When you’re asked where you want to go out to dinner for your birthday, how do you pick? Do you go for that fancy schmancy place you’ve been waiting for a special occasion to go to, or your favorite spot you know is going to be amazing, or the hot new restaurant you’ve been dying to try? It’s a tough call…I mean, you only get that choice once a year.
Well, when Danny’s birthday came around he didn’t even need to think twice (or once really) as he blurted out Kawa Ni within seconds of asking. See, years ago (before the blog) we spent his birthday at Chef Bill Taibe’s restaurant, LeFarm, and had an astounding meal that featured bacon in every dish. Danny knew going with Bill again along with his brother Jeff would be a sure bet at their new Izakaya pub with Pan-Asian influences. And (spoiler alert) it SOOOOO was!
Kawa Ni is located in a somewhat unsuspecting spot, tucked away in the corner of Bridge Square in Westport. It’s small but lively when you walk in, with the bar at the back left and a decent amount of seats throughout for such a cozy spot. The decor is tasteful…not that stereotypically tacky and kitchsy Japanese decor you might expect, but it definitely says modern Japanese food is served here. One random but awesome thing about the restaurant itself to mention in the blog post? Yeah, the bathrooms have the mega-toilet 3,000 or something like that with seat warmers, a bidet, dryer and more buttons that we were too scared to press. As we got comfy in our seats, we occasionally heard the bang of the gong and Bartender and Beverage Director, Jeff Marron, enthusiastically shout out something in Japanese. But more on that in a minute…
The drink menu is perfectly sized with something for everyone, yet not lots of pages to ruffle through. First, there are lots of Scotch, Whiskey, Bourbon, and Ryes on the menu with a handful of great beer options personally selected by Jeff. They have a few choice picks for white wine, red wine, and bubbles, some great sakes, and they have a nice variety of unique and creative cocktails because Jeff Marron is the man after all. Jeff explained that he tried to stay true to Japanese tradition with his cocktail menu, while adding in a few subtle twists. He also only uses ingredients that are in season staying true to the Taibe way like at LeFarm and The Whelk. Because of this, the menu changes regularly, but what you’ll always find are a good amount of Whiskey drinks. Speaking of…Kristien started with the Whiskey Chuhai which is made with bourbon, yuzu (that’s a Japanese citrus fruit), and bubbles. The yuzu added a nice sour/sweet flavor to the deep bourbon flavor, while the bubbles help to bring everything out even more. All around, this is a very well-balanced drink. Danny also tried the Heavy, featuring Scotch, Brryh, Averna, and Mole bitters with orange peel on top. The orange peel brought a beautiful aromatic scent which made the drink even more inviting. Again this drink was also well-balanced, though it was definitely stronger and richer thanks to the power of Scotch of course.
Ok ok, so we can’t talk about a Japanese-style pub without talking about the Sake bombs on the menu…all nine of them! This is where we get back to the gong and the outbursts of Japanese rally cries from Jeff. See, every time anyone in the restaurant orders a Sake bomb, they have to wait until Jeff “bangs a gong” before they can drop the shot and drink. Jeff says he tries to think of something different to say every time, but we’re going to go back 20 more times just to be sure. That’s what good food bloggers do, right? Now before you read all of this, remember, it was Danny’s birthday and he was totally entitled to three sake bombs. While that’s a lot, we think the legend so far is Matt Stanczak of Stanziato’s who diffused 6 bombs in one night. Alright, so here’s a little description of the bombs Danny tried….
Spicy Bomb: Thai chili, sake, beer. You get a bite from the hops in the Italian IPA, a gentle spice from the pepper, and just a real smooth bomb going down.
Nichiyobi Bomb: strata, kimchee, soy, shochu (distilled, not brewed like sake), and beer. This was a kick you in the ass kind of drink with a combination of spicy (more heat than Spicy Bomb), savory, and salty. Again, it was smooth going down, but definitely stayed around for a while afterwards.
Red Neck Bomb: bourbon, sake, fireball whiskey, beer. If you love cinnamon and fireball whiskey, this will definitely be your jam. But, if you’re not a huge fan of punch you in the face cinnamon flavor you best move onto a different sake bomb.
Now, onto the orgasmic (that’s right, we said it) food:
Hamachi: edamame, sesame, orange, hijiki. The fish was uber fresh, clean, and bright from the citrus. The Hijiki (which is basically a Japanese seaweed that looks like black little rice noddles) was actually great, giving the dish a nice contrast in texture and taste being so starchy and a bit briny. The little slices of carrot brought a nice, sweet crunch.
Scallops No Yaki: shoyu dashi, soybeans, corn, steamed egg. The scallops were perfectly cooked, just melting in your mouth with that great sear you love to see. The broth was briny, rich, having a good substance to it. The corn added the perfect sweetness and texture contrast while the egg added a nice fatty richness bringing the dish to another level. And to top it off, the sesame flavor added a toastiness to warm it all up.
Papas Bravas: Benton’s ham, uni mayo, pullet egg. This dish was a total surprise on the menu, having only been exposed to Papas Bravas in Spain. We also weren’t so sure about it because of the uni mayo since both of us have had bad Sea Urchin experiences, but, we figured if anyone could do it right, it would be Chef Bill Taibe who was at the helm that night. The ham was sliced thinly like prosciutto, bringing a nice smokey, salty flavor to the dish. The potatoes were hot, crispy, and seasoned perfectly just like you’d want ’em. The seaweed added an interesting brininess and surprisingly, the Uni mayo was quite tasty, adding an exciting creamy texture and umami to everything. And of course, the eggs brought a nice fattiness to the dish to finish it off. This was definitely a very creative dish that packed a lot of fun surprises.
Onigiri: these are basically rice balls that are popular in Japanese lunch boxes, of which we had two. First was the Pork & Kimchee. Oh man, the rice ball was fried up all crispy on the outside but ooey gooey omg moist on the inside. The kimchee had that fantastic cabbage texture and that beloved spicy and sour flavor, while the pork had that ground sausage type of texture and flavor that we love. This BLEW OUR MINDS. The next was the Hot Smoked Trout: another mind blowing dish! The dill was the perfect sharp and tangy contrast to the smokiness of the trout. Again, the outside of the rice was nice and crispy while the inside melted in your mouth. Apparently this is a favorite of many people, including our waitress and the nice group of four that sat next to us who have tried every single dish on the menu after multiple visits. We love them.
Don-Buri: with five options available, we went with Crab Fried Rice that came with Benton’s bacon and corn. You can order this dish in a 1/2 or full size…we opted for the former so we could eat more yumminess. The bacon was smoky, crunchy, and delicious as bacon should be, but unfortunately there was only one little piece. That being said, there was a nice mixture of textures and flavors with the crab, the sweet and crisp crunchy corn, the sharp scallions on top, and the fatty oozy egg. This dish was good, but probably the most “typical” (and therefore maybe expected) dish of the night…not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Men: Pork & Garlic with braised pork belly, soy egg, nori, and tonkatsu noodles. Mmmm, the pork belly melted in your mouth, the noodles were perfectly cooked, and the scallions added a nice crunch…all of which bathed in a delicious savory, slightly salty, slightly spicy, broth.
Banana Bavarian: caramelized milk gelato, cornflakes, cashew crunch with black pepper sprinkled on top. We weren’t going to order dessert, as always, but they were nice enough to treat us to it for Danny’s birthday, so who are we to say no. The banana “mousse” on the bottom was light and creamy, which played nicely off the rich taste of banana. The cashew crunch added a fantastic salty crunch, while the corn flakes added a nice starchy crunch. We thought to ourselves that this is like a bowl of cereal on steroids…which was a good thing. Super creative.
If you’ve hung in here this long to read every dish then you need to get your butts over to Kawa Ni STAT. It’s very rare that we go to a restaurant and like every dish we tried, but it happened here. With the perfect combo of traditional and modern, elevated by fresh, local food, and incredibly talented chefs and bartender, Kawa Ni rose up into our list of favorite restaurants. Service, also, was on point, helpful, and full of great recommendations. Wrapping up, we’re excited to see how the menu changes with the seasons..and if Jeff really says something different in Japanese every time he bangs that gong!
4.25 4.5 ( though after we visit a second time we’re sure that we’ll raise it to 4.5 . . . and yeah, we did, and yeah, it was even better the second time, wow!)
Address: 19A Bridge Square
Westport, CT 06880