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

Artisan

275 Old Post RdSouthport, CT 06890 • (203) 307-4222 • artisansouthport.com
 

Artisan is probably the nicest restaurant in Fairfield County. Not necessarily the best, although very good, but certainly the nicest and dressiest. Which may or not be your thing, but if you’re looking for something that feels a little more special than The Cottage and The Whelk, Artisan is the ticket.

Located in the charming Devon Hotel, Artisan is broken into two hemispheres- three if you count the outside area, but that’s closed in the winter for obvious reasons. The outside and the front bar area are a bit more casual, whereas the back dining room is much more romantic, tastefully appointed bird’s nest light fixtures and warm wood everywhere. Kinda reminds me of a better version of Crabtree Kittlehouse over in Chappaqua.

All of this was unfortunately undercut by the crowd, although I’m guessing we might’ve hit an off night. When we first arrived we were seated next to an elderly couple who was SO old that when the man went to stand up to leave, an army of waiters swarmed around him, rearranging the furniture so that he could make the transition to his walker. And while that that alone might be disruptive enough amidst a romantic outing with wifey, the man repeatedly screamed at the top of his lungs as if a thorny catheter was being shoved up his backside. Now, on the one hand, I clearly felt bad for the poor man as his back or knees or both must surely be killing him. But then shouldn’t he be in a wheelchair? For his sake. Not to mention those around him? Ferocious minds wanna know.

Fortunately, they left inside of the first 15 minutes. Unfortunately that was only the tip of the iceberg, because, in general, the crowd was VERY boisterous for such a setting, and worse still, the couple that came to replace the elderly duo was infinitely worse, fighting the entire time we were there, dropping more F-bombs than Al Pacino in Scarface. Spoiler alert, I think they’re gonna get a divorce.

Oh,  the food? You wanna talk about that? Well, for starters, things started off slowly. The tuna crudo was light and refreshing but not amazing and the octopus was a richer yang and satisfying, but also not incredible.

The entrees saved the day, and our evening from bust, with a rock star butternut squash ravioli and a flawless steak au poivre, with perfect marbleization- perfectly cooked- And that SAUCE! Makes you wanna open a vein. Or just order more of it on the side, which we did.

For dessert though, still amidst the fire and fury from the couple next to us, the apple quince tart closed with a meh. So, clearly the bookends need work here, but the middle is quite something.

As is the wine list, offering Turley for under 100 bucks. Always a major fucking plus. Sorry, The I’m still shell-shocked from the profanity at the table next to us.

Boca

43 Main StWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-0720 • bocawestport.com
 

Tucked away right off of the main drag in an alley adjacent to West Elm, is a bit of a sleeper with big aspirations. A two-story Italian ( I know they call themselves Mediterranean, but it’s mostly Italian), that is probably trendier than it needs to be, with staff that’s trying almost as hard as the décor. But what a view form upstairs! Overlooking the Saugatuck River. You could do worse my friend. Same goes for the food, because Boca is better than most of the Italian options in Westport, which admittedly isn’t saying a whole lot. It seems to be the one cuisine in town that isn’t nailed yet. Tarry Lodge is decent, but that’s really it (granted I hear good things about Filamente Trattoria, so TBD on that one). But if the owners of The Whelk, Kawa Ni & Jesup Hall ever decide to get in the game, count me in as an investor!

Until that happens though, Boca will have to suffice. And suffice is does with killer dishes like the lobster with soft polenta. I also found their mussels with fava beans to be damn skippy.

In the middle I’d peg the fig, goat cheese & honey bruschetta as well as the kale salad with walnuts, green apples and gorgonzola. Both are good, but come off a little too basic and/or simply lacking that wow factor, missing the boat on either texture, contrast or balance.

As for misses, steer clear of the crispy artichokes. They are overly breaded and underly sauced, netting out as unsettling balls of fried batter. We didn’t even finish a third of the dish. Fortunately my glass of red wine will help make up for the cholesterol bomb.

So, with more hits than misses, and the void that it fills in the Italian Westport scene, I’d say it’s a worthy stop. Especially if you’re in the middle of a Main Street shopping spree and you get the grumbles.

Jesup Hall

90 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-6198 • jesuphall.com

Just stop it already Whelk people. You are making the restaurant business look WAY too easy. I mean, do you ever miss? If not, would you mind doing it just once so the rest of the industry doesn’t look so inept by comparison?

Yes, from the people who brought you The Whelk, Le Farm (RIP) and Kawa Ni comes yet another homerun. It’s enough to make Barry Bonds feel inadequate.

And I have to admit, I was skeptical this time, with the stiff competition of Rothbard on the floor below. But once again, I am proven deliciously wrong. Just one bite of their Monkey Bread and you will start making involuntary noises that would have Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally blushing like the wrong end of a red-assed baboon. It is lick-the-plate addicting, but please do your best not to fill up, because there’s more where that come from.

Like the buratta for example. Sure, buratta is usually a layup, but in the right hands, it can be the game winning shot. Just excellent. Less so would be the cauliflower which the love to push as the end all be all. It’s certainly good, and clearly inspired by Ilili in New York. But it’s drowning a bit in add-ons and you really don’t taste the cauliflower.

The grits with spicy crab nudja were also quite good, but a little odd at the same time, trying to pay homage to shrimp and grits I suppose, but it’s not quite as good and it’s also not the most visually appealing dish of the lot.

The burger is also very good (pictured), but having tried the burger at The Whelk, Kawa Ni and now here, I gotta give it to the Whelk. But fret not, because if it’s meat supremacy you’re after, the steak is tops. Easily blowing away the rib-eye over at The Cottage. And if you’ve read my review, you know how much I love that place, but meat vs. meat, there’s no contest.

Finally, be sure to end your night on a high note with the lemon curd tart. It sings.

Rothbard Ale & Larder

90 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • 203) 557-9666 • rothbardct.com

Rothbart is not a bar. Nor is it a restaurant. It is an Eastern European godsend filled with beer that flows like happiness dipped in gold and dishes that will have you thinking you’re in Prague, not Westport.

The setting alone couldn’t be more perfect really, with it’s castle-esque, basement dining room off the corner of an alley (of the charming variety). Which proves to be a living testament to just how good this place is, because it’s plenty busy for a place that isn’t that easy to find. In fact, the only reason we went there was because the wait was ridic at Bar Taco. And I’m so glad it was!

Beyond having kickass tripel beer on tap and in bottle, the bartender Adam is the perfect blend of sarcasm and wry- yet Johnny on the spot with his service and the recos.

Of the starters, I think I’d give it to the cannibal toast by a nose. Essentially a deftly balanced beef tartar spread over toast and over and out. We horked it down so fast I’m lucky I still have all ten fingers.

After that, an extremely close second would be the mussels, cooked in a beer-based broth that rivals any white wine version I’ve ever had.

The pretzel is also a solid option, but not by comparison to its predecessors. And truth be told, if it’s pretzel you want, then save yourself for the bratwurst platter. It is everything right with this world all on one cutting board. A beautifully charred brat, bursting at the seams with flavor. A ramekin of tallegio, a pile of cornichon, a dollop of grain mustard and last but not least, a pretzel roll that is every bit as good as the solo act, only with this dish you can doll it up into a bratwurst sandwich worthy of the gods.

The other starter I would giddily recommend is the deviled egg appetizer. Not quite as impressive as the ones over at The Whelk, but that’s a mighty high bar to be fair. These are topped with pickled pearl onions and trout roe and are hot damn delicious.

The only real miss for me is the chicken schnitzel. It’s really quite bland and lacking the accouterments to make it interesting. Essentially, it’s like ordering one gigantic chicken finger that covers your entire plate.

But getting back to the wowzers, be sure to get the salted apple pie as your closer. It is deceptively simple, yet magnificent in every metric imaginable.

This is not the place for the faint of heart, however. So if you’re on a diet and looking for a light bite, you really shouldn’t come here unless you’re willing to fall off the wagon. Hard.

Kawa Ni

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

kawa_ni_westport_ct_happy_hour1

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