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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Emily

35 Downing StNew York, NY 10014 • (917) 935-6434 • pizzalovesemily.com
 

Having heard this name bouncing around the food scene for a while, amidst a symphony of oohs and ahhs, I felt it important to either validate or debunk the worthiness of such adulation. Located in former digs of the Blue Ribbon Bakery, Emily boasts a casual-cool décor, especially downstairs in the catacombs. Granted, if you like windows, the upstairs is nice well. But don’t think two floors of seating means you’ll be getting a table anytime soon. No, this place packs ‘em in. Fortunately, they keep a certain number of tables open for walk-ins though, and if you’re willing to sit at the bar, you can get to the grub even faster. Which is what we did.

Out of the gate, Emily impressed with an inventive sprout salad, made rich with buttermilk bleu cheese and made special with miso, cashews and pickled red onions. Best dish we had.

For pizza, we went with the namesake, the Emily, and while definitely good, it was in dire need of red pepper to give some heat to cut through the truffle, honey and cheese. Also, I found the crust to be tragically chewy and doughy. Definitely not a contender for Ultimate Pizza.

Same goes for the burger (pictured). I’ve had droves of people telling me this is the best in the city and I’m sorry you people, but you have no business making such wild claims if you aren’t a purest. Because in my book, no thin-patty burger EVER has any business being considered as  a “best burger,” any more than a deep dish pizza should ever be in the running as a “best pizza.” It’s about the MEAT man!!!  Jeez!!! Ranting aside, it’s actually pretty damn good, made with dry aged La Frieda beef, caramelized onions, American cheese and special sauce, all on a killer pretzel roll. But you still have to be smoking crack to call it the best in NYC, because even as good as it is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Black Label.

Closing strong, Emily’s bread pudding sports a nice textural contrast, being both crispy and gooey at the same time, which equals yummy according to the Pythagorean Theorem. Or, at least that’s how I remember it. Granted I didn’t pay much attention back in high school.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the MOST impressive thing of the night, however- our neighbor at the bar. To say he was a large man is like calling Trump self-confident. Doesn’t quite capture the full depths of the situation. This man, eating alone, polished off an entire pizza- the same size that my wife and I, combined, didn’t even manage to finish and got a quarter of it to go. Then he downed the ENTIRE burger, which a slider it is not. And then, when he looked over and saw us enjoying the bread pudding, he ordered that too. One person. One sitting. One mighty show of human endurance.

Less mighty was Emily’s showing, because I found it to be a tad over-hyped. That said, it was still good, so I’m gonna give it a very strong three or barely a four. But since I’m ferocious about hype, you can probably guess where I leaned…

 

Mecha Noodle Bar

1215 Post RdFairfield, CT 06824 • (203) 292-8222 • mechanoodlebar.com
 

This just might be the most happenin’ strip mall in America. You’ve got Brick + Wood, Milkcraft and then right next door to that you’ve got Mecha. And all three are so damn good that they all have a long, damn wait.

Wait aside, Mecha is like Mecca for ramen. Worth the pilgrimage for great food. The décor is pretty cool as well, marked by the simple touch of 2×4’s dangling overhead to connote noodles. They’ve also cracked the code between kid-friendly and adult crowds, but sadly this secret is out, so there’s pretty much a wait no matter when you go, unless you just happen to hit the seam between rushes.

For those of you visiting from Westport on south, you’re probably wondering how it stacks up to Kawa Ni. Quite well, I would say, although very different vibes. I’d say Mecha is much more casual and high energy, whereas Kawa Ni is more intimate and adult skewed.

The menu is more noodle-based than Kawa Ni though, but very tasty in its own right. We started with a pair of Thai Iced Teas and the roasted mushroom dumplings, which were excellent, particularly with the brown butter miso sauce.

For noodles, I went with the Pho Shore, which as the name implies is loaded with seafood and other goodies. Speaking of which, be very careful with the thai chili add on. I like heat and this kicked my ass.

Wifey was smarter (as usual) and put the heat control in her own hands, opting for the Veggie Ramen and Sriracha on the side. This was also very good and we will definitely be going back. At an odd hour.

A very, VERY strong 3 knives for Mecha. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Milkcraft is right next door for dessert.

The Little Beet

2 Penn Plz. New York, NY 10001 thelittlebeet.com

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So I wasn’t lying when I said I’ve been going to the Pennsy a lot lately. In fact, if I keep it up they might start charging me rent. But until that happens I’m going to continue my trip around the world, through all six menus at all six establishments.

My recent staple being Little Beet, which has pretty decent salads and is one of the healthier options apart from Cinnamon Snail. My usuals are the beet salad with arugula, warm quinoa, goat cheese and chicken tossed in a sherry, shallot dressing. It’s quite good and if you’re feeling like doubling down on the healthy, they have some solid fresh squeezed juices as well.

The other salad I often get is the Miso Chicken salad. Made with chicken, brown rice, romaine, cabbage, soba noodles, pickled Asian slaw and wasabi nori shakes and a miso glaze. It sounds more impressive than it is. But what it is, is exactly what you’d expect, nothing more, nothing less. And it’s sure to hit the spot, assuming that spot is craving an Asian chicken salad.

3 teeth

Tocqueville

1 E 15th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 647-1515 • tocquevillerestaurant.com

tocqueville-2

I haven’t been here in a while. Not since they were located where 15 East now resides, which is more of an indictment of myself, if anything, because I am a HUGE fan of this place. Just absolute perfection on every plate. So why haven’t I rushed back? I’m not really sure. Maybe chalk it up to the fact that I’m getting older and more forgetful. Or perhaps it’s that I’m like a kitten and thus easily distracted by new, shiny objects. My failings aside, there are very few, if any, at Toqueville, which was firing on all cylinders from my sashimi appetizer to the epic miso glazed kobe steak with wasabi mashed potatoes. Just simply phenomenal and a gnat’s eyelash away from being an Ultimate. Even the service was great.

In fact, the only exception to the awesome would be the decor. It’s a bit on the barren side. However, the more casual dining room at the entrance which was the non-reservation area was much more charming with its tile work, etc… Odd decision, in hindsight, but who cares- first, because the food is so damn good they could serve it in a black void and I’d still lap it up. And second, because they have since moved making the point relatively moo, as Joey from Friends once said.

5 teeth

The Ultimate Tofu

Tofu-Recipes1

Unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan you probably don’t think it’s possible to swoon over tofu. And to be fair, the degree of difficulty is most certainly steep being that it’s basically a flavorless curd brick. But to some, it’s also a blank canvas. Here are two masterpieces painted on that canvas…

Sushi Roku – Santa Monica, CA

In the midst of such a tempting menu filled with stone-seared kobe beef and baked lobster rolls its hard to pull your eyes away long enough to notice the seared tofu appetizer, much less bother to even give it a second thought. But for those who do, I promise you will not be sorry.

Marinated in a wonderfully savory miso sauce and draped in a blanket of shitake mushrooms, the tofu takes on such a substantial flavor you’d almost swear you were eating meat. And this isn’t like when you get “chicken” or “meatloaf” at other places that are a poor man’s version of the original. This dish makes no apologies about being tofu. And then smacks you upside the head for having been prejudice in the first place.

Momofuku Ko – New York, NY

If no one told you there was tofu in this dish, you would never know it, swearing on your life that it was creamy cheese inside those perfect pockets of pasta. But being wrong never tasted so right. And the sweet corn ragu they smother it with will have you dancing like a giddy school girl on prom night- and that’s not just the increased estrogen levels talking either. It’s just that mind-altering good.