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.

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Le Turtle

177 Chrystie StNew York, NY 10002 • (646) 918-7189 • leturtle.fr

I am shell-shocked. Get it? But seriously, I was not expecting this place to be anywhere near as fantabulous as it was. Charming the pants off me from the moment I stepped through the door with its small, casual meets quaint dining room, down to Earth service and killer grub. Almost reminds me of Pearl & Ash (RIP), one of my top 5 favorites in the city.

So how did I love thee? Let me count the ways. One, the bread. I know it’s six friggin bucks, which is absolutely absurd, made only worse once you see what that six dollars actually buys you- a small hunk of bread with some weird, green spread next to it. But trust me, once you take a bite with that killer wasabi spread, your bitching and moaning will turn into patting yourself on the back and ordering seconds.

Another simple starter that will blow your socks off is the charred broccoli salad. So much depth of flavor and yet as basic as it gets. And speaking of basics, the classic Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper) is nailed like Bob the Builder on meth with a twin-barrel nail gun and something to prove.

Better still was the oxtail risotto which was so rich it will probably benefit from Trump’s new tax cuts. Even the Whole Sasso Chicken (pictured) was quite impressive from flaming presentation to palate. Far more of a crowd-pleaser than Le Coq Rico, and half the price.

But as good as everything was, the best two things of the night were the scallops and the dorado. Both flawlessly cooked and magically prepared in a way that celebrated the flavors of the fish, while also showcasing the chef’s creativity and command of ingredients.

As we sailed toward the glorious promised land of five knives, sadly twas not to be as Le Turtle stumbled. The foie gras, while decent, comes with a stark warning – our waitress told us it was seared and it was actually terrine. Major issue for me and she should’ve comped the dish because I wouldn’t have ordered it had I known.

More egregious still, were the lame desserts of which they only offered two and neither were good. For shame! If you’re going to have such a small dessert menu at least make sure one of them is worth it! But hey, not even Lebron hits every shot, so I will not only forgive Le Turtle, I will return. As fast as a hare.

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.

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Le Baoli

Port Pierre Canto Bd de la Croisette 06400 Cannes, France • +33 4 93 43 03 43lebaoli.com

Le Bâoli - Cannes, Alpes-Maritimes, France. Sushi and sashimi

As one might expect, the seafood in Cannes is pretty damn good as a norm, so it would only seem logical that perhaps the sushi in Cannes might also be quite exceptional, despite its unfavorable proximity to Japan. Well, it’s not. In fact, it’s god-awful. No, I think that’s sugar-coating it. I think it just might be the worst sushi can possibly be without getting you sick. I’m not kidding. I’ve had better sushi in the desert for Christ sake!

Everything was so flavorless I could’ve easily bitten off the tips of my chopsticks by accident and I would’ve never noticed the difference. From the rice to the seaweed to the fish (no matter whether it was salmon or tuna or anything else for that matter), it all tasted the same. Even the friggin’ wasabi didn’t help because it was just as bland as everything else!

Then, adding salt to the wound, which I suppose we should’ve put on the sushi, the service was shit and the music was so brutally loud that it took away from the fact that we were sitting on the beach overlooking the Mediterranean. But instead, we felt like we were a captive in the movie Saw.

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The Little Beet

2 Penn Plz. New York, NY 10001 thelittlebeet.com

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So I wasn’t lying when I said I’ve been going to the Pennsy a lot lately. In fact, if I keep it up they might start charging me rent. But until that happens I’m going to continue my trip around the world, through all six menus at all six establishments.

My recent staple being Little Beet, which has pretty decent salads and is one of the healthier options apart from Cinnamon Snail. My usuals are the beet salad with arugula, warm quinoa, goat cheese and chicken tossed in a sherry, shallot dressing. It’s quite good and if you’re feeling like doubling down on the healthy, they have some solid fresh squeezed juices as well.

The other salad I often get is the Miso Chicken salad. Made with chicken, brown rice, romaine, cabbage, soba noodles, pickled Asian slaw and wasabi nori shakes and a miso glaze. It sounds more impressive than it is. But what it is, is exactly what you’d expect, nothing more, nothing less. And it’s sure to hit the spot, assuming that spot is craving an Asian chicken salad.

3 teeth

Mercer Kitchen

99 Prince St. New York, NY 10012 • (212) 966-5454 themercerkitchen.com

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I feel compelled to give Mercer five knives simply on the basis that I found my wife because of this place. Well, technically I found her at work, but this was where we had our first date almost 15 years ago, and for a VERY specific reason,  they have something called “sushi pizza” (pictured). You see, until I met my wife, the only place I had ever even seen this dish was in Toronto at The Sushi Inn (horrible name, I know). It was prepared more like a round hanabe as opposed to the way Mercer does it, but damn was it good. And I hated the fact that the only place I could find it was in the Great White North. So one day, while being my typical Ferocious self, complaining about the sushi pizza inadequacies of Manhattan, this pretty little thing waltzed up and dropped a bomb on me, “New York has sushi pizza!” And just like that, I was smitten. Granted she has many other redeeming qualities, so please don’t think that I actually chose to marry someone solely on the basis of a food recommendation. Not that I’m incapable of it.

So now that I’ve thoroughly over-hyped this dish into the stratosphere, let me explain how it’s made. It starts with a terrific crust, which is then covered in a wasabi spread, in place of tomato sauce. Then, they layer thinly shaved carpaccio-like pieces of sushi grade tuna. And finally, they top it all off with crisp Asian straw vegetables. And not only is it worth saying vows over, it’s actually even better than the one in Toronto.

But Mercer has a much deeper bench than just one dish, should sushi pizza not be your bag. In fact, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. It is, after all, a Jean-Georges restaurant and one of his oldest and most successful to boot. From pastas to prime meats and all the way back to another killer pizza, the fontina with black truffles, you will be golden.

That is, however, only in terms of food. As for service, prepare to be treated more like lead. In fact, not once have I ever dined here when they didn’t screw something up. The last time, being so royally, that we haven’t been back since. After making us wait nearly an hour to be seated at our reserved table, they then had the audacity to ask us to hurry up our meal so that they could seat the reservation after us. Quite the set of balls on that maitre’d. Surprised he was able to wear pants. But that’s just how some trendy places roll in the city. And how one knife also rolled right off of this review.

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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.

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Noho Star

330 Lafayette St. New York, NY 10012(212) 925-0070nohostar.com

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I haven’t actually been there. Only ordered delivery. But of the three things I had, two were a solid good, and one was flimsy miss.

First, the good. I enjoyed the Santa Fe crab cakes, although they didn’t have much crab in them. Mostly filler. But flavorful filler, fortunately. Guess they know their filler down in Santa Fe.

The other good thing I had was the 14 ingredient chopped salad. Similar to many a beet and walnut based salad, but chopped to all hell, not unlike something you’d get at a Chop’t, only a touch nicer.

And last but not least, the one that I had the highest hopes for, the tuna sashimi served on a potato pancake with wasabi crème fraiche. Sounds awesome, right? Sort of like a variation on hanabi. Well, one of the main problems is that they don’t know what sashimi means. They give you a chunk of tuna as thick as a ream of paper. It should be much, much thinner, because as a result, it’s too chewy and overwhelms the dish.  The other big issue, is the crème fraiche comes off tasting a lot more like mayo. Maybe because they put too much on. And while they heavied up on the créme, they skimped on the wasabi. Could barely even taste it. Plus, they also put seaweed salad in between the concoction, which only made the dish soggier still.

Nothing “amazeballs” as a friend of mine would say. But a nice big menu that delivers in the area should you need it. That said, so does Five Points right around the corner, so I’d go there first.

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