Growing up a Korean, I have learned of the sensitive history between Korea and Japan. I have watched soccer games between the two countries with the same level of intensity that some of the fanatic Korean fans display while yelling, “You can lose to anyone but Japan!” and watched with a lot of emotion Korean movies depicting the atrocities of the Japanese colonial rule in the early 20th century. On the other hand, I have also come to gain deep appreciation (and jealousy) for certain aspects that Japan does very well, like food. While it feels great to see a number of Korean newcomers like Atomix and Kawi in the dining scene, there are still many more great Japanese restaurants in the city, including those that specialize in yakitori skewers. Koreans love grilled food on skewers just as much as the Japanese do, but surprisingly I couldn’t find a single Korean restaurant that specializes in these dishes. Until Kochi (which means “skewer” in Korean) opened last year. After finally visiting the restaurant with my wife Jun recently, I can confidently declare that Kochi will give all the top Japanese yakitori places in the city a run for their money.
The nine-course menu at Kochi already feels like a bargain at $75 per person. Once Jun and I tried the first dish, a pine nut and potato milk based soup (“tarak-juk”) with corn fritter that displayed elegant flavor and was a perfect opener, we instantly knew we were able to have a very special dinner. The refreshing touch of raw yellowtail with cucumber radish salad (“mul-hwe”) was also quite nice and got our palate ready for all the grilled dishes that followed. One thing that I was very impressed with Kochi’s skewers was how tightly each ingredients was grilled to give outstanding textures, whether it’s the seared shrimp (“saewoo-jeon”) or the branzino with eggplant and yuju sauce made with Korean rice wine makguli or the crispy chicken wing with gochujang honey.
The flavor of the skewers was also quite thoughtful, using ingredients to help soften the meaty flavor of the main ingredients, like the way perilla leaf kimchi and cashew nut ssam-jang sauce helped bring a nice touch of flavor on top of the Berkshire pork tenderloin (“bossam”), or the black garlic chestnut puree that gave an earthy dimension to the char-grilled beef patty (“tteokgalbi-gui”) with shiitake and king trumpet mushrooms. I also felt like a winner after adding the sea urchin supplement (which cost $13) on top of the spicy pollock roe based bibimbap (“myungran bibimbap”). Jun’s favorite dish of the night came last; she was excited with joy after taking a bite of the ice cream stick made of scorched rice cream (“heugimja”), and even after a few days later told me she couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Getting a reservation at Kochi has become quite difficult, especially with a rather modest size of the dining space and the restaurant starting to receive some very good buzz, so do plan ahead. Now is especially a good time to check out the restaurant as it has yet to receive its liquor license and therefore allows BYOB. I found the location of the restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen somewhat odd, but the dining space itself was cozy and welcoming; if you want to see the kitchen in action, do try to get seats in front of the counter. I’m very glad Kochi opened and displayed a very capable alternative to Japanese yakitori using ingredients and techniques from my mother country. I can’t wait to go back with Jun, perhaps next time with more friends.
KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 9.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 9.0/10
- Value: 8.5/10
Address: 652 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10036
Telephone: (646) 478-7308