Too 'Koo' for Words?
Having said this, I felt a little smug as my family and I walked into Koo in downtown Ridgefield. For I know the history of the place - it used to be the home for Bully's Tavern, a family owned burger joint and bar which had been around as long as I can remember (at least 10 years). When the town of Ridgefield decided to raise rents to three times over the previous year, the humble pub couldn't manage, and out it went. Which, in turn, provided the perfect opportunity for a New York restranteur to snatch up a cozy corner in the Westchester/Fairfield corridor, where the normal City clientele lives, vacations, and spends the remaining 20% of its time (not to mention money). The homey, almost mid-western feel of Bully's tavern gave way for the Asian-modern-fusion stylings of Koo.
You may think, to this point, that I wasn't too impressed with Koo. It's not that. The food was amazing - some of the absolute best sashimi I've had, bar none. However, the execution, in my mind, was hit and miss. When you enter the restaurant, you're met by the maitre'd and a couple of waitresses, standing at the typical restaurant podium, in front of the bar. They are wearing black - pants and button down shirts on the men, and something similar on the women - and they are clean cut, which is pleasant. The room is open, with light-colored wood floors, asian-style twigs in modern vases, and neon colored lighting lines the bar and the floor in a nod to 70s/80s clubbiness. If you are sitting in a large party, likelihood is that they will take you back into the second room, which is lit dimly and swathed with gold-sheer fabric. It was so dim, in fact, that taking pictures was impossible, so I unfortunately will not be able to tantilize your appetite with CameraMan's artistic vision. That said, it may have been the saving grace needed to pull off the decor. The ceiling swathes, to me, looked fine, but the sheer coverings over the entrance to the kitchen and the glass-ware room looked cheap; like something someone might have gotten from Michael's and put up with a staple gun.
The tables were large and round, with a 'C' shaped booth in the back and three or four chairs in front allowing our party of 6 to sit comfortably. Plywood chopsticks in cheap, paper wrappers sat in front of our plates, propped up by black faux-river rock chopstick holders and bearing the 'koo' logo on the wrap. We were in a back corner, which should have been nice and quiet compared to the open room, but the swathes weren't functioning as the sound-dampeners they were intended to be, so there was a strange echo caused by the bose sound system as brightness bounced off the wood floors and panels. A waitress brought us leather menus and took our drink orders - there was a decent selection of beers, wines, and sakes, however I wasn't drinking and simply ordered a seltzer and a hot tea. The drinks came quickly, however the hot tea was served, tea bag still floating in my cup. These are the sorts of touches you do not expect to have to find in an upscale fusion restaurant, and honestly, they were offsetting.
However, that's where the misses end and the 'hits' started rolling. We purused our menus, long lists of hot and cold appetizers tempting our interests.
Our group ended up ordering two orders of the Calamari Martini, an order of the Toro Tartar with Oesetra Caviar, a Toro Negi roll, and the Mission 05. The Calamari Martini - a lightly battered squid spritzed with a light chili oil, served in a martini glass with a banana leaf to wick moisture, and flanked by two double-shot glasses, each containing a dipping sauce - was lovely, although a bit greasy for my tastes. The portion size was perfect, the exterior was crisp, and the sweet dipping sauce was like a typical sweet and sour, but more nuanced, with subtle chili flavors. The Toro Tartar was decadent, served in a mountain of ice with a golden caviar spoon, the toro tuna so soft and melt-in-our mouthes perfect that it was almost as though it suggested a fresh seaside breeze rather than leaving us feeling as though we'd actually eaten. The Toro Negi roll was good, but to me, it seemed a waste when so many other magnificent options were available. However, my brother loves rolls and he seemed very pleased with his choice. The far and away winner, however, in my book, was the Mission 05 - layers of spicy tuna, fluke, and domestic caviar, shaped like a flower and topped with a raw quail egg. The caviar burst in my mouth with little salty pops, perfectly complimenting the smooth tuna, the slight chewiness of the fluke, and the creamy quail egg. I absolutely recommend trying this if you visit.
After our first course was cleared away, our main meal was brought quickly. Four of us ordered the omakase sashimi platter, which includes roughly 25 pieces of sashimi of the chef's choosing, while one ordered the omakase sushi platter, about 10-12 pieces of sushi, and one the broiled black cod in saikyo miso sauce. The clear winner was the sashimi, which came served in a white, ocean-wave style serving bowl, filled with a mountain of ice, topped with cellophane noodles, and clean, beautiful, bright pieces of fish fanned over the entire thing like jewels being presented to a queen. My dish came with an orchid and some japanese twigs (looking rather like rosemary decoration) while the men's dishes came with bamboo leaves and twigs. Although the sashimi changes based on the quality of the fish each day (the chef chooses what he thinks will be the best each night), we were treated to a fantastic mix: a botan ebi (sweet shrimp), which is my absolute favorite variety of sashimi, toro (tuna belly), shuro maguro (albacore), kanpachi (amberjack), sake (fresh salmon), hirame (fluke), hamachi (yellow tail) and tako (octopus). Each cut was perfect, creating a smooth mouthfeel that complimented the freshness of the seafood and the bright color amazingly well. The sweet shrimp and fluke was rolled in flying fish roe as contrasting texture, which was surprising but excellent. The albacore tuna was almost like eating fois gras, it was so rich and velvety. And everything tasted light - no strange fishiness or odor offset the experience. At $30/plate, it was an incredible deal.
The sushi was beautiful, and many of the same fish were provided, although it didn't come with sweet shrimp, but instead saba (mackerel) and ebi (shrimp). The rice was slightly sweet, and held together even under our blundering chopsticks. The presentation was more sparse, to the point where someone joked that the individual who'd ordered sushi had been had, but all told he was in a state of bliss from start to finish.
Finally, the broiled cod lived up to its reputation. The portion was small - had my mother not had an appetizer, she likely would have been hungry after finish - but the flavors were delicate, well-balanced, and savory. A slight smokiness was present setting off the lovely umami flavors of the miso, and the presentation, served with a spoon of mashed potatoes alongside the filet of fiash and a sprinkling of delicate purples orchids gracing the plate, was another perfect balance of aesthetic and food.
We had no room for dessert, so instead paid the check (~$340 + tip for a party of 6... not bad for the area and amazing for the quality of the food) and left with full tummies and happy faces. Should you go? Well, if you're put off by the little things - strange service, poor decor, cheap accent pieces or a loud dining experience that precludes you from hearing anyone but your immediate neighbor, then no. Order take-out, which is sure to be stellar, and enjoy your sushi with a bottle of your own wine, a pair of real chopsticks, and in the quiet of your own home. However, if you are in it purely for quality food, gorgeous presentation, and freshness unparalleled in Fairfield county, venture forth! And do not miss the sweet shrimp.
Where: Koo, 470 Main Street, Ridgefield, CT 06877
Hours: 7 days, M-Th: 11:45am - 2:45pm, 5:00pm - 10:00pm;
Friday & Saturday: 11:45am - 2:45pm; 5:00pm - 11:00pm;
Sunday: 5:00pm - 10:00pm;
What: Neo-Japanese fusion cooking, with an emphasis on seafood
Reservations?: Recommended; 203.431.8838
Dress Code: Smart-casual
Must-Tries: Mission 05 appetizer, botan ebi sashimi, shiro maguro sashimi