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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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.

Pink Sumo

4 Church Ln. Westport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8080 • pinksumoct.com

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I’ve heard great things about Pink Sumo so I wanted to kick the tires on some of their more inventive dishes. Sadly, I found a lot of flats.

For starts, the “Special Lobster Roll” is very pricey and not very special, so put that money back in your IRA. The other dish that sounded great but proved lackluster was the Fiery Madal. It was neither fiery, nor madaly? It is, however made of lots of great stuff like red seabream cucumber, micro cilantro, black truffle oil and Sriracha, but for whatever reasons, none of that seamed to matter to my mouth.

After that, things got mildly better with the always reliable staple, the yellowtail sashimi with slices of jalapeno and yuzu sauce. The unagi was also a solid good, but I can’t honestly say I found the fish quality to be exemplary on either.

The only thing that I would go so far as to decree a Trumpian “great” would be the big league pepper tuna hand roll. I’m not sure if it was truly great though, or just great by association, but if I ever try Sumo again, this and the unagi will be my only repeats.

***Okay, so I went again, only this time I went omakase and Pink Sumo proved much better than round one. For $50 you get a ton of food and could probably split one between two people. The dishes are also very inventive along the way, ending on a boat of sashimi. And while this was a much better showing versus the last time, I still stand by what I said. The fish quality isn’t that impressive compared to places like Azuma and Koku over in Westchester. Also, the best thing from both rounds remains the black pepper tuna hand roll.

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Sugarfish

1345 2nd St. Santa Monica, CA 90401 • (310) 393-3338 • sugarfishsushi.com
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Sugarfish is aptly named, because in the immortal words of Peter Griffin, the sushi is friggin’ sweet! Not a single miss in the Nozawa Trust Me, which is the biggest of three omakase-like options they offer. And they offer them at a ridiculously reasonable price. 35 bucks for seven courses of top notch sushi. Most places would charge you double or almost triple for the same or lesser fish quality.

Beyond fish so incredibly fresh you don’t even need your teeth to chew it, the other star is the rice. Served warm, unlike most other places, which actually winds up bringing out the flavors and aromas of the fish even more so. Just don’t ask for extra rice, unless you’re 11 years old or younger, otherwise they’ll turn you down as they did to one of my friends who asked. I’m assuming it’s because the chef doesn’t want people drowning his masterpieces with mounds of rice. I get it. A crime indeed.

Among the highs, the best salmon I’ve ever had. The best halibut. And the albacore belly was unbelievable.  On the nit side of the coin, the service is a bit slow, even though it was relatively empty because we ate at such an off hour, which I recommend since they don’t take reservations. Otherwise you could be in for a major wait if you go during the usual mealtime rush.

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Sushi Park

8539 Sunset Blvd. Ste 20 West Hollywood, CA 90069 • (310) 652-0523

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You know you’re in for some serious sushi when you see the sign on the way to the front door that says “No California rolls. No teriyaki. So please don’t ask.”So unless you are prepared to put your faith in the chefs and go with the omakase, go somewhere else.

That said, the omakase is omg! Such an incredibly fresh, wide range of fish brined to perfection by chefs who are actually very nice and servers who were equally so.

The sake selection, while limited, was also quite good.

I can’t, however, say that it was the best sushi restaurant I’ve ever been to mainly  because of one fatal flaw: the location and decor. It’s in a strip mall. And even when you step inside the restaurant you still feel like you’re in a strip mall. Granted, this is probably what makes it possible to actually get a seat here, but I do have to say that it’s not a great date night spot as a result. Better with friends… who love sushi. A lot. Because it is a bit pricey. But you get what you pay for. Great fish. And at the end of the day isn’t that what’s most important?

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Azuma

219 E Hartsdale Ave. Hartsdale, NY 10530 • (914) 725-0660azumasushihartsdale.com

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LA caliber sushi in Westchester? Yes. And by “yes’ I mean VERY yes.

After hearing a glowing reco from a local restauranteur, we decided to give Azuma a try and I have to say, the skeptical expression was wiped clean from my face bite after incredibly fresh bite. In fact, even the word bite is a bit of an overstatement because you don’t even need your teeth to break through the fish. Your lips will do just fine, it’s that fresh.  So fresh there are only a handful of places in NYC that even compare- and nothing I’ve had in Westchester even comes close. That said, I haven’t been to Nanase, so TBD on that one.

As for what we had, well, the Omakase, of course. And WOW! Not a single miss on the plate.

Service is very friendly. And the prices are not to be believed. Hard to comprehend that other people found it pricey. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a sushi restaurant of this caliber and paid less than four times the price.

So, why not 5 knives you ask? I want to. I REALLY do. But the decor, which again, hard to believe others praised, is rather run down and outdated. The chairs are uncomfortable and the music is horrendous. I mean so bad the next time I go I might wear headphones. Like bad elevator music… from the 80’s.

But enough about the music and decor. Azuma is a jewel despite it all. And I am already planning my return- which can’t be soon enough.

P.S. I went again, and I stand by my word. Plus, the music was MUCH better this time. So I’d upgrade it to 4.5 knives if I could.

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Nobu

105 Hudson St. New York, NY 10013 • (212) 219-0500 • www.noburestaurants.com

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Now I know many people think this place doesn’t live up to the hype, and you’d be right if all you got were the normal pieces of sushi or sashimi that you would get at any other sushi joint. And therein lies your mistake. You can’t go to a place like this and just get sushi/sashimi- that stuff is only as good as what comes off of the boat. It’s not like they have some magical way of cutting the fish that makes it taste better or something.

That said, what you should be getting is their tasting menu. Quite possibly one of the best out there, primarily because it’s not the same for everyone. It all depends on how many times you’ve had it. When you go for your first time, the tasting will be completely different from when you return for your second, or third and so on. And it is here that you will see why the hype is indeed warranted. Things you would normally never even think of ordering will become you favorite Japanese dish you’ve ever tasted.

As for decor and service, I personally think the decor is better than most. Maybe with the exception of Koi and Megu- however I find the food better at Nobu. And as for service it’s always been excellent.

Also, one final word of advice, from having done this a couple of times with great success. The art of the walk-in. Most couples head to Nobu Next Door thinking that it will be easier to get a table, but I assure you that your wait will be double or even triple what you would wait if you were willing to sit at the bar in Nobu instead. I much prefer it. You get the food handed to you right from the chef himself and you’re eating at the real deal, not the Plan B.

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Sushi Roku

1401 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90401(310) 458-4771 -OR- 8445 W 3rd St. Los Angeles, CA 90048(323) 655-6767 • sushiroku.com

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Finding a great sushi restaurant in LA is probably about as easy as finding sand in the Sahara, but finding a sushi place that does more than just great sushi/sashimi, and has a cool décor gets much harder. Nobu? Please. The place is in a friggin’ strip mall for Christ’s sake! Matsuisha? With the cheesy murals on the walls? Sushi Park? (see previous dig on strip malls).

Roku is cool. It just is. And it has been for over a decade, which says a lot.  But they also have great food, of the sushi and non-sushi variety. Check out their grilled miso tofu steak for those patrons who don’t do fish- it’s awesome! Also, for dessert the chocolate volcano is one of the best out there. And as for the sushi faithful, they consistently serve the best Unagi I’ve ever had. They make two of my favorite rolls on the planet: The rock shrimp tempura jalapeño roll and the baked lobster roll. Another great on the menu is the hanabi (spicy tuna atop a fried rice coin), a dish made famous by Katsu-Ya, but to be honest, Roku does it better. Sure the other stuff is good, but raw fish is basically only as good as what comes off the boats. I’ve learned in LA, that if there’s a good batch of yellowtail in town- everywhere has good yellowtail. So, if you’re looking for sushi with a side of cool, and with a little somethin’ somethin’ extra, Roku has you covered. If you’re looking for a pricey omakase from one of Jiro’s understudy’s, than you’re in the wrong place.

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