Great chick sticks at Yakitori KOKKO San Mateo
Yakitori KOKKO is the latest Japanese evening to late night dining venue for San Mateo This is good news for most of us J-food fans, because it is rather authentic and a wonderful breath of fresh air after the tried and true cooked appetizer/side dishes at Sushi Sam's, the old and tired Lakuni, the generally mediocre fare at Izakaya Mai (other than their Nagasaki Champon noodle bowl), or the non ramen dishes at Himawari for comparison.
Finally San Mateo gets a true chick stick restaurant, or yakitori (grilled chicken skewer)
The interior is classical minimalist design, adorned with wood floors and wood ceilings. Some of the sections/tables are separated by noren (curtains like those you would see at a very serious old school sushi or Japanese restaurant....for reference Ino Sushi in SF has them which you have to pass through before getting seated).
The restaurant is a new business venture by Keisuke Suga, owner of Kappo Nami Nami in Mountain View (who previously co-owned Hanamaru in Sunnyvale and interestingly Himawari before opening Kappo Nami Nami, and is supposedly a fan of Sumiya Yakitori as a late night South Bay haunt) who I suppose brought some of the fine interior decor elements from KNN to YK.
The ordering process is very easy, a paper menu printed on both sides with the usual yakitori suspects and also skewers with other meat selections (beef, pork), seafood selections (as well as vegetables) then some izakaya type side dishes for you to customize your meal, in addition to some fancy fusion type dishes (but not too fusiony).
Each order is one skewer, unless specified on the menu. You may want to load up to avoid a wait, especially if you are really hungry.
Similarly to Sumika, for the chicken skewers, for the most part, you pick the seasoning you want, shio (salt), or tare (sauce).
Here's what I tried
(s) = shio
(t) = tare
Momo - Chicken thigh (s) (t) - shio momo was dead on perfect in all aspects. The standard must order.
Sunazuri - Chicken gizzard (s) - good crunch, way way way way better than Santa Ramen's version at the old location for obvious reasons.
Kawa - Chicken skin (s) (t) - the skins are not crispy but somehow they managed to make it juicy and with just the right tooth bounce
Tsukune - Chicken meatball (t) - unfortunately the tare receipe was not good, too salty for one thing. Sumika does their tare receipe way better.
Hatu - Chicken heart (s) heartfully juicy
Nankotsu - Chicken cartilage (served with mayo on the side) - very interesting if you never had this before. Slightly crispy, almost like eating fish cartilage.
Gyu tan - Beef tongue (slightly chewy and thick slices but good after squeezing the lemon wedge over it)
Butabara - Pork Belly (overrated, marinated with spicy miso, and quite salty to boot) grilling pork belly is just not enough to make it perfect.
Tontoro - Pork cheek (way better than butabara). Taiwanese folks who like "sai bahng rou" (boiled pork cheeks) would love this.
Shitake - mushroom (smothered with too much katsuoboshi, made it hard to taste the smokey mushrrom)
Aspara bacon - Asparagus wrapped in bacon (good but as this came late in the meal it felt like a chore finishing it up)
Iwashi - 2 sardines (overly salty, a tad bit dry, perhaps to mask the fishiness or freshness, or a trick to get you to consume more alcohol to drown it out?)
Ginnan - ginko nut (don't bother, buy this at home and eat with congee instead)
Sazae - sea snail (like a cross between canned abalone and clam)
They also have Nagoya style chicken wings, perhaps a similar prep to Dohatsuten in Mountain View.
The two waitresses who worked that night spoke perfect English.
Reservations strongly recommended.
509 2nd Ave
San Mateo, CA 94401
We have been to Kokko twice now and are going again tonight, having been invited by friends. We think it's quite good and, definitely a welcome addition to downtown San Mateo, but feel that authenticity-wise Los Altos' Sumika rates a bit higher. And service at Kokko has been disappointing. At our table one evening (among the sake drinkers) we had a tea drinker and she had to constantly flag down the server to receive more tea. Yes, it's busy and the servers seem instructed to only deliver the constant flow of small plates from the kitchen and not much else. Kind of frantic. Service is a bit better at Sumika. Sumiya in San Jose is also good, but we have been there only once and sat at the counter. At all of these places reservations are a must.
There's absolutely no argument that Sumika is far more authentic food and taste wise.. Those who know Sumika and executive chef "Maru-chan" very well knows that he runs a tight ship and has an eagle eye (from the kitchen) on the floor, and most of the time service is very tight yet smooth, but only when he's in the house. The prices are a lot higher at Sumika, but in addition to paying for real estate, at least we know their chicken comes from organic free range from Petaluma farms to emulate that jidori flavor. That plus Maru-chan has quite a lot of experience from Japan with yakitori (amongst other culinary delights which the regulars know about).
I definitely did not enjoy the tare (sauce) very much on the skewers that I ordered at YK but hopefully that will improve with time.
re: K K
I haven't been back to Sumika since soon after it first opened. But I did make it to Sumiya just a couple months before trying Kokko so it was fresh on my mind, and I'd agree that Kokko is in third place. I still liked Kokko alot and it's easier for me to get to. The chicken at Kokko is also from Petaluma Poultry, I asked the chefs.
re: Melanie Wong
Well, it seems that I never got around to filling in the details from my December 2009 visit to Kokko. I'll bump this thread to ask for updates. Who's been there recently?
And a few photos:
December 2009 - Kokko in San Mateo
Battered and deep-fried chicken cartilage (nankotu karaage), $6.50.
Skewer of tontoro (pork cheek), $3, and black pig (kurobuta) sausage, $5.95.
Didn't like the grilled sardines, $5.50, too dried out and not fresh. Can't remember what the grilled skewer is, maybe chicken liver?
Chicken karaage, nice version using boneless thigh meat with the skin on, $6.95.
House chazuke, broth a bit weak, but elevated with some fancy topping with crispy chicken skin and crunchy tiny cracker-like bits. $5.50.
Clear mochi sweets, one dusted with macha (green tea powder) and the other with a type of flour that couldn't be translated into English readily.
509 2nd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401