First Look: OKO Opens in Rye

James Beard nominated Brian Lewis debuts his Japanese-inspired menu of hand rolls, okonomiyaki, ramen eggs, and more.

If you follow the food scene in neighboring Fairfield County, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Brian Lewis. The former James Beard nominee for Best Chef Northeast — and owner of The Cottage and OKO in Westport — has just opened his second OKO location in Downtown Rye in the former Rosemary & Vine space.

The menu is Japanese, yet it does deviate from being strictly that. Expect eye-popping presentations and dishes that are chef-driven spins on classic Japanese fare.

For Lewis, opening in Rye was a no-brainer. “I’m from Somers and a lot of my family lives in Rye, so for me it’s a nice homecoming,” he says. “I couldn’t find a better community, where I already know some people, for a second location than here.” Here’s a look at what’s happening.

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At OKO, it’s only proper to start with where that name came from. Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake that can be topped with just about anything (“okonomi” roughly translates to “how you like”). Lewis’ version includes pork belly, runny egg, nori, scallion, and katsuobushi.

The menu at OKO lends itself to ordering a bunch dishes and sharing. Hand rolls, dumplings, tempura, sticky ribs, uni shots with caviar, and deviled ramen eggs that deliver a punch of umami will have you and your group fighting over who gets any remaining dibs.

The Rye menu will ultimately have its own identity. “We want all the favorites from Westport to be there, but a good portion of [Rye’s] menu will have its own offerings,” says Lewis. So far, new items include madeira-miso-glazed black cod, sesame-chili ribeye, and chef de cuisine Christian Wilki’s steamed striped bass with shitake mushrooms, scallion, hot sesame ponzu, and chili oil that’s equal parts sweet and sour with a hint of heat.

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While the dining room is small and intimate (true to the OKO brand), there’s a second kitchen downstairs that allows the staff to get creative. “The bigger kitchen lends to fermenting kimchi and miso, making our own soy sauce, and having a pastry program,” Lewis says. “We’re going to use it as a food lab.”

To drink, OKO does have wine and a few local and Japanese-brand beers, but the focus is on sake (some of which is on tap), Japanese whiskey, and cocktails with an infusion of Asian flavors, such as the Loosey Goosey with añejo rum, tequila, citrus, and muddled gooseberries.

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And for dessert? Soft serve. Seriously. Get it in a cone or a cup with out-of-the-ordinary toppings. Chocolate seaweed, matcha Kit Kat, and yuzu marshmallows coated in white chocolate are just a sampling of your choices.

29 Purchase St

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