This article was written as a preview for Oko, who is now serving customers via curbside pickup. For more Westchester restaurants serving takeout, click here.
Indeed, Brian Lewis’ 52-seat Oko is a Japanese restaurant, but one has to think beyond the predictable trope of seaweed salad, teriyaki, udon, and karaage. There’s tempura shiso leaves served with whipped tofu and smoked trout roe; uni (sea urchin) on milk bread with goat’s butter; ramen egg with pickled onion and pork belly; grilled shishito peppers with chickpea miso and guanciale; and duck and foie gras gyoza. The signature okonomiyaki, from whence the restaurant’s name is derived, is a savory pancake made with pork belly, sunny-side-up egg, mayo, nori, scallion, and katsuobushi (fermented, smoked tuna).
A culinary pacesetter no doubt, doing a take on Japanese cuisine while respecting its origin, what else would you expect from Lewis, a chef with two well-reviewed restaurants (The Cottage and the original Oko, both in Westport) under his belt and a semifinalist showing for the 2018 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast.
“I’m most comfortable with Italian, French, and American,” says Lewis, who lives in Wilton and grew up in Somers. “Japanese is a new instrument for me that I’m studying.”
To that end, Lewis spent three weeks in Japan, working 16-hour days at Suginoi Honami in Kanazawa and Tsukiji Tamura in Tokyo that included early-morning sojourns to the famed Tsukiji Fish Market, among others. He credits his friend, James Beard Award-winning chef Nobuo Fukuda, of Nobuo at Teeter House in Phoenix, for sparking his interest in Japanese cuisine.
Lewis has immense respect for ingredient integrity and goes to great lengths to do as much in-house as possible, including miso, fermented rice, kimchi, soy infusions, garam (fish sauce), and red-chili-pepper hot sauce (aka sriracha).
The beverage program proffers Japanese gin and whiskey, 27 wines by the bottle (12 by the glass), most of the lighter-body, high-acid variety, plus a 14-sake list (that’ll grow), including Brooklyn Kura on tap.
And while Lewis didn’t want to open “just another sushi joint,” there is a selection of stunningly presented nigiri on the menu. Plating for all the dishes in fact, is done at a high level. “Beautiful, confident, understated” is how Lewis describes his presentation style. “I want to speak to [the] natural beauty of food. I’d rather remove something than add,” he explains.
Dessert is house-made, soft-serve ice cream, with Japanese-inspired toppings, like candied ginger, matcha, and black-sesame togarashi.
“Japanese cuisine is gentle and nuanced,” Lewis continues. “It’s exciting to work on this canvas.”