With a highly successful Connecticut restaurant and 2018 semi-final honors for the James Beard Awards’ Best Chef: Northeast, many wanted to know what chef Brian Lewis would do for an encore?
Raised in Westchester, New York, Brian Lewis discovered his love for cooking at a very early age. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America with honors and went on to earn his Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Johnson and Wales University. Early experiences working under the guidance of legendary chefs like Jean Louis Palladin and Marco Pierre White strongly shaped Lewis’ culinary style to what it is today.
The Japanese inspired restaurant, is located in the historic Vigilant Hose Company Firehouse at 6 Wilton Road, showcases Lewis’ innovative take on traditional Japanese cuisine and sushi.
“My team and I are delighted to bring OKO to the community, combining my love for Japanese cooking techniques and culture with fresh, local ingredients from Connecticut, the U.S. and the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo,” said Lewis.
The inspiration for the new eatery came from his success at The Cottage. “When we offered our first true Japanese-inspired dish at The Cottage – the okonomiyaki – it was met with rave reviews from our guests, and truly set into motion this real passion of mine to pursue Japanese cuisine for our next restaurant.
The menu at OKO features several styles of Japanese-influenced cuisine, including Sushi Nigiri, Sashimi and Temaki (hand rolls), as well as vegetable tempura, seasonally inspired salads and vegetable dishes, okonomiyaki, homemade tofu, hand-cut soba and ramen specialties and meat dishes from the tepinyaki grill. A traditional Omakase menu is also available, offering a spontaneous, multi-course menu of the chef’s choosing, as well as a “Chef’s Selection” offering of Nigiri Sushi, Sashimi or Chirashi Sashimi. Dessert offerings will include house-made soft serve ice cream, build-your-own sundaes and crepes filled with matcha crème.
The beverage program at OKO celebrates the Japanese culture with seasonal, local ingredients. Sake, Japanese Beer, hot and cold iced tea, matcha and wine are all featured on the beverage menu. Custom cocktails integrate traditional Japanese ingredients – sake, barley shochu, Japanese craft whiskey and matcha – with spirits including gin, brandy, rye and tequila.
Lewis built an all-star team of seasoned design/build professionals to execute his vision. Architect Rick Hoag from Frederick William Hoag Architect and Interior Designer Megan Zwick from MZ Interiors were entrusted to uncover the original character of the historic firehouse, built in 1931, to create an enchanting dining space.
Adorned in a post-industrial color scheme of natural ash, concrete greys and black steel, the new elements are merged with the building’s brick walls and large windows fronting Wilton Road. Ash wood furniture and custom-made, slender wood LED lights that are strategically placed in an irregular pattern on the ceiling are completed by an ash wood and fiber cement bar that surrounds and invites a full view of the working kitchen.
A custom-designed steel and translucent resin structure is suspended above the bar, casting a soft play of light and shadow through its intricate design, inspired by the shapes of traditional Japanese scaffolding. Featuring traditional and banquette-style seating for 34 in the main dining area, 14 bar seats, and one tucked-away high-top table for four, the atmosphere created for guests is clean, warm and sophisticated.
Brian Lewis has quickly become one of Connecticut’s most celebrated chefs. “We are focused on serving the freshest possible items to our guests at both restaurants,” Lewis noted. The Cottage, based in Westport, CT, was recognized with an “Excellent” review in the New York Times, after only being open for four months, commending Lewis’ sophisticated menu in a cozy setting. He first received national recognition as the opening Executive Chef of actor Richard Gere’s The Bedford Post Inn, There, he acquired national acclaim including Esquire Magazine’s “Best New Restaurant” list in 2009, and an “Excellent” review in the New York Times for his thoughtful and consciously sourced cuisine. Lewis has had the honor of being invited to cook three dinners at the historic James Beard House in New York City, most recently in January 2017 on behalf of The Cottage. He has made appearances on “The Martha Stewart Show” and “TODAY.”
“My vision with OKO is to offer a very accessible, fun menu for our guests of seasonally driven, Japanese-inspired cuisine that is meant to be shared, encouraging the sampling of several styles of Japanese cuisine,” Lewis concluded. “Our open kitchen concept will allow guests to be educated on Japanese cooking methods, all while enjoying the experience in a relaxed, fun environment.”