If you’ve got your finger on the pulse of the Fairfield County food scene, there’s a good chance you’re jonesing to eat at OKO, set to open on April 19 in Downtown Westport. OKO is brought to you by Chef Brian Lewis—fresh off a James Beard semifinalist nomination—a name Westporters are familiar with from his over two-year-old flagship restaurant, and critically acclaimed, The Cottage. At OKO, Lewis is changing things up, as he plans to showcase his passion for Japanese ingredients and cooking techniques.
The idea and name for his new venture was derived, not only from his love of Japanese culture and cuisine, but from a staple dish at The Cottage called Okonomiyaki. It’s a savory pancake made from a variety of seasonal ingredients and served with meat (I’ve had it at The Cottage with pork belly; at OKO it’s with fried chicken). Okonomiyaki proved to be a difficult pronunciation for most, so it was given the nickname “oko.” As a tribute to the dish that seemingly started it all, and after the name was met with approval by his twin boys, OKO was born.
A week before OKO’s opening, media and the staff’s friends and family were invited to a preview of the menu. It’s safe to say that many of us had no idea what to expect, but it was a pleasant surprise. Here are five takeaways to get you set to dine at OKO!
1. OKO is not 100% authentic Japanese, nor is it trying to be. “Japanese-inspired” is a more accurate description of what OKO’s menu is all about. Hand-cut soba, Yakitori chicken, gyoza, tempura veggies, miso soup, sticky ribs, Koshihikari rice. All of that sounds so Japanese! It is, and it isn’t. Most of those traditional dishes have Lewis’ own spin on them. The rice dish includes fried chicken skin, the ribs are glazed with gochujang and smoked maple syrup, the gyoza (or dumplings, if you prefer) are stuffed with duck and foie gras, and the battered veggies include chili broccoli, curry cauliflower, and fiddlehead ferns.
2. Calm down. They do have sushi and sashimi! If you’re a sushi nerd, there’s plenty to dive into here. Your best bet if you’re not picky is to order the Omakase, a chef’s choice of nigiri or sashimi. A five piece goes for $38, a 10 piece will run you $58. If not, some of your choices by the piece are Yellowtail with scallion aioli and gomashio (sesame seeds and salt spice blend), sweet shrimp with brown butter nikiri (sweet soy sauce) and togarashi, and salmon roe & quail egg with dashi ponzu and chives.
3. Ramen deviled eggs > plain old deviled eggs. You’ll notice that a chunk of the menu is represented by snackable bites. Each one brings mad flavor. The deviled egg at OKO is a soft-boiled ramen egg that’s marinated in soy and mirin, then gets devilishly upgraded with Japanese mayo and crispy pork belly. All of it together packs an umami punch that hits you at first bite. Aside from the egg that wowed nearly everyone, the spinach salad (hot chili oil, gomashio, box-cut katsuobushi) and the Maine uni shots with Ossetra caviar and yuzu both went over well.
4. Japanese drinks are well represented. The opening day drink menu will feature seven types of sake and nine cocktails (most use Japanese spirits, especially whisky). Of the five beers OKO will have, two are Japanese icons Sapporo and Asahi Super Dry, a rice lager. There are also 11 non-Japanese wines and plenty of very Japanese tea to drink.
5. AHHHHHH!!! SOFT SERVE!!! Homemade soft serve should make everyone happy! Vanilla or chocolate happiness comes in a sundae cup and you can top it with creative add-ons like white chocolate-matcha, black sesame-togarashi brittle, blueberry-ginger jam, and a bunch more. But why get a cup when you can get it in one of those trendy fish cones that people go crazy for?
We know you’re excited, but OKO may prove to be a tough reservation to get, at least in its infancy stage. For now, we’d recommend paying attention on OpenTable for an appropriate time slot, or you could snatch up one of the few early bird times or late night ressies that are still available…but that won’t be until the first week or two in May. If you’re not down with that, show up early and try to snag a seat at the bar. Getting in may prove to be mission impossible for now but it’ll be worth the wait.
6 Wilton Road; Westport