Depending on how you see it, the name of the restaurant Cote can either reference the Korean word for flower or a particular cut of meat. If Cote had its way, it’d want you to reference both. It occupies a unique niche as a hybrid steakhouse and Korean bbq restaurant, never fully claiming one or the other, defined by fluidity rather than labels.
From the moment you walk in, Cote keeps you guessing. The entrance leads to a dark blue hallway with a neon sign of the restaurant’s name in Korean lit in Millennial pink, giving off a vibe that’s more sexy Meatpacking lounge than staid Midtown East. If you walk downstairs you can see Cote’s dry-aging room, where different pieces of meat hang stylistically in lighting that brings to mind the surreal and violent thriller Neon Demon. Once you get seated in one of the booths in the back, you will see familiar signs of a table-top grill, but even so, these grills are gold and silent, sucking the smoke and smells out of sight, out of mind.
The menu is an interesting read. The appetizers, which consist of dishes like shrimp cocktail and an iceberg lettuce salad, are more in line with what you’d see at a traditional Western steakhouse. There is nary a seafood pajeon or mandoo dumplings in sight. But further down the menu in the Savory Accompaniments section you can see more traditional items like bibimbop or dwen-jang chigae. What’s impressive is that the flavors in these stews skew very traditional. There’s no muting of the fermented soybean or kimchee whatsoever. The purists who have a hankering for the Korean flavors that they’re used to will be pleased.
The best way of surveying Cote’s dual-approach is to order the Butcher’s Feast, which features 4 cuts of meat of the restaurant’s choosing, followed by a traditional Korean course of stews and steamed egg. On the night that we went, we had the hanger steak, the “flatiron”, the dry aged strip steak and marinated galbi. There was no question that the meat was of the highest standard, in line with what you’d expect from premium steakhouses like a Peter Luger. The hanger steak was one of my favorite cuts, marbled and flavorful on its own, and I preferred foregoing the lettuce wrap and ssam-jang sauce so that I could really taste the meat. The dry aged strip steak had more of that traditional steakhouse aspect about it, a little tougher and more masculine in mood and feel, while the galbi was very solid if not quite the most memorable.
Those honors belong to the flatiron cut, the undeniable star of the feast. You could already tell it was going to be the best by looking at it in its raw state. The very visible network of intense marbling spreading throughout the meat was an obvious clue of the flavor, and it exceeded those expectations when we ate it cooked. Clearly I preferred eating that pure as well, with just a sprinkle of the special blend of pink himalayan and sea salt.
If you thought that was the feast, there’s more that follows with two bowls of stew, a dwen-jang and kimchi chigae, some rice, and an “egg souffle”, which is really a fancier way of referencing the steamed egg “jjim” that is offered at many traditional Korean restaurants. As I alluded to before, the flavors in the stew are unmistakeably Korean, which might be a little intense for the Western palate. As someone who grew up eating these types of food, I loved the flavors of home, particular in the kimchi chigae.
Cote reflects the trend of Korean restaurants today like Oiji or Atoboy that are reinventing the experience of what a Korean meal should be like, evolving beyond the meal for drunken late nights or hangover cures. The distinctive flavors are there, but used in a more refined way and oftentimes in a Western context. Clearly there’s more in bloom than just one Cote, it’s also a rising field of a new culinary movement.
16 West 22nd Street (between 5th and 6th Ave)
New York, NY 10010