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OKO-nomiyaki

Housed inside the charming vintage fire house in Westport, there is a culinary legend, Chef Brian Lewis’ newest venture, OKO.

OKO is an abbrevation of okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake that became a staple dish at Lewis’ first restaurant, The Cottage. Patrons had trouble pronouncing the word (which translates to “grilled as you like it”) so it was eventually shortened to oko. This dish, along with an extended trip across Japan inspired Lewis to open a Japanese inspired restaurant and the name OKO was a natural fit.

The standouts on the dinner menu include the Hudson Valley Foie Gras served with persimmons, pistachios, black sesame seeds, and pomegranate seeds, the pastramen, a play on words dish combining house-made pastrami with ramen noodles and mayu (black garlic oil), and Okonomiyaki served with pork belly, but I recommend ordering heavily off the sushi card menu, or if you’re looking for a fully comprehensive experience, opt for omakase.

Omakase, or, “respectfully leaving another to decide what is best” is a 15-course tasting menu curated nightly. The meal is a very reasonable $95 per guest with an optional $45 sake and wine pairing add-on considering prices for this type of service can go well beyond $300 per person. There are only eight seats up for grabs each evening (four at the Chef’s counter and another four The Chef’s Table), so to make sure you reserve them early. Also, don’t come hungry, arrive famished.

Though I had skipped lunch earlier that day in anticipation, the sheer amount of courses coupled with a hefty helping of rice beneath the Edomae sushi was more than enough to take me through breakfast the next day.

Each dish was impeccably prepared in the French style of “lineman” cooking versus one sole sushi chef. The reason being that Chef Lewis was trained in this style and it is far more efficient.

The presentation of the dishes was truly beautiful and at times, even stunning. I was not disappointed by a single dish, and a few of my favorites of the night were chawanmushi, a delightful and velvety warm egg and dashi custard topped with shrimp and smoked trout roe, sea urchin with yuzu fennel purée and caviar, Japanese chutoro with yuzo miso, and tamago, a slightly sweet and savory omelet. Every item was incredibly fresh and bold enough to entice your palate without being overbearing.

Though the tasting menu is an ideal way to experience OKO, the restaurant has begun serving lunch on weekdays (Wednesday – Friday) and offers kid-friendly bento boxes if you want to bring the family along as well.

Overall, I’m thrilled to see this type of restaurant come to Fairfield County, where often California rolls reign supreme along with some questionable decor. Chef Lewis does an excellent job of honoring Japanese cuisine, but not restricting himself to only traditional methods and ingredients. The end result is a perfect balance of flavors and textures.

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