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.

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The Ultimate Cocktail

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Maysville – New York, NY

Being that I’m a heat-seeker it should come as no surprise that I even like my drinks spicy. And what makes the alchemy of the Bourbon Bonnet such a triumph isn’t just the spice. It’s the refreshing contrast of elements, like the sweetness of the pineapple juice against the jalapeno infused bourbon. And while the spiciness is worth a warning for some, the bigger caution is that they are WAY too easy to drink. So much so that you’ll easily be three or four in before you even realize you left your underwear in the bathroom.

Minetta Tavern – New York, NY

While you’re sitting there stuck at the bar waiting for a table, do yourself a solid and turn lemons into a warm and fuzzy buzzy. Three sheets to the wind later you’ll care less about the fact that you just waited two hours for a burger. The drink is comprised of Tito’s Vodka, cucumber, agave nectar, rhubarb bitters, lime and something that apparently makes you fall in love with the notion of ordering a second round of Rhubarb Sophies.

The Rickhouse – San Francisco, CA

There’s something about this place that just makes you want to drink whiskey. And there’s something about the La Bonne Vie that makes you lose track of that whiskey. I would imagine the smooth bourbon is partly to blame. And the refreshing lemon and grapefruit juice doesn’t hurt either. Keeping it far from sweet. As does the fresh basil, which brightens the whole thing up. And bitters to bring an old school complexity and depth to the whole thing.

Balaboosta – New York, NY

There is a lot right about Balaboosta, but none righter than the thirst-quenching, buzz-inducing Hana. Made with Fifty Pounds Gin, triple sec, lime and arak, it’s a crazy mash up of cultures in a high ball. But apart from just being a kickass cocktail, the Hana pairs so unbelievably well with the food due to the arak.

Brushstroke – New York, NY

Apparently the Japanese Cucumber with Almond has been on New York Magazine’s top ten cocktail list 2 years running. I know this because our rather braggadocios waiter informed us of such. But as cocky as he was, he was also well within his right, because it really is quite something. Made with gin, lime, cucumber (obviously), and coarse ground roasted almonds used to dust the rim as a variation on the sugar and salt that you normally come across on most other cocktails.

Mata Chica – Ambergris Caye, BZ

It’s been a while since I was there, but that’s how enduring my love is for the rum punch at Mata Chica (of Temptation Island fame). Made by a charismatic young man named Winston, the balance of sweetness to refreshing to inebriating was dangerously perfect. Luckily you are in the middle of nowhere, with not a car in sight for miles, so drinking and driving isn’t even an option. Drinking and drowning, however…

ABC Cocina – New York, NY

You could give Tom Cruise a week and unlimited tosses and twirls with bottles and cocktail shakers, but I sincerely doubt he could ever make a cocktail as staggeringly good as the blood orange margarita at ABC. Not that there’s too much more to describe as the name of the drink itself is rather self explanatory, that said, the euphoric sensation you get when it hits your lips is beyond explanation.

Truck – Bedford, NY

I find it hard to go with just one drink here because the Power Wagon margarita is more than just a drink, it’s a franchise. A brand unto itself, spinning out seasonal versions like a game on the App Store. For example, here are some of the “updates:” grapefruit, blood orange, cranberry, pumpkin, jalapeno and of course the formidable classic. And everyone one of them is awesome. And everyone one of them is as strong as all get out, so go easy or go with a designated driver.

Burger & Barrel – New York, NY

Most Bloody Mary purists are about to scoff, so I’ll wait while you preemptively get those scoffs out of the way…. Done? Good. So, while I do indeed love the classic and have had my fair share of some delicious ones, this inventive twist on the tried and true had me at jalapenos. Made with tequila instead of vodka, the Bloody Maria puts the Mary through a Mexican lens and out comes a hybrid that could give the Prius a run for its money.

Maysville

17 W 26th St. New York, NY 10010(646) 490-8240maysvillenyc.com

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I would say it’s the best kept secret in the Flatiron, but considering it’s always full , I guess it’s not that much of a secret. Granted no one I work with has even heard of the place. Well, that changed as soon as I returned from lunch as I ran through the office like a culinary Paul Revere, shouting the news to the world, “Maysville Rocks!”

First, the Bourbon Bonnet– a cocktail made from habanero infused bourbon, pineapple, cherry and something else that I was too buzzed to remember. Maybe cucumber, as it was actually light and refreshing, while also being spicy at the same time. Incredible drink. Too incredible.

Did I say incredible, perhaps I should’ve reserved that for the two starters. Both were… um… (I hate this word, but since incredible is already taken) AMAZEBALLS! I highly recommend the crunchy grits. Flash fried into cubes to create a crunchy outer shell, as the name implies, while remaining deliciously moist and cheesy inside. This is then topped with country ham, and the whole thing sits atop a drizzle of bourbon aioli. Very healthy. But so good even your arteries will agree. Oh, and if you are starting to wonder what’s with all the bourbon, whiskey is kinda the theme here. But don’t think that means it looks like a pub or anything. The décor is actually quite nice. Modern meets rustic.

Okay, back to the food. The other starter is the roasted oysters. Not quite as decadent as the grits, but equally strong in its own right. And also packing heat.

Next came the sandwiches which we split. One was the fish, the other a pulled pork sandwich. Both were very, very good. Maybe half a notch below the awesome apps. And the only pulled pork sandwich I like better would be at The Dutch.

So, after such a crazy good run, I had to push it. I had to see if they could pull off the trifecta, so we ordered dessert. A bourbon (shocker) soaked bread pudding. It came highly recommended by our server as the way to end the meal- granted the lemon bar also sounded pretty great, but we went on trust. Now, it wasn’t bad mind you, it was good. But good is a failure compared to everything that proceeded it, so unfortunately I can’t go a full five knives.

Also, the service was a tad on the slow side, I have to say. But when all was said and done, I think this place earns every last one of its four stars in spades. Especially when there are so many other bloated 4 star restaurants on Yelp that shouldn’t be over 2 stars. Thank you Maysville for being the real deal. Can’t wait to return.

***Okay, so I returned for dinner with Wifey and I stand by my word and my knives. I also stand by three other amazing dishes. First, the charred flatbread with a fried egg on top, pickled red onion, mesclun, pork belly and of course, cheese. So good. Another was the soft shell crab served over a bed of black-eyed peas in a vinegar sauce that lighted the dish up and made it one of the best soft shell crab dishes I’ve ever had. And last but not least, the strawberry shortcake with basil ice cream for dessert. Light, refreshing and the use of basil is just a stoke of simple genius.

On the miss side of things, the ramp and asparagus pasta was just okay. A bit too precious with its faint hint of lemon. And the other dish that I can shout from the rooftops about would be the beef tartar with quail egg. It’s good. But just two blocks away resides the best beef tartar the world has ever known at Manzo in Eataly, so it was hard for me not to compare.

Also, one last thing I forgot to mention the last time, the cornbread is always money. Moist and rich with the flavor of actual corn, as opposed to so many other cornbreads that slink by using crutches like jalapenos and cheese.

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