de Temps, a white chocolate mousse with lemon marmalade and raspberry sorbet. And although I’ve already undersold it, even that was pretty awesome when you had it with the raspberry sorbet, which was the true star of the plate. Oh, and speaking of stars, the chocolates at the end of the meal, served in a cocoa bean box was the stickage of the landing. Especially when you take into account all of the terrific bread courses along the way, not to mention the refreshing Reisling.

This place is firing on all cylinders and then some. From décor to presentation to the food and even the service, which while not flawless, managed to kill it on the recommendations. Granted nothing we had was bad, so I’m guessing recos come easy here.

5 teeth

The Blanchard

1935 N Lincoln Park W. Chicago, IL 60614(872) 829-3971theblanchardchicago.com

ct-food-0902-review-blanchard-20150827

The chef comes from very good pedigree having worked at some of New York’s finest such as The Four Season (RIP), Le Bernadin and the Gotham Bar & Grill. But now he’s making a name for himself in Chi-town, serving up French cuisine with a twist. And some truffles. And foie gras. And sweetbreads.

Starting with the foie gras, this guy obvious loves it (either that or he hates geese), serving so many dishes with it he ran out of names for them and just starting using numbers. For example “Seared Foie Gras #1” and “Seared Foie Gras #2,” of which I had the latter, crusted with black truffles, candied lavender and in a Madiera sauce. And while it sounds transcendent, it was really nothing memorable, especially when compared to the much less sexy sounding foie gras hot dog, which is doggone delectable. Topped with foie gras mustard, coz why not? Onion confit and served on a brioche roll.

Of the rest of the starters the only other one I would recommend would be the scallops, so don’t fall for your waiter’s swooning praise of the Oueff Outhier. The presentation is certainly nice, basically scrambled eggs put back in the shell with vodka infused crème fraiche and caviar on top. It’s good, but the scrambled eggs at Gato in New York and Bar LaGrassa in Minneapolis both trounce the shell out of this dish.

But the most disappointing of all the starters was the sweetbreads with chicken mousse, artichoke puree and bacon fat. Surprisingly bland for something so artery clogging.

The entrée course faired much better with all three being good. Granted I found the filet of sole to be insanely overpriced. It’s sole people. Not soul. But the dish worthy of the most adoration was the rack of lamb, served with a ratatouille tatin, roasted tomato and eggplant caviar all nestled in a natural reduction. So good Shaun the Sheep would wolf it down.

But as the evening went on, things just kept getting better and better, either that or I was getting drunker and drunker. Or perhaps it was something in between. Well, whatever the reason, dessert was the icing on the cake, delivering three winners in the form of a pineapple galette with passion fruit pastry cream, frangipane (almond paste) and a crème fraiche gelato. This was followed by a crepe gateau with Grand Marnier cream and hot fudge. And the cherry on top was an Ultimate crème brulee, of which I am normally not even a huge fan. But I scarfed that thing down like it was the only thing I had eaten in weeks.

Service is very good, other then the oversell on the eggs. And the décor is very nice. Striking that balance between warm and contemporary quite skillfully. And thus rounding things out for a fantastic four.

4 teeth