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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Blanca

261 Moore St. Brooklyn, NY 11206(347) 799-2807blancanyc.com

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Had I never been to Momofuku Ko prior to my visit to Blanca, I’d probably be swooning even more than I’m about to, but unfortunately the concept does come off a bit as a copy cat (without the affordability hook). A high-end, chef’s tasting only offered to a dozen stools overlooking the kitchen amidst a purposefully pompless dining room.

What’s different is that it’s Italian and if you’ve ever been to Roberta’s for pizza, than you’re probably already drooling, because you kinda know what this chef is capable of. Then again, you also kinda don’t, because Carlo Mirachi is about to open a can of culinary whoop-ass on you that you’d likely never come to expect from a pie slinger, slinging around Ultimates instead, as if they were going out of style.

To get here, there are few things you need to know. First, make a reservation fast, because as I mentioned above, there aren’t many seats and there are only two seatings a night. Second, be willing to eat when you normally wouldn’t. The first seating is at 6pm and the second is at 8:30pm. I recommend the earlier one so you have time to digest. I also recommend booking during Passover when you weed out about half of the competition to get a table. Third, be prepared to drop some coin, because you HAVE to get the “wine” pairings. I use quotes because many of the pairings are not actually wine (more on that later). And finally, to get to the dining room itself, you must first check in at the front desk in Roberta’s, where they will then escort you to the back corner of the ever-expanding Roberta’s compound, to a nondescript building set apart from the rest of the hullaballoo.

Kicking things off, they get you in the mood with a pallet-cleansing sip of Evil Twin “Blanca Biere de Table” yes, beer of all things. But nice touch on the “blanca.” Well played.

First on the food docket comes a little taste of glass shrimp with sprinkling of kohlrabi and black sesame, paired with a crisp Hugues Godme Extra Brut Champagne. It’s a nice, light start to set the mood, artfully balanced and just understated enough to give them something to build to.

Unfortunately, the second course kinda dropped the baton. A house-cured pancetta that was as white as ghost, both looking and tasting like a pure ribbon of fat. It was easily the worst course of the night and so off-putting that I honestly recommend skipping it entirely and saving more room for the brilliance to come.

And Johnny come quickly, with an early Ultimate, served in the form of a cold soup, made with garbanzo beans and autumn olives, which that alone is impressive, because let’s be honest, it’s not like garbanzo beans are a treasure trove of flavor, so to get that much pizzazz out of it is easily worthy of a golf clap.

Chasing that was a bit of a wasted bullet with a ginger-soaked apple and macadamia shavings. Nothing to write home about, and not much to blog about either. And sadly, neither were the next two courses, the sweet potato with buttermilk and the peas with ramps. All paired with a Rose and not a one worth remembering.

But just when my faith was failing, BOOM another Ultimate. The lamb carbonara is balls out jaw dropping. Sporting a healthy, peppery kick this carbonara kicks some serious ass. And adding to the ass-kickage is the pairing with a vermouth from Hammer & Tongs that is so inventive that it is only bested by its complementary perfection with the pasta.

Then, right on the heels of such pasta brilliance, they do it again with an agnolotti filled with a smoky lapsang souchong (Chinese tea). And while I would love to wax poetic about it, the next pasta course managed to blow them all away. A spicy blood orange nduja (pork sausage) ravioli that is so fucking good that it will make you angry that they only give you one of them. But perhaps the most shockingly amazing thing about this pasta is that the pairing deserves an Ultimate unto itself. A stout beer with the most badass name in history, Siberian Black Magic Panther Imperial Stout. I don’t even know what it means, but what I do know it that it goes hella good with spicy blood orange nduja ravioli.

Sadly the rollercoaster returned, however, as the stracciatella with beef lardo and the king crab with bottarga brought me back to Earth. But barely did my feet even touch the ground before being swept into the stratosphere once again by the “bread and butter,” also known as pizza crust and homemade salted butter. I know it sounds so simple that it teeters on lame, but if lame tastes this friggin’ good, then sign me up for a lame-a-palooza.

Back to blah was the loin of wagyu beef and the pork with grapefruit, proving out a theme, if you ask me, that the meat dishes, across the board, proved to be the biggest misses of the night.

Fortunately the hits were so strong that it made up for it in spades, coming in every shape and form, including even a palate cleanser, such as the pineapple, cilantro sorbet.

Then, capping the night, we were met with a finale of desserts set to the theme of a late harvest Riesling from the Finger Lakes in New York. The first of the lot being sourdough gelato with yuzu crème. So inventive. So good. You really have to try it to understand.

After that, the sunchoke with cardamom, the cashew coconut cake and the chocolate peanut butter cookie were much more in the mortal realm, but after such heights I think it was probably prudent to ease you back into the real world.

4 teeth

Redfarm

529 Hudson St. New York, NY 10014(212) 792-9700redfarmnyc.com

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I think there should be a law mandating that places take reservations. I mean how absurd is it that by 6:30 pm you could already have a 90-minute wait? Oh sorry, that was Spotted Pig around the corner, which we gave up on and walked right in to Redfarm, who also doesn’t take reservations mind you, but at 6:30 pm it’s nowhere near as bad as The Pig. By 7:30, however, you’re fucked, so still try to get there early if you hate waiting, which you will if you try to do it at their minuscule bar that’s smaller than most powder rooms.

As for the dining room itself, it’s also pretty small, yet they manage to pack a lot of farm-like fun into it, with wooded beams and pipes overhead adorned with hangers carrying everything from chopsticks to plants to menu highlights. And while there are a few smaller, more intimate tables along the sides, most of the seating is taken up by large communal tables in the middle, so not the best place to discuss your brilliant start-up idea that’s gonna make millions.

Fighting the vibe of the décor, unfortunately, is the very rigid staff, who demands you order everything at once, which zags greatly from the dim sum norm. And my other big gripe with service is that there is zero thought put into the chronology and flow of your meal. Meaning, they bring you the dishes without any semblance of rhyme or reason. Some starters came after dim sum. Some of the dim sum came after our entrée. Heavy dishes came before lighter ones. And it definitely effects how you enjoy each dish.

So to help you forget about such annoying things, I recommend one of two cocktails, either the Le Club Hot with jalapeno infused tequila, smoked sea salt and cucumber- It’s spicy, smoky and goody. Or the refreshing Shiso Cucumber, which is a bit more typical with the whole gin and cucumber combo that you now find at every restaurant under the sun except McDonald’s, although it’s probably coming soon considering Taco Bell just started serving booze. Granted they do zazz it up a bit with shiso leaves, agave and lemon. The one drink to avoid, however, is the Bee’s Teas. It ain’t the knees. It’s disgusting. Made with chamomile infused bourbon, fig and basil. And while it may sound pretty good to you, it tastes like one of those herbal tonics you get from your acupuncturist, which are more painful to drink than falling off of the table and landing needle-side down.

Among the edible winners of the night, the best thing we had was a starter that actually came fourth, and should’ve been first or second, the kumamoto oysters with yuzu and meyer lemon ice. They were phenomenal! I could’ve downed a dozen of those without batting an eye.

My second favorite thing of the night might’ve been an Ultimate the more I reflect on it. The crab and eggplant bruschetta was just awesome. A twist on the typically boring crab toast, this one is served slightly warm and very complex with its nuanced blend of flavors and textures coming from things like kohlrabi slaw.

The waiter’s resounding recommendation, however, was the weakest dish we had, the spicy crispy beef (pictured). A total miss for me. And while it checked two out of three boxes, spicy and crispy, it left out the all-too-important third box, beefy! I felt like the little old lady from the Wendy’s commercials long ago. Where’s the beef? Because all I tasted were fried clusters of batter in Szechuan sauce. Tisk! Tisk!

Another dish I loved was the egg roll stuffed with Katz’s Deli pastrami, served with a spicy Asian mustard. Granted it’s probably the inner Jew in me talking, but oy was it good!

One of the most interesting dishes was the shitake, corn, jicama and roasted red pepper dumplings served with a chive shooter that when used as a chaser made each and every bite explode with contrast, not only of texture and flavor, but even temperature.

For our entrée, Wifey and I split the sautéed lobster, egg and chopped pork, which is easily enough for two people, and that’s about the only thing easy about it. Eating it is not. It’s messy as all hell and there are droves of chipped shell pieces in almost every bite, make it a bit hard to enjoy without looking like a Neanderthal. That said, the favors in the dish are very good, especially when you combine the egg, pork and lobster all in one bite, which is also easier said than done.

Come dessert we decided to lighten things up a bit (while also still getting dessert, because I’m a very weak man), opting for the key lime pie with key lime sorbet, which is good, but not great. The pie itself is a little too sweet for a key lime, so lucky for them, the sorbet is tart and refreshing enough to balance things out. The key (get it?) is to combine both so that it tastes like a key lime pie actually should. Or, if that’s too much work for you, then I recommend heading to The Dutch in Soho, instead, for what I would say is the epitome of Key lime pie perfection.

3 teeth

Son of a Gun

8370 W 3rd St. Los Angeles, CA 90048 • (323) 782-9033 • sonofagunrestaurant.com

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Being the sister restaurant to Animal, my favorite place to eat in LA, Son of a Gun had a lot to live up to. And considering I dragged four coworkers there with me to try it, my neck was on the line. Well, I am happy to report that my neck is doing very nicely, thank you. In fact, one might go so far as to say my neck was lauded upon for such a recommendation.

Walking in, the place is nothing like its starker, minimalist sibling. Son of a Gun is enjoys a fisherman’s haute décor with all sorts of nautical paraphernalia hanging on the walls, including deer antlers?

As a result, it is very casual and down to earth. The food, however, is out of this world. We must’ve ordered a dozen dishes and not one of them was bad. Only two were just okay. And everything else fell somewhere between great and excellent.

Among the long list of winners was a salmon crudo with jerk spice, kiwi and habanero. Sounds spicier than it is. And one of the most flavorful raw seafood dishes I’ve ever devoured. Another huge hit was the soft shell crab tempura with pork belly and cinnamon. It was cinnaful.

The octopus salad with fennel, chickpeas radishes and chili was another star(fish). Much spicier than it let on by the looks of it, appearing more like an innocent salad. But one bite and complexity popped you one right in the kisser. As Jimmy Walker would say, it was “dynomite!”

From the crustacean food group, we went with Dungeness crab served in little rolls drizzled with apple yuzu and each garnished with an beautiful, edible purple flower. They were so creamy, yet bright, you would swear they crossbred the crabs with dairy cows. Such a simple, wonderful display of balance and proportion.

Even the chicken sandwich (pictured) was awesome, which was a tad out of place on the menu, assumingly there for those who don’t dig on fish. But this bird is no afterthought. Might be the best chicken sandwich I’ve ever had. Tough to share though, but we somehow managed to power through it.

Other solid, but slightly more mortal dishes were the two-bite lobster rolls and the skate wing. Both are very good, but you’re probably getting adjective fatigue at this point, so I’ll try save the gushiness for where the gushiness is due.

The only true miss of the night was the only waitress reco, the smoked mahi. And the only eh of the night (I’ll take the blame as I did all of the ordering) was the shishito peppers. They were good, just nothing special.

And finally, dessert. On this SOG went an impressive 3 for 3. The deconstructed key lime was light and refreshing. The banana bread was superb. But the closer was the raspberry and peach pie with crème anglaise – stomach pumping good.

This is one fish tale that lives up to the legend.

5 teeth