Serving up unique fusion cuisine in a sleek new space
Photograph by Bob Capazzo
Yoichi Saito is a prolific and talented chef with a cross-cultural vision. Trained in Japan at the Tsuji Culinary School, he became well-versed in Japanese cooking, as well as French, Italian and Chinese menus. At Saito, his newest venue, Chef Saito has done a neat twist on fusion cuisine. He has successfully combined all of these cuisines, and a bit of Yankee seafood classics as well. Yes, it sounds odd, and occasionally the concept strains a bit, but for the jaded palate it is a novel twist and something most definitely to be sampled.
The restaurant itself is sleek and modern, not a large space but an inviting one. The tables are set elegantly and the feeling once you enter is that this is a place for adventurous fine dining. Once menus and drinks arrive as fast as a bullet train, service is very attentive but never rushed. If you are accustomed to silly baroque drinks at standard Asian restaurants you might hesitate to order such Saito cocktails with names like Cherry Blossom, Pineapple Pearl or Ginger Champagne. But to be honest, there has never been a cocktail we cottoned to as quickly as the Ginger Champagne, a decent bubbly spiked with a dab of simple syrup, finely chopped ginger root and a star anise floating on the top: absolutely divine.
Saito offers menus within menus. The smaller menu presents a choice of different rolls: Crispy Lobster Roll, Wagyu Roll, Nianago Dragon Roll and a slow cooked Octopus Roll. Our favorite by far was the octopus—tiny tentacles that tasted fresh and oceanic. The Crispy Lobster Roll was fine but overreached with a cacophony of ingredients such as elderflower mayonnaise, guacamole, black truffle and habanero purée. A good choice if you are a lover of simple delights is to request that the chef make an assortment of sushi for you. You must call ahead if this appeals to you, and it is not inexpensive, but well worth it.
There are a few out of the ordinary starters. Take, for example, clam chowder. It is not your usual bowl of fisherman’s stew, but a mélange of littleneck clams, spicy potato foam, crisp bacon and Burgundy truffles. We were duly impressed by an appetizer called “Today’s Tataki-Crudo Simply Prepared.” The vegetables and fruits change seasonally but the heart of the dish is a more than generous serving of sliced raw tuna. We also loved the Dungeness Crab Cake, presented in a serving bowl on top of a cucumber avocado salad, crisp onion and ginger.
Who could resist a chuckle sitting in an elegant Greenwich restaurant, where a customer’s new quarter-million-dollar Bentley is parked just outside the plate glass window, and considering a dish titled simply Expensive Fried Rice. It is expensive at $35.00 a pop, but it soars above the plebeian stuff on familiar combo plates. It actually is way more than fried rice and scraps, consisting of half of a one pound Maine lobster, whose bite sized pieces have been wok seared with what the menu describes as a Japanese health food called Konyac, “Chinese mystery sauce” and lobster fond blanc. The rice is fried with tiny nubbins of Dungeness crab. Despite the mysterious elements it tastes straightforward and quite yummy.
On a less sprightly note we highly recommend the Slow Cooked Szechuan Style Kurobuta Pork Belly. Glazed with a spicy tapenade spiked with “mojo vinaigrette,” it was luscious and profoundly satisfying. Along these lines is a Braised Pork Belly Cassoulet, spiked with the mysteriously healthy “konyak” and more traditional haricot beans.
The menu at Saito can be approached two ways. We can assure the adventurous diner an encounter with combinations of foods you have never experienced before. Even to a veteran restaurant critic, a Vapeur of Chilean Sea Bass steamed in a bamboo sasa leaf and the Tempura Onion and Avocado Salad featuring tomato pods, coconut jelly and bacon balsamic vinaigrette, are challenging to understand. Our advice is to sit back and enjoy this crazy menu. Even the gilded Tempura Onion salad is delicious. No, we could not pick out every ingredient (one too many Ginger Champagnes?) but what appears esoteric on the menu translates to simply good food on the plate.
Given the wild extremes of the rest of the menu, Saito’s dessert can be surprisingly standard, such as tiramisu and molten lava cake. The one we consider a must-try combines sea salt, squares of bitter chocolate and pieces of warm focaccia bread. It tastes like a well-made chocolate croissant. Enjoying it with a cup of good espresso, we had to remember we were at the end of a wonderful night and not the beginning of a new day. We admire Chef Saito’s contribution to the gourmet community that is Greenwich and will gladly go back.
Try these recipes from Saito at home:
249 Railroad Avenue, Greenwich
Tues. – Fri. 11:30 a.m – 2 p.m.;
5:30 p.m – 10:30 p.m.
Sat. 5:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Sun. 5:00 p.m – 9:30 p.m.