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

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Chingu

1107 Broadway New York, NY 10010(917) 647-5911chingunyc.com

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Let me just say that I am a Bigbimbap fan. In fact, I like it virtually any way it comes. With beef. Pork. Raw fish. Chicken. Tofu. I like it every way but bad. And unfortunately Chingu, despite it being very close to the name of one of my favorite beers in the world (Xingu), served up about the only bap that I thought was bibimblah. In fact my wife makes MUCH better at home. So don’t get lured in by the booth at Broadway Bites, either that or be sure to douse it with healthy amounts of Sriracha. Fortunately there are so many better options to be had at the other booths, not to mention Koreatown.

2 teeth

BCD Tofu House

5W 32nd St. New York, NY 10001 • (212) 967-1900 bcdtofu.com

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I have no idea what the BCD stands for, maybe it’s Bargain Cuisine Delectables? Probably not, but whatever it is, ya still gotta love Koreatown for its bountiful spreads of food at a fraction of the price you’d pay anywhere else in Manhattan. It’s almost as if they don’t realize that there are sandwich shops all around them that are charging more for a tuna on rye- no chips, no drink- than the three course bento-paloozas the Koreans are doling out. So shhhh! Let’s keep it that way.

But cheap is only one reason to love the Tofu House. Good is the other. Especially in the winter with a bevy of fiery soups that manage to stay hot longer than Madonna. Offered in a range of spiciness from mild to medium to hot and finally very hot. I went with just “hot” and I found it to be perfect. Plenty of kick, but just up to that threshold where flavor ends and pain begins, without crossing it. Very hot would’ve probably rendered all of the goodies in the soup imperceptible to taste.

As for the goodies of which I speak, I opted for the dumpling soup, which as one might guess is loaded with dumplings. But also bulgogi, veggies, tofu (after all, the place is called Tofu House), and if you so desire, a raw egg, rice, peppers and kimchi. Plus a fried smelt on the side.

And speaking of dumplings, another worthy get as an appetizer are the fried veggie pot stickers.

Service is very friendly and attentive and the décor is rather basic. Not the point of this place though really. The soup here is the focus. So if you’re cold and looking for a bowl to warm you up, this should do the trick, even if you’re a White Walker.

4 teeth

The Ultimate Tofu

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Unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan you probably don’t think it’s possible to swoon over tofu. And to be fair, the degree of difficulty is most certainly steep being that it’s basically a flavorless curd brick. But to some, it’s also a blank canvas. Here are two masterpieces painted on that canvas…

Sushi Roku – Santa Monica, CA

In the midst of such a tempting menu filled with stone-seared kobe beef and baked lobster rolls its hard to pull your eyes away long enough to notice the seared tofu appetizer, much less bother to even give it a second thought. But for those who do, I promise you will not be sorry.

Marinated in a wonderfully savory miso sauce and draped in a blanket of shitake mushrooms, the tofu takes on such a substantial flavor you’d almost swear you were eating meat. And this isn’t like when you get “chicken” or “meatloaf” at other places that are a poor man’s version of the original. This dish makes no apologies about being tofu. And then smacks you upside the head for having been prejudice in the first place.

Momofuku Ko – New York, NY

If no one told you there was tofu in this dish, you would never know it, swearing on your life that it was creamy cheese inside those perfect pockets of pasta. But being wrong never tasted so right. And the sweet corn ragu they smother it with will have you dancing like a giddy school girl on prom night- and that’s not just the increased estrogen levels talking either. It’s just that mind-altering good.