SCENE: A stylish spot in the center of the city: a real mix of people in business attire, tourists and in-the-know locals looking for juicy steaks
RECOMMENDED DISHES: Corn flatbread with any of the seven accompaniments; the dry aged steak; a whole steamed chicken in a pot with crispy rice
DRINKS: Old World wines, cocktails, made with everything from mezcal to yuzu, and some excellent Ontario craft brews
PRICE: $200 for two
OPEN: Mon.–Fri.: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sun.–Wed.: 5:30 to 10 p.m., Thurs.–Sat.: 5:30-11 p.m.
RESERVATIONS: Reserve using Open Table
It seems that David Chang, the maestro of Momofuku, the king of noodles, cannot put a foot wrong. Or at least when he does — rarely — put a foot wrong, he is that rare human who makes a quick turn.
The miscalculation that was Daishō and Shōtō on the third floor of his fabulous noodle house, the error that asked diners to sit for three hours and eat what they told us to eat, has morphed, joyously and deliciously, into Kōjin, a more casual minuet on the taste buds.
The servers are uniformly joyous in their explication of the parade of treats they proffer, just because. Not one but three things unordered: A little ceramic bowl of bone broth simmered with Earl Grey tea. Asian pear, charred corn and green tomato lightly pickled in white kimchee. Two “chips” of crispy kohlrabi holding succulent slow-roasted duck with watercress.
The coconut rice at Kōjin ($13)
And their descriptions of menu items are almost rhapsodic, outdone only by the fabulous taste of things. Paper-thin slices of raw fluke come dressed in pungent olive oil, anointed by the server — from an eye dropper! — with Chang’s homemade rye bonji (soy sauce’s lighter more sophisticated cousin).
Thick, moist corn flatbread made from hominy and cornmeal, served warm, comes with lots of different toppings. Tomato with feta is a symphony of oil, garlic and deep pleasure. This is a spoon-licker.
But then so is the Tita’s mash, so simple and yet almost erotic —potatoes whipped smooth with a lot of old Gouda and cheese curds. This recipe comes from chef Paula Navarrete’s Colombian grandmother. From Argentina we get the wood-fired grill behind the eating counter. Here chef grills superb hunks of beef.
Is Kōjin a steak house? If you judge by the meat, yes. Chef’s $78 14-ounce boneless rib-eye (good for two people) is as juicy and savoury as it gets and plays very well with house-made steak sauce, Navarrete’s answer to HP, and her own red chili sauce. It doesn’t hurt that this sexy hunk of meat, aged 32 days, comes topped with melting marrow butter and a big fat grilled green chili.
Kōjin’s dry aged steak
I would skip the desserts. Despite my very fond feelings for dulce de leche, this version if too big for two people, and its advertised challah stuffed with dulce de leche is too much of the former and insufficient of the latter. The scoop of house-made vanilla ice cream on the top is as creamy and rich as it gets, but small consolation for the dryness underneath.
The room, always charming, has become more casual, and is a carefully curated compendium of small spaces. One feels elegant here and very well taken care of.
Kōjin, 190 University Ave., 647-253-8000