Although New Yorkers can now choose to start their day eating “high vibration” vegetables from world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and end it scarfing down tofu skin “cheesesteaks” after getting sloshed at a vegan bar backed by Moby, the city is still, resolutely, a steakhouse town. Peter Luger and Keens remain eternally busy, and newfangled stalwarts like the Strip House and Wolfgang’s seem to proliferate like rabbits. Contemporary standouts, like M. Wells Steakhouse, the Bowery Meat Company, and the tiny, purposely exclusive 4 Charles Prime Rib, have found favor expanding on time-honored traditions without challenging them too much. So now your rib eye could come with pastrami seasoning, or your crème brûlée might be served in a marrow bone. We’ve even attracted steakhouses with cult followings from other countries, like France’s Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte and Ikinari, Japan’s famous standing steakhouse. The seemingly endless crop of newcomers isn’t letting up, either: This fall, more than a handful of charred hopefuls hit the scene, each with a different take on the genre. Decade after tallow-slicked decade, as tastes and diets have changed, the steakhouse has endured.
Shtick, though, can only take you so far, and too many modern attempts at carnivorous reinvention fall flat. Not so with modern Korean cooking, which — thanks to restaurants like Oiji and Atoboy that mine home cooking for fine-dining inspiration, and the K-Town and Flushing outposts of high-end Korean barbecue chain Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong — is adding sizzle to New York’s steakhouse traditions.
It’s heartening, then, that Cote, which Simon Kim opened in June just before closing his Michelin-starred Italian-Korean respite, Piora, is more than just a messed-with meat temple or another smoky, raucous barbecue joint. Like Piora, Cote is a nexus of gastronomic and cultural symbiosis, in this case, blending the foundational elements of Korean barbecue with the rituals and aesthetics of the Gotham chophouse. It’s a knockout combination.
In a soaring Flatiron space, Cote spreads out over two vast, dimly lit rooms outfitted with comfortable booths in the back, and less-comfortable benches and chairs at the front, their black stone tabletops all inlaid with grand, gold-rimmed Japanese gas grills. The boisterous dining halls are connected by a bustling lounge where diners crowd around the oval, white-marble-topped, standing-only bar to sip $15 drinks. Downstairs you’ll find the city’s sleekest meat locker, with racks of aging slabs on dramatic display. Soon, Kim plans to open Undercote, a companion venture serving snacks and street food, in an adjoining lower-level area.
Having headed the kitchens of Long Island City’s quirky M. Wells and now-shuttered ultra-luxe Korean barbecue Kristalbelli, Cote’s Seoul-born chef, David Shim, feels uniquely suited for this particular undertaking. Here he blurs the lines between the two experiences into one that seems sure to win over jaded K-Town-hounds, steakhouse regulars, and most of us in between.
Why, there’s that old warhorse the wedge salad ($14), bereft of blue cheese but reveling in a drizzle of tofu-sesame dressing whose sweetness complements the salty crunch of bacon. Shrimp cocktail ($15) gets a fermented lift, buzzing with a hint of fire from gochujang chile paste, while steak tartare ($18) is a bracing riff on yukhoe, Korea’s classic raw beef hash, with chopped top round, diced pear, and pickled mustard. And instead of slab bacon perfumed with smoke, there are skillets of crisp-edged pork jowl ($16) zapped with coins of pickled jalapeño. These fun shout-outs to old-school Americana are worthy supplements to the main event, as are the vegetable-packed noodle and rice dishes on offer.
While you can order meats to cook à la carte, your best bet is the $45 butcher’s feast, centered around a rotating selection of four cuts of nicely marbled prime beef, which Shim ages for a minimum of 28 days. A 120-day aged rib steak sits at the other end of the spectrum, meant to entice the deep-pocketed trenchermen among us. You can also tack on a “farmer’s basket” for $18, the wooden trough piled high with okra, shishito peppers, graffiti eggplant, and corn on the cob. Who cooks your beef is up to you, but just before the raw product is unveiled, to predictable oohs and ahs, your server will set down a few banchan, or starting snacks, like pickled cauliflower or radish kimchi. If you hear the sizzle of rib-eye fat cap greasing the cross-hatched grill top, be warned: Things are about to get funky. The beef — from tender hunks of flat iron to more robust options like sirloin, rib eye, and sweetly marinated short ribs — is all top-notch, worth savoring on its own before tucking it inside lettuce leaves with a dab of peppery ssamjang spread, perilla leaves, or shreds of scallion. It may be missing the deeply charred crust that porterhouse pros like Luger excel at, but there’s an undeniable primal oomph that emanates from every rosy-centered, hard-seared piece.
As the appetizers and banchan disappear from your table, they’re soon replaced with cast-iron casseroles of fluffy egg soufflé and a duo of stews (one a sufficiently spiced and spicy kimchi number larded with pork, the other a heady soy brew with anchovies and tofu) to spoon over rice, if you so desire. Paper cups of vanilla soft-serve serve as Shim’s low-key ending, a somewhat curt goodbye after the abundant wining and dining that’s likely taken place.
A note about that wining: Beverage director Victoria James’s expansive list is easily one of Cote’s greatest assets. Soju and cold beer may still be Korean barbecue’s finest liquid foils, but James and her team do a tremendous job partnering old- and new-world wines with the flavors of the Korean pantry. She gives high rollers plenty to choose from, but the bulk of the bottles are reasonable, and a few wonky gems, like a $27 ruby-hued Swiss Gamay, are outright deals. Equally satisfying are the slender single-shot bottles of Underberg that arrive with every check. The potent German digestif channels NYC beefsteaks past. It’s an obsolescent gesture that goes a long way, a memento that soothes both mind and appetite.
16 West 22nd Street
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 12, 2017