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.

Advertisements

East

East Hotel Simon-von-Utrecht-Str. 31 – 20359 Hamburg, Germany • +49 40 309933 • east-hamburg.de

To sum this place up before I even begin, it’s Peruvian meets Asian meets Gaudi meets catacombs. An odd combination by most accounts with trendiness pouring out of every crease and crevasse, but somehow it all works. From the projection of tropical settings on the twisting white walls, to the deer antler wine racks and the polyp ornamented bar, you’d think you were back at Iridium near Lincoln Center in the 90’s.

But acid trip-inspired décor aside (pictured), the food impressed. Starting with a decent showing in the sushi department- but the clear winner of that course is the tuna tataki. This is a must-get. No seriously. If you don’t I will hunt you down and force-feed you.

Other top dishes were the red Thai curry boasting some kick-ass heat and moist-ass fish. The salmon poke was also the shiznit. Fresh and flavorful and smarter than your average bowl! Both are strong winners in the entrée round. The duck and the ribeye, however, were just okay.

For sides, ya gotta give it up for the truffle fries. And for dessert, I say skip the chewables and go for the liquid. The liquid tiramisu that is. Holy caffeinated hangover batman! Might just be an Ultimate in two categories at once- Cocktail and Tiramisu.

Bella Sombra

Bagarasi Cad. No:24, Golturkbuku 48400, Turkey • T +9 0252 377 6100 • bellasombrahotel.com

Secrets, contrary to conventional wisdom, are better shared than kept. Obviously not all secrets, however. Like “I have another family” or “I’m actually a man” or “It’s not your baby.” But when it comes to restaurant finds, I lean towards letting the word get out. Sure it will make the place more popular and harder to get into, but it beats the alternative of no one ever hearing about it and the place disappears. This is a fate I would like to save Bella Sombra from.

As the name implies it is VERY “bella.” The setting when you walk down those steps toward the pool courtyard is breathtaking. Stone villas flanking it on all sides. The glow from the water, the moon and the lanterns on the steps luring you deeper into the seduction. And as you make your way around the pool, you will come upon the dining area, which is set apart by greenery and charmed with strung lights (pictured). The bar next door enjoys some of the same, but with a very spacious, more casual vibe. Almost done like an amphitheater of chaise-like sofas all facing the wooden bar meets hut in the center of the arena.

Sadly though, it is all wasted, because the crowd is not just virtually non-existent. It’s actually non-existent. We were the only table of the night. There were more stray cats than people, that’s how dead it was. On the upside, service was great. How could it not be?

So maybe it’s the food that’s killing them? Not really. I actually found most of the dishes to be quite worthy (not to mention large). The best dish being an inventive eggplant starter that tasted similar to baba ghanouj only better. The other winner was the paella for two, made with sucuk for a Turkish spin (resisting the temptation to make a dervish joke here).

In the middle for me would be the vegetarian sushi that tasted a bit like red lentil kofte. And the only miss was the manti. I get what they were trying to do, similar in some ways to how it is done at Limon. But in execution, it comes off like chickpeas and yogurt with Cheez-its stuck in it. So a pretty mighty miss in retrospect, but not enough for me to lose confidence as a recommendation. In other words, please go. It would be a shame to see this place disappear.

Koku

454 Main StArmonk, NY 10504 • (914) 730-0077 • kokujapanese.com

o

I am sad to have only just discovered this place right as I was moving away from a reasonable proximity, but happy to have at least had a meal there before I departed, because hot damn is it good!

The fish isn’t quite at the level of Azuma, but it is far more inventive and the setting is probably the best of any sushi joint in Northern Westchester. Hell, even the website is more blows the aesthetic doors off of the competition. Service was also great, and quite warm and friendly with a killer recommendation on a special dish consisting of a fish we had never even heard of before (and struggled feebly to pronounce), coming straight from the one and only Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Best thing we had. No surprise.

My second favorite dish was the spicy tuna tacos. Though I gotta say, the whole mexi-sushi thing is getting a bit overplayed right now to the point of annoyance, but when it’s this good, I find it hard to bitch. Okay, no I don’t. I love to bitch. But not about these tacos. They do both mexipanese prouder than Senora Tiger Mom.

A very close third, but less inventive than the other dishes we tried were the salmon skin hand rolls and the unagi. Great flavor in the eel sauce and just awesome texture and saltiness in the handrolls- as good as any I’ve ever had.

Surprisingly, however, one of the most touted dishes of all at this place was a bit of a disappointment for wifey and I. The spicy edamame is not only messy as all hell, but it’s also not very spicy, making the humiliation to worth-it ratio very unfavorable.

What is in favor is the whole package because Koku makes almost every other sushi joint in Northern Westchester look like amateur hour.

4 teeth

Hai Street Kitchen

230 Park Ave. New York, NY 10169 haistreetkitchen.com

HaiStreetKitchensushi

Have you ever found yourself eating a maki and thought, “hmm, if only this could be 20 times bigger? If the answer is yes, then you are about to go cuckoo for cocoa puffs, because that’s essentially the concept of Hai Street.

For example, the Slammin’ Salmon is not only fun to say, it’s also made with raw salmon tataki, rice, shredded carrots and cucumbers, gouchujong sauce and for two bucks extra wasabi guacamole, all wrapped in seaweed and cut in half so it looks like a pair of maki pieces gone preggers.

But is it any good you ask? Very. As is the lemonade and iced green tea, which I mixed to create, you guessed it, an Arnold Palmer. I’m so damn predictable.

3 teeth

Exit 4

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

o

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

Rue 57

60 W 57th St. New York, NY 10019 • (212) 307-5656 rue57.com

 

In midtown most of the options for a nice, sit-down breakfast/brunch are either crazy expensive or Ess-a-bagel. Fortunately, Rue fills this void rather nicely, otherwise you’d have to hop in cab to get your brunch on. Unless you consider Starbucks, Le Pain Quotidien or Paris Baguette as nice… or sit down.

I know a lot of people find the service to be rude and pretentious, but I’m just going to chalk that up to them being tourists. It is NYC after all. I have eaten here several times and don’t find the wait staff to be anything out of the norm for the city. And speaking of tourists, this place kinda begs for that clientele, being that it’s the size of most places that typically scream tourist trap, but even so, I personally find that they manage to keep the bistro vibe well in tact.

On the food front, while it is certainly nothing to run down 57th Street singing about, neither is Pastis (RIP) or Balthazar IMO. If you want transcendent morning grub try Norma’s, Clinton Street Baking Co., Cookshop or Upland. Rue, on the other hand, is solid, middle of the road eating. Same goes for lunch. Never been for dinner. So, if you are in the hood and can’t get in to some of the other brunch legends down the street, or simply don’t feel like paying over 50 bucks a person for breakfast, then Rue 57 is your place. The burger is nice and the fries are very good. The eggs dishes are all box checkers and so is the sweeter fare like pancakes and French Toast. The shocker of the menu, however, would be the sushi. Yes, this French named and styled bistro is actually Asian at its roots, so if you should happen to be craving a little raw fish in the wee hours, well, Rue has you covered there too.

3 teeth

Catch

 Hotel Casa Del Mar • 1910 Ocean Way Santa Monica, CA 90405 • (310) 581-7714http://www.bytheblueseasantamonica.com/restaurants-catch.html

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.10.59 AM

Catch is quite the…well, catch. Easily the best restaurant of the Pico-Ocean Hotel Trifecta (Casa Del Mar, Shutters & The Viceroy). One, Coast and Whist simply don’t hold a candle.

For lunch I strongly suggest the lobster BLT. Now obviously it’s pretty hard to screw up lobster and bacon on a bun, but there are nuances that differentiate goodness from greatness. The lobster is moist and tender. The bacon crisp. And the avocado creamy. All met with the sweet airiness of the brioche and you’ve got the makings for a super sammy. Creamy and crunchy. Savory and sweet.

For dinner you will be surprised to hear that the sushi is pretty on point. Granted in LA you can almost get great sushi at a gas station, so perhaps it’s not that surprising. The rest of the menu isn’t half bad either, offering up things from land and sea like a delicious grilled octopus and a watermelon, feta salad that’s more refreshing than meeting a waiter in LA who isn’t also an actor.

3 teeth

Matsuhisa

129 N La Cienega Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA 90211 • (310) 659-9639 nobumatsuhisa.com

NOBU___Yuzu_Curd___raspbe-Matsuhisa-20000000002075608-500x375

The food is really quite something here, but that’s to be expected. I mean Nobu isn’t an icon of Japanese cuisine because he doesn’t know his ass from albacore. What isn’t to be expected however, is how horribly cheesy the décor is, covered in hand-painted murals that look like something out of the halls in an elementary school. And on top of that, there are trophies and mementos everywhere as well, like Andre Agassi’s tennis racket, and not done in a tasteful or even kitschy artful way either. Nor even campy like The Palm. More done like a twenty-something guy’s first apartment with no sense of how to make an environment appealing. As a result, it is SO distracting that it brings the entire experience down.

But if you must, there is little I’d say to dissuade you when it comes to the menu. Everything is tops.  But the one dish you would be criminally negligent not to order is the black miso cod. Nobody does it better, which is in large part due to the fact that he invented the dish.

3 teeth

 

Momoya

185 7th Ave. New York, NY 10011(212) 989-4466momoyanyc.com

ls

Sushi restaurants are so aplenty in Manhattan it’s hard to stand out from the sea of options between your local neighborhood joint and the cream of the crop, Michelin star destinations like Nobu and Masa.

But somewhere in the middle lies a vast expanse of Japanese eateries that range from cool to campy. Ones that are better than the average bear (to be read like Yogi), but not quite at the top of the game either.

These are the waters in which you will find the likes of Momoya. A very strong middle-of-the-road sushi restaurant that would easily be tops if it were located in Des Moines.

Fresh fish. Beautiful presentations and a sleek, clean décor. And while I found the pieces to be good, I also found them to be a bit miniscule, which only served to throw off the balance with some of their brines, because with such little fish, the brines easily overpowered most of my bites.

Also, while it was a plus that they carried my favorite Japanese dessert, mochi (ice cream dumplings wrapped in rice paper), the flavors were a touch subtle for my tastes.

So a runaway success it was not, but in Chelsea the options for great sushi are slim. Almost as slim as those tiny pieces of sushi, so if you’re not up for a trek over to Ootoya, I’d say pop a squat and enjoy. But definitely don’t go out of your way.

3 teeth