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.

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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.

3 teeth

Beauty & Essex

3708 S Las Vegas Blvd. Las Vegas, NV 89109 • (702) 737-0707 • beautyandessexlv.com

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Okay, so it’s not the real deal and merely a fabricated replica of the one in New York, but it is Vegas, which means pretty much everything is a fabricated replica of something else with the exception of sand. So put aside any delusions of authenticity and you will very likely find yourself as pleased as punch (let’s make that rum punch, after all, it is Vegas).

Located in the chic Cosmopolitan Hotel on the third floor (as opposed to Essex St. in Manhattan), you will find a pawnshop by the same name, which doubles as a speakeasy entrance through a nondescript turquoise door to the left of the counter. Upon entering you will find yourself swept into a time vortex landing you smack dab in the roaring twenties, complete with a brocade decor and twin, blond, 6-foot bombshell- flappers who cavort around the restaurant and bar along with a parade of burlesque hotties.

Surprisingly, this isn’t to distract you form the food, because almost everything was excellent. That said, it might be distracting to the servers, because I found the service to be a bit sloppy.

The excellent menu of which I speak is made up of shareable small plates, along with a decent list of cocktails and wine. And while most everything was good, there were a few dishes I would steer around such as the lobster roll, which was the only bad thing of the night, served on a warm bun, but filled with canned or even fake lobster meat. Not cool.

The other two dishes I would skip are not what I would call bad, but they don’t exactly pass mustard for me either. For example much better yellowtail sashimi in ponzu sauce with chili peppers can be found at Blue Ribbon Sushi in the very same hotel or at Sushi Roku down the strip. And the French Onion Soup Dumplings are nowhere near as good as the ones at Stanton Social in NYC, nor are they comparable to some of the other stars of the night.

But enough of the Debbie Downers and on to the stars, like both tartars- the steak and the tomato tartars are so good I don’t know which one I liked better and obviously very different from one another so it’s kind of hard to even compare them even though they are both “tartars.” They are also served differently, the steak is done more like a tartine and the tomato more like an hors d’oeuvres. Both, however, are worth doubling down on.

The bone marrow is also superb and only bested by one other dish for me, the Spicy Lamb Bolognese. Made with penne and some serious Italian game this pasta just might’ve been the best thing of the night- no, the best thing I had all week in Vegas. Not too shabby for twin, amazon, blond, bombshell, flappers. Can you tell they left an impression?

4 teeth

Her Name is Han

17 E 31st St. New York, NY 10016 (212) 779-9990 hernameishan.com

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Even though his name is Ferocious, I was pretty much set on at least three knives before I even had my first bite. Starting with the name alone, it’s just friggin’ cool and somehow already tells you that you’re not in for you’re typical Korean culinary experience. Then, once you enter, the setting manages to keep carrying that baton, done in a rustic-chic that sort of bridges the gap between a Le Pain Quotidien and ABC Kitchen. And as I write that I’m realizing that’s quite the chasm, but go and you’ll understand.

Also, once you get a looksy at the menu, I think you’ll come to the same conclusion as I did, you just instantly have to like the place. I mean everything looks good, so I threw a dart and partook in the spicy raw tuna bowl, which is essentially a nice twist on a bi bim bap, made with sashimi grade tuna, brown rice, poached egg, avocado, carrots, peppers, green onions and spicy sauce. Not only is it good. It’s good for you. And it’s good for your wallet, being that’ll probably set you back less than a sandwich and drink at Pret!

Looking forward to going back soon. But on the earlier side, because they don’t take reservations and they do make you wait.

3 teeth

Exit 4

153 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 241-1200exit4foodhall.com

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The concept of this place is interesting to say the least. Sort of like a mini food court that’s not located in a mall and not made up of your usual chains like Panda Express and Sbarro’s. It’s actually all locally sourced, serving up a jack-of-all-trades menu from all over the map (or more specifically all over Northern Westchseter), yet somehow they manage to let you put it all on one bill (that you kinda have to carry around with you from pavilion to pavilion- it’s complicated).

It’s also a dynamic than can easily become a recipe for disaster should you arrive and not know what you want. Especially with young kids who will quickly become more overwhelmed with the choices than Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson.

On the upside, most everything is surprisingly good, so it’s kinda hard to go too, too wrong, unless you have wildly high expectations. When I say “surprising,” however, I want to temper that by stating that I mean it only in the context of lowered expectations. Nothing will have you swinging from a star, but if you’d rather eat a pig, a fish or a mule, they pretty much have you covered (that was for all you Sinatra fans).

So here’s how I recommend playing it:

Step 1: Grab a table. Put your stuff down and have a member of your party stand guard. The last thing you want to do is get caught with seven trays of grub and nowhere to sit.

Step 2: Order the stuff that takes longer to make first. This would be your pastas, your pizzas, your burger and your bahn mi that are all cooked to order. Whereas the tacos, and barbecue offerings are much more prepped and take about two minutes or less to hit your table. So, assuming you like your family or friends, and want to actually eat “together,” then I recommend doing these options near the end of the batting order.

Step 3: Order stuff that doesn’t need to be ice cold or nice and hot dead last. This would be your sushi and glasses of red wine.

Step 4: Bon apetit!

So now that you’ve circumnavigated one of the more complex dining matrixes in the tri-state, here are my thoughts on the offerings themselves.

First up, let’s start with the sushi, sourced from Mt. Kisco Seafood down the street, so you know it’s pretty darn fresh. But more than just fresh, the sashimi bowls and the maki are really quite inventive and a step up from a lot of other places in the immediate vicinity. Yes, that goes for you Hito and Spoon.

Next up, let’s go Italian. Or more specifically the pizza, because the only pasta I’ve had there was my daughter’s kidsy butter and shells. So not really fair to judge them on that. My daughter, on the other hand, has a ways to go in terms of expanding the ole horizons. As for the pies, I liked both the fig, prosciutto and caramelized onion pie and the one with Brussels sprouts, smoked pancetta and gruyere. Neither compare to the likes of The Parlor in Dobbs or Zero Otto Nove in Armonk, but they hold their own handily against Old Stone and Village Social, which I actually think has one of the best pies in town. Nonetheless, the pizza is good enough to make you forget all about the fact that this place used to be Belizzi (RIP).

And now let’s take things down a notch. As in down South. As in TexMex and barbecue. Starting at the top, I’d go with the brisket sammy. It’s quite solid, topped with a bourbon sauce, slaw and cornichon. After that I’d go with the pulled pork. The sauce has a nice kick to it and it also comes with slaw on it as well. It’s not what I would call a runaway smash hit, but unless you’re willing to roll your bones all the way over to Portchester for Q, then it’ll do the trick. That said, little known secret- Dinosaur BBQ is available via Fresh direct. As is some seriously spicy slaw and brioche sliders. So if you don’t feel like venturing out for your barb-e-fix, then call in the reinforcements. Oh, and skip the tacos if you ask me. Truck and Hacienda are both miles better.

And most importantly… the booze. They have a nice selection of beer and wine by the glass so no complaints there either. Nor do I have many complaints on the whole. Exit 4 is a nice addition to the hood and the only other “something-for-everyone” deal in town apart from Village Social. So, if you’re like me and you’re saddled with two kids who don’t agree on anything when if comes to food, this “good enough” fare quickly becomes good on ya!

3 teeth

Nare Sushi

115 E 57th St. New York, NY 10022(646) 666-0061naresushi.com

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I only ordered take out from here based on the recommendations on Yelp, my craving for sushi and my desire to try someplace other than Hatsuhana, which I already know and love. Plus, I was intrigued by the Mozukusu, described as fresh caught seaweed with sweet soy and Japanese mountain yam. The “fresh caught” seeming to imply that the seaweed must try to escape in some fashion. I’m not exactly sure how, but I had to see for myself.

Sadly, the seaweed wasn’t flopping around like marlin on the line, but I do have to admit that it was the most interesting seaweed salad I think I have ever had. Granted it was also the goopiest, looking like something out of Ghostbusters. But if you just close your eyes and can work past the consistency, the flavors are really nice.

I wish I could say the same for the fluke sashimi (Usuzukuri), but I found it rather bland despite the ponzu sauce and spicy daikon radish.

And as for the edamame, yellowtail and tuna sushi, as well as the dragon roll, they were all reasonably good, but nothing beyond the expectations of your run of the mill NYC delivery sushi, making the four stars on Yelp seem a bit much by my ferocious standards.

3 teeth

Perry St.

176 Perry St. New York, NY 10014(212) 352-1900 • perrystrestaurant.com

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Jean, Jean, Jean… Is it possible that after SO many restaurants you are finally starting to spread yourself too thin? Not to take anything away from you, because quite frankly I think you’ve done the impossible. I can’t think of one other chef in the Tri-State who has as many truly great restaurants. So give yourself a pat on the back for Jean-Georges, Mercer Kitchen, ABC Kitchen, ABC Cocina and The Inn at Pound Ridge. But not even Babe Ruth batted a thousand, so I am sad to report that Perry St. might be Jean’s first brush with mortality.

Of course I am only speaking in terms of comparability, because Perry St. is still good by all normal human accounts. But no one ever accused me of being normal, and neither is Jean, so when you play the game at a higher level, the bad news is that you have to keep it up. And since Perry St. was listed on many a “Top Ten” list of 2015, the hype bar was set only that much higher.

The knives started falling early as we entered to one of Jean’s least impressive décor’s yet. Sure, it’s clean and contemporary, but it also feels a lot like a trendy hotel lobby and nowhere near as nice as his last three openings. But that’s not even why I’m docking the knives. It’s more because of the flow, or lack thereof. You see, the hostess, while stunning in appearance, is equally stunning-ly bad in seating parties with reservations in a semi-timely manner. As a result, the sliver of a bar area becomes so over-crowded and noisy that it takes away from any attempt at elegance for the surrounding tables, which is about 50% of the restaurant. Then there are the back corners of the dining room, both left and right, which are so secluded that no one would ever want to sit there, especially the one on the right, across from the bathrooms, which have their own issues as well. Now I’m not exactly sure what the hold up was, but let’s just say there’s a bit of a logjam at the ole WC, causing a line so long they actually have a sofa there in case your knees buckle from the wait.

Once seated at our table, however, things did take a turn for the better, thankfully. Our waiter was attentive and the food was good. Sadly not quite as spectacular as one might be led to believe from all the press and Yelpers, but definitely good.

Of the starters I would say Perry went two-for-two, the winners being the Spanish octopus with Romanesco sauce, pickled peppers and potatoes. It’s not quite an Ultimate, but it’s just about as close as it gets. The other winner is the shockingly delicious mushroom dish. In fact, they are so awesome that you owe it to yourselves to get an order in the middle to share.

Equally shocking, unfortunately, is that one of the misses is actually the seared foie gras. Nowhere near as transcendent as it should be for such a guilty pleasure. I mean c’mon, if you’re gonna torture a goose, at least make it worth the ride.

The other miss for me was the snapper sashimi. Not only did I find it to be very basic, the one touch of inventiveness made it feel as if you were chewing on bits of seashell and sand along with the fish.

The entrees rallied strong though with the lemongrass lobster. It’s excellent and worth every pretty penny. As is the duck. The beef tenderloin proved to be the weakest of the three, served with broccoli, broccoli pesto and chimichurri. The steak itself is cooked like a champ. Charred on the outside, moist and pink on the inside. But the flavors of the pesto and chimichurri just didn’t wow, which is especially surprising because the tenderloin is always one of the best dishes at The Inn at Pound Ridge, no matter what the preparation du jour, so I thought I was golden. But apparently I was just bronze.

Dessert also served up a mixed bag, the better of the two being the passion fruit soufflé with passion fruit sorbet. It’s done very well, but doubling down on the same flavor seems like a bit of a missed opportunity. Whereas the brown butter carrot cake was just okay. Nothing I would ever sing about. Not that I should ever be singing with my voice.

So, without a single Ultimate and an admittedly clunky experience I have a hard time giving Perry the thumbs up. But there are many strong dishes to be had, so I can’t exactly give it the Julius Caesar either. Which leaves us with…

3 teeth

Minami

1118 Mainland Street Vancouver, BC CAN V6B 2T9 (604) 685-8080 minamirestaurant.com

Having heard people rave about the sushi in Vancouver I felt the need to see and taste for myself. Better than New York they said. Superior to LA and San Francisco they implored. They even went so far as to compare it to the likes of Nobu… Which turned out to be a big NoNo.

And thing is I knew it the moment I set foot in the door. Something about the vibe screamed amateur hour. And I’m not just saying that because the bar is slower than a turtle stuck in a tar pit filmed in hyper slow motion with a Phantom camera. In other words, we ordered our drinks well before any food and didn’t get them until after we were already three dishes into the meal.

Of the meal itself, I can only speak highly of one dish, which wasn’t even on anyone’s “must try” list, the yellowtail, spicy tuna roll. It had really good flavor and just the perfect amount of heat. I know it sounds relatively standard, but I’m trying here people. I’m trying so hard to see it, but all I kept seeing was a place that’s no better than virtually any neighborhood sushi joint in Manhattan.

The foie gras, black truffle gyoza, while amazing on paper tasted no different than your garden variety chicken potsticker. The salmon oshe (pictured) was way too overpowered by the brick of rice beneath it and it’s nothing by comparison to the pseudo equivalent, hanabe, of LA fame. Oh, and the ebi version of the oshe isn’t any better.

The tuna tataki with black pepper was a snore and sushi and sashimi platters were all decent, but again, nothing you would ever even dare think to compare to the likes of New York or LA. In fact, the only fish in the lot that sparked a twinkle in my eye was the albacore sashimi. But let’s forget New York and LA for just a second and get really real up in this bitch. I’ve had far better sushi in Harstdale, NY at Azuma. In Breckenridge, CO at Sushi Breck. At that’s in a friggin’ land-locked state for Christ’s sake! Even at Blue Ribbon in Vegas, which is in a godforsaken dessert!

So I don’t know what everyone else is smoking out there, but please pass it my way, because I just don’t taste what you are tasting.

2 teeth

Hinoki and the Bird

10 W Century Dr. Los Angeles, CA 90067(310) 552-1200hinokiandthebird.com

Hinoki And The Bird, 10 Century Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90067

Frequented by the agents at CA, this extremely trendy haunt rose up from demand, managing to fill that mid-city void between the beach and West Hollywood. Set downstairs in a building just behind Century City, the décor is clean and modern with high ceilings, a huge windowed outdoor space, and a dining room walled with earthy materials and flanked by a trendy open kitchen on one side, and an equally hip bar on the other, sporting a handsome list of cocktails, wine and sake (including the sparking variety).

Because of our large party we “ordered the menu,” which is my second favorite way to dine… Other than with the wife, of course. So please don’t think that I had each of this dishes in full at one sitting. If I did, I’d be dead by now.

So, kicking things off, let’s start with the starters. And the Ultimate within, the crab toast. A dish I normally find to be a bid of a whatevs, but this crustacean is on fleek. Not too mayonnaisey, a little heaty with it’s chili, coriander and spicy cucumber and a lotta goody. Another dish I’d call tops is the unique prep of the okra, served roasted in a simple, yet artful row, dusted with cumin and superb to the taste.

Also impressive were the roasted Brussels sprouts, which were refreshingly unfancied up, compared to those at Cleo, Ilili or All’onda. Another veggie side sure to please are the yams done as a slightly contemporary twist on the classic, using Asian (purple) yams with a sour cream/crème fraiche drizzle.

The third side, the mushrooms, were the only bore of the trio, marinated in nothing out of the ordinary and served in an equally pedestrian way. But if you dig on the fungi, they are far from bad. Unfortunately they are just as far from memorable.

Another starter sure to put a smile on your face is the lobster roll, which looks remarkably like a cigar, due to it’s narrow stature and its black bun. It’s only about two bites big, but by mixing green curry and Thai basil into the mayo, they are a flavor-packed couple of chews.

Another solid starter is the crispy suckling pig with apple jam and chili, albeit that one is somewhat of a lay up by description alone. Whereas the fried chicken is much more of a surprise with its perfect contrast from crispy crust to moisty bird. But both were outdone by the black cod (pictured), which might be the best I’ve had since Matsuisha invented the dish decades before.

As for the last of the starters, the fluke flunked. Just your standard sashimi with nothing unique to write about, and nothing so fresh to even swoon about.

But things starting with “fl” seem to cause Hinoki big trouble in little China, because the flank steak was also flucked up. So chewy, my jaw gave out after about three bites. Thankfully my friend with the kurobuta pork chop was kind enough for sharesies and while the chop wasn’t exactly divine swine, it was much better than chew toy on my plate.

And the downward spiral of entrees only kept spiraling through dessert as I found myself wanting to flick Hinoki the bird for wasting my caloric intake with buzz killers like the doughnuts with caramel dip and the ice cream sandwiches.

As a result, should you wish to follow suit, I think you would be much better served by ordering meze style here, with lots of starters and sides, as opposed to the traditional three course app, entrée, dessert. I know it almost doesn’t seem worth it to go now, but I give you my ferocious guarantee that if you stick to the top of the menu, you will be so happy with your order you won’t even think twice about what you’re missing, which isn’t much.

3 teeth

Tocqueville

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

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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