Observations from my first visit

I recently wrote that I was off tasting menus given the recent hefty price tags and time commitment. And I had never made it to Neta, Chef Sungchul Shim’s last kitchen. And I had only read one announcement of Kochi in GrubStreet about this new Hell’s Kitchen spot focusing on Korean royal cuisine.  And for some reason, I raced to make a reservation at Kochi as I felt a need to act quickly before it would get too competitive. 

My feeling seemed confirmed as I walked to the restaurant. I saw two people pull the door open ahead of me, and I could see someone already standing in the entryway. It seemed that the 35-seat place was SRO.  But as if on cue, guests paid, left and 5 seats at the counter opened up. I took my spot with my friend (who trotted the two blocks to get some wine as it was still BYOB).

The counter seats offered a mesmerizing view of the open kitchen and four men in constant motion, plating at any one time, one of the nine courses that made up the $75 tasting menu.  I recalled how the reservations were offered in 15 minute increments which would seem to add to the pressure of managing the number of courses in play at any one time. 

Atmosphere and design:  Kochi is small and has a relaxed elegance. The dining tables and chairs are dark wood; the chef’s counter is marble and while overall tones are neutral, spots of color dapple the restaurant, e.g. the vases on a shelf above the counter. When at capacity, the noise level feels medium-high but at the chef’s counter, diner chatter is at your back and I never felt like I had to yell to be heard.  Another bonus of counter seating is that the lighting allows you to take in the presentation of color and textures of each course. 

Menu & Dishes: I read that the tasting menu would be updated on a regular basis. In comparing the menu posted online to what I was served, I saw a few changes but the overall course plan was consistent, e.g. instead of baby blowfish tempura, I enjoyed asparagus tempura and instead of a ribeye patty stuffed with rice, I had a shishito pepper stuffed with ribeye. 

The main through line is that each course is served on a skewer (kochi means skewer).  Of the nine courses, I particularly enjoyed these (pardon my description as I forgot to take a picture of that evening’s menu):

  • Potato ‘vichyssoise’ with corn fritter and crushed pine nuts. I splurged on the osetra caviar supplement which was delightfully decorated with some gold flakes. The caviar beads had the right texture and saltiness to enhance the flavorful course.
  • Raw scallops with octopus and tiger’s milk
  • Slow-cooked chicken in a rich broth covered in shaved mushrooms which gives off a tantalizing aroma.

These courses were very good:

  • Breaded and fried shishito stuffed with ribeye
  • Marinated mackeral on bed of eggplant
  • Asparagus tempura
  • Bimbimbap with soy-butter brown rice. The uni supplement from adds creaminess but not a ‘must have’ given the range of textures and flavors in the bimbimbap.

And the one dish that I was good but I wanted to enjoy more:

Pork belly, which I had read undergoes a 16-hour preparation, was tender and I liked the offset of the pickles but the meat itself may benefit from some searing for flavor as well as give it a little crust for texture.

The final course was a black sesame ice cream pop served on a cold pillow plate. Creamy and delicious!

I was completely stuffed and remarked to my friend that we would not feel shortchanged if the number of courses was reduced and if the portions were smaller.

The waitstaff is terrific given the number of times they engage with tables for not just the the delivery and clearing of plates but wine pouring. They maintained positive energy and lively banter. I also noticed and liked that the clientele aged in range and background.

Overall, I would heartily recommend Kochi and would probably wait for a new season before I returned to sample a new tasting menu.

Kochi, 652 10th Ave, New York, 10036.

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