Kawa Ni

19A Bridge SqWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8775 • kawaniwestport.com

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Kawa Ni is the sister restaurant to The Whelk, located just around the corner from here, and if you know anything about The Whelk, then you also know you are in for a real treat. Granted the two siblings have virtually nothing in common with the exception of exceptionalness.

The Whelk, as the name implies, is primarily seafood, feeling like it was plucked right out of Cape Cod, as does the entire town of Westport I suppose. Whereas Kawa Ni is pan-Asian and pan-Awesome. Casual, like the Whelk, and not your typical Asian fare with inventive twists everywhere you look.

It’s also slightly easier to get into than The Whelk. We walked in at 8:30 on a Thursday night and got a seat at the bar without any wait. And it was then that the fun began, our bartender, Owen, welcoming us like an old friend with great service, great conversation and most importantly, great recommendations. I think it’s safe to say that I love him. In fact, if I wasn’t there with my wife, who knows what might’ve happened?!

Starting with the booze, this place is a whisky lover’s wet dream, boasting a selection 100 deep. Not to mention great cocktails like the refreshing Tokyo made with gin, sparkling sake and yuzu or the wintery bourbon and scotch blended Kyushiki with amaro bitters and black sugar.

For small plates it should be a law that you have to try the shaved broccoli salad. It is remarkable. To quote my new bestie, Owen, “it may very well be the first time in your life you look down at a plate of raw broccoli and say, ‘Wow! I’d like another plate of raw broccoli!’”

Equally impressive are the tofu pockets made with pumpernickel and stuffed to the gills with crabmeat, sushi rice and yuzu tartar. It’s almost like a lobster roll and a sushi hand roll made a joint venture.

Even something as bone simple as pork dumplings are taken to the next level, made special by the pure freshness of its ingredients.

The only mortal dish of the line up was the BBQ eel served with cucumber slices and placed over a bed of slaw. It’s good, but nothing I will ever order here again.

As for dessert, however, that’s a different story. The banana bruleé is stupid good! As in you’d have to be stupid not to order it. Or, meaning you will look stupid eating it, because you will likely frolic around the restaurant, batting your arms wildly with glee.

5 teeth

Mangia

22 W 23rd St. New York, NY 10010(212) 647-0200mangiatogo.com

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There are a bazillion of these type of places in the city ranging from Essen to Dishes to those not even worth remembering. You know the kind. The ones with a sandwich station, a salad bar, a soup arena, a pizza pavilion, a patisserie nook and a juicing section all under one roof. And while most of these places are usually a jack of all trades at best, Mangia actually proves to be a queen. Not quite as good as Dishes, but definitely worth its salt if you know what to get.

Working our way around by station, let’s start with the sandwiches. This is where Mangia shines brightest. The Chicken Telera was named one of the Top 100 in Manhattan by New York Magazine and I concur. Served on telera bread, which is almost challah-like, then obviously topped with chicken, plus avocado, pepper jack cheese and chipotle aioli. Then, they stuff the whole thing in the pizza oven and warm it all up. Other worthy grabs are the short rib sciacca made with horseradish aioli. Might even be better than the Telera. And another go-to of mine is the smoked turkey on pumpernickel with cucumber, watrercress and herbed aioli. I could go through all of them, but these are the highlights. Most of them are good with only a few misses.

Next in rotation for me would be the salad bar. It might not be as large as most, but Mangia seems to focus on quality versus quantity. Hard for me to list too many highlights since it’s a bit of a roulette when it comes to what they stock it with, but some of my favorites when they have them are the pasta salads, the wild rice salad, the marinated mushrooms, the quiche/frittata and the sesame noodles. Again, most everything is good, so you can feel safe to explore.

Almost on par with the salad bar would be the bakery. They nail their cookies and most of the pastries hold up as well.

From there it’s a step down to Meh-ville, not to be confused with Melville, NY, where the pizza and the juice bar both reside in underwhelming harmony.

And last but not least, Soup town. A.K.A. The slums. For whatever reason, like Linguini in Ratatouille, Mangia just can’t seem to make a soup to save their souls. Case in point, Pret next door blows them away and Pret is a massive global chain.

My only other nit is that their fridge is always on the fritz, so it’s rare to be able to get a cold drink there. Not such a big deal in the winter, but come summer it’s a bummer. Hey, that rhymes!

3 teeth