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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Sugar Mill

Spring Farm Dr., Rose Hall, Montego Bay, Jamaica •  https://www.halfmoon.com/dining/restaurant/sugar-mill/ • +1 876-953-2211

Sugar Mill, as one might guess, is an old sugar mill from back in the planation days of Jamaica, situated on the stunning Half Moon property (pictured), which pays faithful homage to the history of the island with its grand, Victorian white buildings all the way down to an authentic, antique mill still turning gracefully next to you whilst you dine.

But dining inside or out, the space is beautifully done. And the music comes courtesy of nature itself, as tree frogs serenade you throughout the evening. Also adding to the grace of the experience is the service, which was bar none the best we received on the island.

The other superlative of the night was the rum punch. The best I’ve had since Mata Chica in Belize. So damn fresh and potent after just two glasses it will have you feeling as irie as ganja.

But then the sugar wheels came off as flavorless dish after flavorless dish came out. From a pumpkin soup that could’ve passed as water to a lobster in need of even more salt than the soup, served next to a side of risotto that might be the worst of the three.

It was so disappointing that I starting mooching off of my friend at the table and even her starter was a waste of jaw muscles. And brain muscles as well, because I don’t even recall what it was. Fortunately her entrée was decent, though. A special shrimp prepared in a spicy red sauce.

Also redeeming was the pineapple tarte tatin and the Blue Mountain Coffee Ice Cream. It’s rastafuckingawesome!

So on the whole, Sugar Mill was a surprisingly sour experience, despite all of its charms, because at this level of the game and at this price point there were just WAY too many misses to give it anything more than a deuce.

Bitez Dondurma

Ataturk Caddesi 48 A/3-4, 48400, Turkey • +90 536 480 47 24 • bitezdondurma.com

Unless it has freezer burn or fell off of your cone onto the ground, ice cream is seldom a disappointment.  But as mood-altering good as it is, the Turks take it to a whole other level. Sure, the Italians have them beat with gelato, but what they don’t have is Tutti Frutti, which sort of tastes like Panettone in ice cream form. Granted the Italians created Panettone, so checkmate on that one.

Several other flavors shine at Bitez Dondurma as well (which means Bitez Ice Cream- Bitez being a town in the south of Turkey where the company is originally from before turning into a big chain), from their rich, creamy chocolate to nutty pistachio and hazelnut. In fact, you really can’t go wrong. And truth be told, the best way to go is layers, like how your mama told you to dress in the winter, only at Bitez they do it with thin layers of killer ice cream (pictured). It has the total opposite effect your mother was intending, but it sure tastes a lot better than a wool sweater.

Joey’s By the Shore

64 Compo Beach SWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 227-5356
 

They kinda have you by the balls and they know it, so don’t expect anything above cafeteria-grade grub. But you’re on the beach with no other options within a mile, so just go with it. Unless you were smart enough to pack tastier options in your cooler or are willing to bite into a seagull.

Inside, it is a sweaty, under-dressed, over-merchandised, fast food hell with very few choices that are under 5,000 calories of deep-fried sin. From fries, to chicken fingers to fried oysters and onion rings. Burgers and hot dogs, grilled cheese, buttered lobster rolls. It’s definitely not the place to go if you want to look svelte in a bikini. That said, there are wraps and deli sandwiches and watermelon to help keep you from porking out too, too much.

Conversely, there’s a whole other side solely dedicated to sweets and ice cream. And while this does nothing to move the needle toward healthy options, there is Chloe’s Real Frozen Fruit, which is the lesser of evils and one of the better things you can get there in terms of both health and taste, with the exception of the watermelon, I suppose.

Holborn Dining Room

 

Rosewood Hotel • 252 High Holborn London WC1V 7EN United Kingdom • +44 20 3747 8633 • holborndiningroom.com

Behold! The answer to the age-old question. You heard it here first folks. The world’s first definitive proof that the egg came before the chicken. Well, at least as it pertains to the chronology of my meal.

For my starter I had an amazing scotch egg of Ultimate proportions. Served over a bed of mushroom risotto to sweeten the deal, and by that I mean savory. The only dish of its equal for me would be The Rumpus Room in Milwaukee.

To follow, I ordered the chicken (obviously) pot pie with mushrooms served over a bed of English peas. Sadly, the presentation outshined the flavor, but it was still a solid good. Just an awfully steep step down from the egg that preceded it.

For dessert, the chocolate volcano with ginger ice cream is a really strong get, made with really strong ginger, like sushi grade. Not that sweetened cutesy stuff. It’s real McCoy and it makes the dish shine.

The other thing that shines is the exceedingly cool and expansive industrial décor. Every bit as tasteful as the food- after all, it is a Rosewood hotel… in London. Regrettably the service lacks the energy of the crowd, at least in terms of speed of service.

*** In a follow up visit, the fish and chips also proved damn skippy. That’s Yankee for good.

Terrain Garden Cafe

561 Post Rd E. Westport, CT 06880 • (203) 226-2732 • shopterrain.com

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As a store this place is lovely. Easily 5 knives. I mean just look at that picture! The setting will charm the pants off of you, so be sure to wear clean underwear. And if you’re decorating your house, your deck or your garden this is essentially Nirvana for Druids.  It’s also Anthropologie’s finest achievement to date, although & Co is opening soon, so TBD on that one. But I don’t do stores, so who gives a squat, right? I review restaurants and as far as this one goes, it could stand for some improvement, to put it mildly. Perhaps the people running the shop should take over the kitchen?

From the café, I thought the chai latte was good enough, but the croissants are crapsants. Chewy and doughy. And dinner doesn’t fare much better, the short ribs were overcooked and the burger and fries were just okay even though it had all the right stuff, from caramelized onions and sticky mushrooms to Swiss and the prerequisite brioche bun. Yet with all that, it somehow still didn’t hit the wow bar. Little Barn down the street has much better burgers if you ask moi.

The burger wasn’t alone though, because even the pear cobbler a la mode was equally lacking in flavor. Fortunately the wine was good and the service friendly, but if you ask me, your money is better spent on rustic pots, topiaries and terrariums.

2 teeth

Cask Republic

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

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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

Cox

Lange Reihe 68 20099 Hamburg, Germany+49 40 249422restaurant-cox.de

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Perhaps it’s my internal Beavis and Butthead poking through (poor choice of words in conjunction with “cox”), but you have to at least smile at the name of the place, knowing that it is located in the Gay District of Hamburg. I can only assume it’s somewhat intentional, but if not, then I think it’s even more worthy of a chuckle. Granted, if I put aside my sophomoric indulgences for a second, deductive reasoning does also point to a second origin for the name, that of a coxswain in rowing, which is probably a pretty popular site along the Elbe River just blocks away. But that definition isn’t anywhere near as funny.

Further debunking my name theory, there really is nothing else about Cox that plays off of the neighborhood or penile innuendos, coming across as a very traditional bistro with a casual vibe, good energy and lots of inventive twists on the menu, tapping into an array of European cuisine influences (although the restaurant self identifies as German cuisine).

The first being the black sausage with curry spices. A mash up of Great Britain or Ireland and Northern Africa. It’s a tasty combination, but not quite amazing either. Whereas the lamb over waffles was very good. Far better than its poultry predecessor if you ask me.

But come dessert back down we went with a mixed berry sabayon that did little for me, even with the vanilla ice cream on top, which helped, but not enough.

What helped more was the killer Cote du Rhone Syrah we had, but since Cox isn’t a vineyard I can only give them so many props on the pick. And thus, two knives is my call.

2 teeth

 

Keens Steakhouse

72 W 36th St. New York, NY 10018 (212) 947-3636keens.com

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Keens is an old school New York City steakhouse with a capital “O” and an “e” at the end, that’s how old it is. Dating back to 1885, it boasts the largest collection of churchwarden pipes in the world. Granted I’m not exactly sure there’s a lot of competition toward this distinction, but it does make the ceiling very cool (pictured), littered with over 50,000 pipes that once belonged to historic legends such as Babe Ruth, Teddy Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, General MacArthur and Buffalo Bill. Damn, I love New York for shit like this!

Apparently the pipes were too fragile to carry around, so they would check them in and out of Keens when they fancied a visit and some mutton chops, which is the other thing Keens is famous for.

As for myself, I forewent the mutton and opted for the burger, having heard quite the recommendation from a friend. And while I don’t think it’s in the same league as Minetta Tavern’s Black Label Burger, it holds its own quite handsomely for such a simple patty. It’s just seasoned to perfection and cooked with tactical precision. Oh, and be sure to get the sharp cheddar on top, it’s friggin’ badass! So sharp you could cut glass with it.

The fries on the side are decent, but nothing you wouldn’t find at a myriad of other pubs. And sadly, the key lime pie is rather lame, even though the waiter practically squealed with enthusiasm over how good it was. Well it’s not. It’s way too sweet. So put that in your pipe and smoke it. Sorry. Couldn’t resist. I am a child.

The dessert that is worth getting is the affagato. It’s not the best I’ve ever had, but the ice cream is rich and creamy and the espresso they pour over it is very nice indeed.

3 teeth

FIG

232 Meeting St. Charleston, SC 29401 (843) 805-5900eatatfig.com

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Ask anyone south of the Mason-Dixon Line what the best restaurants in Charleston are and you’re likely to hear about FIG, an acronym for Food Is Good. So with gauntlet thrown it was a moral imperative for me to suss out whether or not FIG was all hype, or all that.

Out of the gate, FIG seemed like yet another success story resting on its laurels, doling out bad service with a waitress who gave barely any recommendations to us “out-of-towners,” but then went on and on about half the menu with the local table next to us. But that’s minor compared to the fact that we had to ask to have our plates cleared and to see a dessert menu.

The other cause for concern was the bread. Never a good sign when the bread at a place is a pass. Appears they could learn a thing or two from Husk in terms of bread, service and décor.

But then FIG rallied with a dynamic duo of dishes. The first being the white shrimp appetizer with fennel, chili, raisins and pine nuts. Such a great, light app, yet packed with flavor and texture and nice dose of heat.

The other starter, however, was a bit on the heavier side, a lamb bolognese gnocci made with pillows of outstandingness only bested by Elan, Blue Hill and Bar LaGrassa in terms of flavor, but the dumplings themselves are incomparable.

Then, just when I thought I understood what all the hype was about, back down we went, with two dull-ass entrees. The tile fish with bone marrow and carrots was just too much of the same note and if it didn’t say bone marrow on the menu, I’d defy anyone to say they could actually taste it. And speaking of not tasting things, the suckling pig, while moist, was so bland that I couldn’t even tell where the pig ended and the rice or black-eyed peas began. And even though the dish was loaded with shishito peppers, sadly they did nothing to save the dish, because they were the most flavorless shishitos I’ve ever had, bringing not even an ounce of heat. Such a huge missed opportunity for some much needed heat.

Now deep into the woods of Two Knives-ville, it was looking grim for FIG. But from afar the sticky toffee cake with walnut ice cream (pictured) was lookin’ mighty fine on its way to virtually every table around us. So, when in Rome (or Charleston) go with the flow. And flow it did, right down my pie-hole, capping things off strong at 3 knives.

3 teeth