One year ago, Simon Kim opened Cote, a neon-lit Flatiron spot that links Korean and American grilling traditions through bloody red meat — and icy frosé slurped through pink flamingo straws. The chief offering was, and still is, a tasting of beef — prime, dry-aged, wagyu, and marinated — all cooked in front of the diner for forty-eight bucks. It’s a heck of a deal; the price is less than a strip loin at a classic steakhouse and the tableside cooking is more studied that at older Korean barbecue spots. I awarded three stars.
But there’s always been one thing amiss: Those who wanted to sample the restaurant’s wider selection of more interesting cuts, some of them attracting beneficial mold in the morgue of a dry-aging room, would have to pony up for the larger, whole steak offerings, easily running $113 or more. This reality undermined the chief draw of Cote — which is to sample a variety of cuts without bludgeoning the stomach the way a giant prime rib might.
So Kim and chef David Shim did the obvious. They have started offering a steak omakase: 10 cuts of beef accompanied by a king’s spread of beef tartare, caviar-topped scallops, banchan, kimchi salads, lettuce wraps, chile-slicked cold noodles, puffy egg souffles, and cute little caramel sundaes. The price is $125 per person, or $250 for two, which only seems outrageous until you realize that a comparable meal at Minetta Tavern — two appetizers, a large format ribeye, two sides, and a single dessert — wouldn’t cost much less at $232.
There is no better ode to steak in this town than Cote’s new omakase.
The meal kicks off when a manager brings over the entire tasting in raw form, on an old wine barrel stave. The crimson parcels, streaked in varying shades of white, are carved to the dimensions of elegant French petits fours and bathed in jewelry store lighting. Each “course” is made up of just a single one-or-two-bite slice. Rather than using beef as a blunt instrument, the steak omakase’s portioning and pacing more closely recalls a piece-by-piece sushi meal.
I could go on about each cut, about how the gentle saltiness of house made ssamjang sauce heightens the flavor of wagyu as eloquently as fleur de sel, but really, what makes the omakase so thrilling is how it progresses in what I’ll call “movements.”
The wait captain begins by grilling cuts that are lean but tender: hanger, skirt, and filet. They are juicy, beefy, rare, and in the case of the skirt, possessed by an irony tang that recalls good liver. The second movement is a study in aroma: musky dry-aged ribeye, followed by a cube of rib cap that conveys the dank, pungent notes of a subterranean cheese cave. If you’re lucky enough to get a longer-aged cut, it might taste like what would happen if someone left a pile of old prosciutto in the middle of a sweaty SoulCycle class. It’s precisely the type of intense flavor beef lovers die for (we’re a weird bunch), but again, the lesson is that this works better as a bite, rather than a full T-bone.
The third movement is all about texture and char in a single selection. Intramuscular “finger meat,” sourced from between the ribs, is seared till medium well. The cut looks like a tattered rag that’s spent too long on the grill. And then you take a bite; the blackened exterior yields to a center whose fats are as wobbly as pork belly.
The fourth movement is fat in the form of wagyu — ruminants that live the good life. The American-bred stuff whets the palate, but the Miyazaki from Japan electrifies it, with the type of spider-like marbling that recalls a Jackson Pollock print. It is more fat than meat, a sucker punch of beefiness whose texture almost feels closer to marrow than it does to steak.
If that sounds like an over-the-top luxury, the final movement brings you back to earth. This is the classic galbi, the same course that the $48 butcher’s block ends with. It’s prime ribeye marinated in soy and sugar, powerful flavors tempered via red leaf lettuce wrap. This is effectively the post-prandial salad course, but it’s also a brilliantly democratic move. It’s Cote’s way of saying ‘This was a luxury experience, but we’re not going to gussy up what we do best.’
If this all sounds like a lot of the same thing, well, it is. A classic sushi omakase might show off an ocean’s worth of fish, but the beef tasting is all muscle, all cow. And that’s where the beauty of the meal’s progression and portioning comes into play: It elicits beauty by finding variations, sometimes subtle, sometimes not, in products that are excessively similar. It’s a level of balance and nuance that’s on par with say, a masterful flight of pinot noirs from around the world, a high wire act that inspires more than it clouds the senses with overindulgence.
The omakase’s undeniable excellence reminds me of the following point: Just as the modern Korean restaurant has become a quintessential part of the Big Apple dining experience, a Korean barbecue dinner has become as inextricable a part of the New York steakhouse experience as a steak for two at Peter Luger. Within this larger category, Cote ranks at the top. I’m rating the $125 tasting a BUY. (Note: The omakase is best “reserved” through the booking process to ensure availability.)
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a single dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (or just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).