“What? They don’t have a non-marinated galbi on the menu?!?!” My wife Jun was flabbergasted after she scrolled through the menu at Cote, a new restaurant in Flatiron looking to fuse the tradition of Korean BBQ and American steakhouse by showcasing Korean meat dishes in dry-aged style. It was so clear to us when we arrived at the restaurant that Cote could care less about the preference of diners from Korean background who are more familiar with how Korean BBQ is supposed to work. For anyone who loves galbi, there should be no question which version you should get. You don’t go for the marinated one whose sweet flavor only undermines your appreciation of the juicy, tender texture of the meat. The only seasoning you need for galbi really is a bit of spicy scallion salad on the side or you just wrap it in a lettuce with a hint of spicy ssam jang paste. Jun and I are both from Korean backgrounds, so understandably (and one might say, unfairly), our expectations of a Korean restaurant can be quite high at times, but at Cote, we were just looking for a decent meal to celebrate the beginning of another weekend. The “bastardized” experience that turned our expectations of a Korean BBQ dinner upside down didn’t help us achieve our mission.
It seems everyone at Cote is ordering the Butcher’s Feast option (at $45 per person) that includes a variety of meat parts and ban chan side dishes as well as some stews and soft serve dessert at the end. The server brought four types of meat (hanger, ribeye, flatiron and marinated short ribs). We opened our mouth in shock when he started sprinkling thick salt on top of the meat without even asking us. It was clear that he had no idea what he was doing, so we offered to take over the grill. The quality of meat overall was not bad at all, and we both enjoyed the juicy texture of each piece. Well, but dry-aged worthy? I’m not so sure. Jun and I recently went on a fishing trip to Long Island with some friends, and we stopped by at a Korean BBQ place in Flushing, Queens, which has a huge Korean population (and therefore the standard of Korean restaurants is much higher than elsewhere in New York City). We were both astounded by the amazing quality of non-marinated (of course!) galbi that was just melting in our mouth cooked perfectly medium rare. If I had to choose between Cote and that place, I would have chosen the latter in a heart beat. It didn’t help that the portion of the meat and the ban chan side dishes was not so generous either. At any Korean BBQ restaurant, a server would’ve gladly re-filled any one of the dishes, but we weren’t even sure if it was proper to ask for a similar gesture of generosity (at least no one offered to re-fill the scallion salad which was quickly dwindling down). And what’s the deal with bringing savory egg soufflé (which usually comes in the beginning of the meal before you start grilling the meat as a sort of appetizer) which came almost when we were done with the meat? Both stews (spicy kimchi and savory soybean dwen jang) that came in were disappointing as well, especially the latter which totally lacked any sense of depth (Jun initially thought it was just a miso soup made of miso paste that is sold at a supermarket). After having little cups of soft serve, we were ready to move out quickly.
Getting a reservation during prime times wasn’t easy and the restaurant was quite packed during our dinner. I can tell that non-Koreans would love this place; after all, who wouldn’t want to have some cocktails followed by Korean BBQs at a trendy, modern place? On the other hand, that made our dining experience even less enjoyable as the noise control at the dining space didn’t seem to be managed too well. There is full bar with some cocktails and wines (mostly in the high end so we ended up not ordering a bottle like we typically do when we go to a restaurant). Jun and I are very interested to see how Korean cuisine gets a fresh take and a new reinterpretation, and we would be more than happy to visit a restaurant that brings our mother country’s food forward to modern age in a successful manner. Enough said that Cote is not one of those restaurants.
- Creativity: 7.5/10
- Execution: 5.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 6.5/10
- Texture: 7.5/10
- Value: 7.0/10
Address: 16 West 22nd St, New York, NY 10010
Telephone: (212) 401-7986