In 2017, Simon Kim synthesized two great national genres — the American steakhouse and Korean BBQ — into the moneymaking, crowd-pleasing chimera called Cote (which has since expanded to Miami and, soon, Singapore). Coqodaq, his next New York restaurant, is a gamble that the same golden formula can extend to poultry.
Even seven years ago, customers were conditioned to swallow the high price of beef without question. Chicken, of course, is different. Small and common, it is a poor bird, a protein for the people with a price point to match (save some of the $90 Sasso chickens being roasted and served avec claw around town). Kim thinks it’s time for chicken’s holy ascension, so he and architect David Rockwell have turned the space that once housed Rocco DiSpirito’s reality-TV restaurant into a glittering room dedicated to the veneration of this humble bird: A series of luminescent golden arches form a nave under which two banks of booths scallop out, and the walls are covered in a dermis of subtly textured golden panels. “We wanted to create a cathedral of fried chicken,” Kim says.
The chickens — from an Amish farm and pampered in a way befitting their pedigree — are served in ceramic buckets that sit atop literal pedestals. Unlike most American recipes, Korean fried chicken is known for its thin crystalline coat. Coqodaq’s chef, Seung Kyu “SK” Kim, coats pieces in rice flour and fries them in Zero Acre sugarcane oil. As part of a $38-per-person prix fixe, the chicken — succulent, light, its greaseless outer layer clinging like a second skin — is served in two waves. First, naked alongside a caddy of four sauces: peppercorn, which is ranch by another name; salsa verde; gochujang BBQ; and honey mustard. The next batch arrives in a new bucket, this time glazed in either sweet, garlicky ganjang or spicy gochujang. “We’re all about the sauces,” says chef SK.
It’s served with bowl of cold silken capellini with nori and perilla, and banchan that includes small cubes of pickled daikon; pickled celery, and kimchee. According to Kim, the pairing of fried chicken with tart vegetables embodies the Confucian concept of eum/yang, the recognition that duality is fundamental to the universe. It’s also another way of saying fried chicken is good with pickles.
And it’s good with Champagne, which offers the same satisfying carbonation that makes beer an ideal partner, but with an acidity that cuts through the richness of the chicken. Accordingly, Victoria James, the longtime beverage director at Cote, has assembled the largest collection of Champagne in America. (The closest competitor, in New Jersey, has 382 options.) “We recommend you start with a classic brut-style Champagne then move to a demi-sec with some sweetness and texture for the coated wings.” With so many bottles, James adheres to what she calls the bibliotheque approach, meaning one can taste multiple cuvées from makers like Doyard and A. Margaine dating back to the 1970s. These are pricey bottles, but the list begins with 100 bottles of sparkling wine under $100 (mixing in Lambrusco and cava) before moving to obscurantist bottles like those from Marie-Nöelle Ledru, a maverick maker who retired in 2016, and a bottle of Champagne Leclerc Briant Abyss Brut Zero that’s aged 60 meters under the sea for 18 months.
Korean fried chicken has a long and illustrious history of being a hot new trend in New York City. It began sometime around 2009, with the arrival of Kyochon, the hit Korean fried-chicken chain, in a futuristic (now closed) headquarters on Fifth Avenue. Bonchon followed, somewhat more successfully. Coqodaq — its name a portmanteau of the French and Korean words for chicken — is an attempt to update that perception without veering too far from its longtime appeal. “I’d never want to go and eat fried chicken at a white-tablecloth restaurant just because that pretentiousness doesn’t belong in fried chicken,” says Kim.
So Kim and SK have set their sights on the margins of the menu. The meal begins with a small cup of chicken consommé, pepped up with red ginseng that’s, according to SK, meant to “soothe your guts and stomach with warm tea to help you digest the big meal you’re about to have.” There are also oysters, a $68 trio of tartares (amberjack, ocean trout, tuna), shrimp toast, two salads (one Caesar; the other fennel), and caviar, available in varying degrees of quality and price. It’s fancy but not stuffy. There are no tablecloths, and Kim wants diners to eat his chicken with their hands, which is why, upon entering the restaurant, they are immediately directed to a trio of green soapstone sinks, the “washing stations.” In this chicken cathedral, the first order of business is ablution.
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