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.Read More
Finally, a Korean BBQ restaurant in K-town serving bbq that lives up to the standards of what my father calls “LA BBQ”. (For those who are not in the know, many Koreans believe that LA BBQ is even better than what’s served in Seoul.) Kang Ho Dong Baekjong, a Seoul-based chain owned by a famous comedian and former pro wrestler, is on a different level than most of the old guard places on 32nd St, overrun with stern ajoomas who could care less that you need some water refills and tsk tsk you if they feel that you’re being cheap.
I would say that most of these Manhattan bbq spots get the job done, but not much more than that. Normally the marinade and seasonings are decent, but the quality of the meat is average. I’ve never had that melt in your mouth sensation that top notch, wonderfully marbled grass-fed beef might have, and I usually found the cooked meat to be tough, which I thought was a normal byproduct of the grilling process. But after my experience at Kang Ho Dong, now I know that Korean bbq can be tender and delicate.
I also love how this place is so operationally efficient. As soon as your table is available, everything is ready to go. The ban chans are all there, the famous corn and egg appetizer is already cooking, the dipping sauces are set up, and you’ve got a bottle of water in a very Korean looking plastic canister. There are clear instructions on how to use the sauces in case you find all the little bowls overwhelming. The staff actually cooks the meat for you to a certain doneness, as compared to the other places, where the ajoomas might place the initial pieces on the grill for you, but you’re really on your own after that. And they are so responsive when you need more water or ban chan, which is a rarity at a lot of Korean restaurants.
The wait times at Kang Ho Dong Baekjong were pretty reasonable. We probably waited about 45 minutes for our table on a Sunday night, although I imagine it might be much longer on a Friday or Saturday. But I’m willing to suck it up, and in K-town, the wait goes by fast. This 24 hour town has so many distractions, soju, beer, karaoke, cafes, that before you know it, the 2 hours are up and you have a seat at the best Korean bbq place in town.
Kang Ho Dong Baekjong
1 E. 32nd St (between 5th and Madison Ave)
New York, NY 10016
What I’m about to say is a little blasphemous, but the best Korean bbq that I’ve had in the city is at Takashi, a Japanese restaurant that combines “the bold, heartiness of Korean flavors with the finesse of Japanese cuisine.” Koreans and Japanese have had a rocky past, so the fact that a treasured regional dish is being reinvented in a Japanese manner is sure to ruffle some feathers of a proud and nationalistic group. But I have to give credit where it’s due–I was extremely impressed by the flavors of Takashi’s subtle marinade and the melt-in-your mouth qualities of the high-grade meat.
The whole bbq experience at Takashi is very Japanese. Gone are all the banchan appetizers that take up the whole table. Instead, there are three small bowls of pickled vegetables, seasoned beansprouts and cabbage salad. The Japanese tradition of restraint is clearly being exercised here. The portions of meat provided for grilling are smaller than what you’d receive at a Korean restaurant. In one bbq order, there’s usually 4-8 pieces of meat total. Each table has a huge vent that traps the smoke and smells of the grill before it stinks up your clothes, which is definitely a big plus because the smell alone is enough to rule out Korean bbq for me. The Japanese really have such an eye for detail.
Takashi sources its premium Japanese and American Angus meat from local farms and esteemed distributors like Pat Lafrieda. I think the quality of these premium meats goes a long way, because I could not find fault with any single meat dish that we tried. It was a matter of splitting hairs to determine which one was my favorite. Even the cow tongue or shio-tan was a pleasant surprise. I am not one of those adventurous eaters who think eating offal is totally awesome. I explicitly told everyone in my dinner party that I was opposed to tongue, and when I actually felt the rubbery, squishy piece in my mouth, the phrase “cat got your tongue?” became much too real. But it really was pretty good, although the texture still leaves much to be desired. If you are into offal, Takashi has you covered. Stomach, large intestine, heart, sweetbreads, liver, aorta–no part of the cow goes to waste.
My favorite non-grilled meat dish of the night was the yooke, or the beef tartare. Imagine eating the best bulgogi you’ve ever had, only in raw form. It sounds odd, but that’s the best way of describing it. The famed niku-uni, which consisted of fresh sea urchin and chuck flap wrapped in seaweed, was memorable, but I personally thought the uni and the meat were competing for my attention. Uni in my opinion goes best with something more neutral like white rice or pasta, in which its unique, brine-y flavors can really come through.
My favorite grilled meat was the kalbi–the slightly sweet marinade was just perfect, and the thick cut was extremely satisfying. The harami skirt steak was also excellent, tender and chewy in just the right amounts. I wasn’t expecting much from the cheeks or tsurami, but they were surprisingly flavorful. I suppose plump and soft parts of the body usually yield great cuts of meat.
Even though Takashi has the best Korean bbq, the experience you get here is pretty different from the one you get in Ktown. The places in Ktown have all the additional stews, pajeons and hearty dishes that are perfect for fueling your raucous night of clubbing or karaoke. A dinner at Takashi is much more subdued and intimate, and meat is the main focus. I think there’s room for both to harmoniously coexist on the Korean bbq spectrum since they are selling experiences that are different enough. But more importantly, Takashi is another West Village joint that passes my crosstown test!
456 Hudson St.
New York, NY 10011