Restaurateur Simon Kim didn’t expect Cote to be one of the most talked-about restaurants of 2017. But the “Korean American steakhouse” was a hit with critics, appeared on GQ’s best new restaurants list, and was nominated as Eater NY’s 2017 restaurant of the year. In October, Michelin awarded Cote a single star. Now a few weeks shy of Cote’s first anniversary, Kim says he just wanted “to make red meat sexy again.”
Increasingly, restaurateurs are giving the traditional steakhouse something of a makeover. Although the stalwarts of the genre endure, new restaurants are evolving the format. Some, like Chicago’s Boeufhaus and Bateau in Seattle, dismantle the steakhouse’s masculine sensibility — a sensibility that derives from once-codified rules barring women. Others, like Beatrice Inn in New York or Swift & Sons in Chicago, play on the excess inherent in steakhouse dining, leaning into luxurious ingredients, decor, or service. But Cote combines steakhouse tropes with Korean barbecue for a restaurant that is all at once familiar and completely novel.
Kim wants to make it clear that Cote isn’t “a fancy version of Korean barbecue.” Rather, Cote uses Korean barbecue as a vehicle for modernizing steakhouse dining. “Korean barbecue is something that everyone is interested in,” Kim says. He also sees a natural affinity between Korean barbecue and the steakhouse. “Korean barbecue is such an approachable thing, right? Anyone who eats meat and potato can potentially eat [at a] Korean barbecue restaurant, because at the end of the day it’s just steak.”
Fans of Cote wouldn’t refer to chef David Shim’s dry-aged ribeye as “just steak.” In his three-star review, Eater NY critic Ryan Sutton deemed Cote “one of the city’s most exhilarating places to eat beef,” New York steak institutions like Keen’s and Peter Luger included.
As Kim sees it, Korean barbecue improves upon some aspects of the traditional American steakhouse, which “has been doing the same thing for almost close to 100 years,” over-the-top indulgence chief among them. “Beef is king, and it’s all about beef, but by the same token, eating 16 to 25 ounces of red meat can be a little challenging,” Kim says. Plus, he adds, “Millennials are always looking for something that’s more exciting and stimulating.”
At Cote, the smaller morsels of meat grilled at the table, essential to Korean barbecue, add an unexpected element to steakhouse dining and make sense of the dry-aging process, in which cuts of beef hang in a climate-controlled room to intensify flavor. According to Sutton, some steakhouses produce large slabs of meat with overwhelmingly concentrated flavor while others dry-age for less time to avoid this. But the size of the cuts of meat at Cote make for “a more elegant and flavorful solution” to that problem.
Cote’s menu also facilitates variety. The $48 prix-fixe “butcher’s feast” at Cote includes four different cuts of beef along with fresh vegetables and Korean banchan. Kim says the idea was to attract people who may have shied away from the gluttonous quantities of red meat historically offered at steakhouses.
In fact, everything’s meant to feel fresh and light, and Korean barbecue isn’t the only way Cote attempts to appeal to a new kind of steakhouse diner. Kim sees the wine list and cocktail menu at Cote, designed by beverage director Victoria James, as “a breath of fresh air” when compared with cabernet-heavy wine lists and classic cocktail lineups at traditional steakhouses. With the drinks, Cote also makes a play for a younger clientele: Last summer the restaurant served millennial-pink “frosé,” and this summer it’s doing a “friesling.”
“We have features that even the really expensive steakhouses don’t have,” Kim says, mentioning Cote’s on-premises dry-aging room. But most important to Kim is that Cote isn’t just serving expensive cuts of red meat. “A big important distinction between us and other American steakhouses is that we offer a $48 butcher’s feast. We really wanted to make sure that we can appeal to everybody.” The desire to include everybody — men, women, and even millennials — at Cote is one more innovation on the historical American steakhouse. They’ll just have to snag a reservation first.