The restaurateur behind fine-dining spot Piora imbues the classic Korean barbecue joint, with steakhouse touches like wines-by-the-glass poured from magnums and beef dry-aged in-house.
“My favorite way of getting together is over Korean barbecue,” says restaurateur Simon Kim. “Instead of breaking bread, you break steak together.”
Although he’s made his name in fine dining with New York's Piora, Kim is a bit obsessed with Korean barbecue. He knows its history in the U.S., starting from entrepreneurial first-generation Korean immigrants opening laundromats or barbecue spots, if they could cook. “It was more of a survival method,” he says. “No one thought to innovate because it was making money.” He realizes the term “Korean barbecue” isn’t quite correct for this soju- and Hite-beer-fueled grill-your-own-adventure. “In Korean, it’s called kogi jip, which translates directly to ‘meat house,” Kim says. And for the past 8 years, he’s been working on his own Korean steakhouse—a more accurate term—which is opening its doors today.
Cote, named after the Korean word for “flower” but in this case refers to the Korean term for a fat-rippled, well-marbled cut of meat, is Kim’s take on Korean barbecue but with the showy, special-occasion service flairs—and fraternal conviviality—of an American steakhouse. And he’s pulling all the stops.
For his Flatiron restaurant, Kim tapped MNDPC (of Tetsu and Kappo Masa fame) to design the dramatic space and hired a Broadway lighting expert to highlight that. Beverage director Victoria James is pouring all by-the-glass wines out of magnums. There’s a 300-square-foot-ish dry-aging room downstairs for NY strip steaks to rest surrounded by Himalayan sea salt, and Kim’s installed what he calls “the Rolls Royce of tabletop grills,” a smokeless Shinpo from Japan. The chef he’s brought on to lead the kitchen is no surprise, either.
“David Shim is literally the perfect guy,” says Kim. “It’s like he came out from heaven after looking at his resume.” After working at Gramercy Tavern and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Shim spent time at Kristabelli, the trendy Koreatown hotspot equipped with crystal grills, as well as M. Wells Steakhouse in Long Island City. He turned down the job three times, but after Kim showed him the grand plan, he finally came around.
“American steakhouses have four cuts: filet, strip, porterhouse and ribeye, and that’s because the American way of cooking steak only allows certain cuts of beef that don’t have sinews and muscles,” says Kim.
Together, the two are expanding the repertoire of the steakhouse since the Korean way, with its thin slices, allows for more surface area during the cooking. That means more cuts are available at Cote, like hanger, flatiron and skirt. They’re sourcing only from USDA prime beef producers, not marrying one in particular because “the beef is a living and breathing thing,” according to Kim. Shim is also preparing tons of pork, from jowl to Korean-style bacon—and, in true steakhouse fashion, there will be wedge salad and shrimp cocktail alongside banchan and seafood pancakes, of course.
“I want to represent this cuisine right, but I also want my family and friends to come in to celebrate life,” says Kim. “The restaurant means flower, so I want the night to blossom here. That’s what I want to do.”