Kokkekoko report (or... $80 for chicken??!!)
- Mr. Taster Dec 11, 2005 12:11 PM
My girlfriend and I went to Kokkekoko for the first time a few days ago.
We sat at the bar and met several patrons who were outrageously enthusiastic about the place. Pablo, the guy next to us, had just been given a "free" bowl of edamame because he's a regular customer. "Of course edamame is free," you say to yourself, having been to 8,000 other restaurants where this is the case. One look at the menu however reveals otherwise... $4.00 for soybeans. Wow. Granted, they were served warm and dusted with salt, so there was some labor of preparation involved, but to my mind there's a lot more labor involved in baking bread and the dinner rolls are usually free.
We settle into the menu. $25 for a 10-skewer course (including an iceberg salad and light, brothy soup) or $15 for the "half course". We opted for one and a half, and bolused our order with a few more skewers at $2.20 a pop. In addition we orded the small sababo rice bowl, about $5.00, which had some really delicious ground chicken and seaweed on top of the rice. Per the suggestion of another one of the super-enthusiastic patrons at the bar, you add a little of the clear soup to the concoction it is quite good.
In fact, all of it was quite good. After a rediculously long wait (about 45 minutes) we were served our first skewer of chicken thigh, with apologies for taking so long. There were other customers seated at the bar who were inexplicably served immediately upon sitting, as if they had phoned ahead their order. It appears that this restaurant has a definite pecking order, something I don't like in any restaurant, but was especially surprising to find in laid back Littly Tokyo. Our orders continued to come and with little exception, each skewer was quite delicious. (I found out now that I am indeed a fan of chicken hearts-- smoky, chewy little nuggets of deliciousness.) We ordered two beers to bolus our order. We asked for the bill multiple times but in the end were waiting about 25 minutes for it. The worst part came when the owner came over to tell us that we needed to give up our seats for other guests! We told him that we had been waiting for our bill, and he said something to someone else-- shook our hands as a final gesture to get us to leave our seats. We then waiting around, standing, for our bill. Total bill with tip.... $80.
I left the restaurant in a haze, having liked the food but felt truly strange about the experience-- the long wait, the pecking order, getting rushed out of there (although with the extraordinarily slow service we actually were there for a total of 3 hours)
The final absurdity of the situation hit me when I realized that I had paid $80 for chicken. $80 for chicken! These are sushi prices... these are A.O.C. prices... do you know how many Dino's day-glo orange chickens I could buy for $80? How many chicken tarna sandwiches at Zankou I could buy? Fer god's sake, I could order 4 plates of marinated Korean deliciousness at Chosun Galbee (or 5 plates at soot bull jeep!)
I can't help but feel shafted by the whole experience... I have never read a negative review of this place on chowhound and I am curious to hear other opinions.
There's an interesting scene in the Diane Johnson novel "Le Divorce" (also made into a movie that I haven't quite worked up the nerve to see) in which a cultural misunderstanding over chicken crops up: As an American couple dines at the home of their (wealthy) French in-laws, they are surprised to be served chicken, which they consider a "cheap food." In fact, the narrator said, these poules are different - "expensive, tasty and allowed to spend their lives running around in a barnyard."
I know nothing about the provenance of these chickens, but perhaps it might explain their priciness. Who knows, maybe they're the Wagyu cattle of the poultry world! :)
On the other hand, being asked to yield your seats on top of having to wait so long is unbelievable! You should've refused... your bill probably would've come more quickly that way.
i eat there pretty regularly, and i agree, it takes awhile to get the skewers but it's worth it. i never go in there with the expectation that i'll get out quickly. it's a place where people linger and chat, drink. what i usually do is order the soboro-don (ground chicken rice bowl) and/or rice porridge, drink beer/sake, and usually by the time i'm done with that, the skewers are ready. i've never noticed a pecking order either bec. everyone has to wait, and believe me i've watched. maybe that one group went out for a smoke and came back to their table. i notice that happens occasionally in japanese restaurants.
Thanks for the heads-up.
We walked right past Kokkekoko the other night (maybe you were in there) on our way to Haru Ulala, which is just around the corner from Kokkekoko.
Haru Ulala also serves little dishes, like Kokkekoko. They don't have a pre-set multi-course meal, but instead you just order a bunch of different items. Ive never been to Kokkekoko (and based on your description, its unlikely Ill ever go there). Haru Ulala is kind of like Nanbankan, but not quite as nice.
The 3-mushroom miso soup was rich and I loved it. The grilled eggplant had freshly grated, still writhing bonito flakes. I usually don't much care for eggplant, but this was really good and smokey-tasting. I also don't much care for the seafood custard, but Mrs. Mikey declared it was creamy and delicious. The yellowtail sashimi was cut thick and really fresh. The deep fried camembert cheese came with a tasty dipping sauce that nicely offset the creaminess of the cheese. The grilled scallops were also a hit as these are not normally my favorite dish, but these were cooked perfectly. A real let-down was the spider roll. It was large, but the crab was not hot and it was poorly wrapped so it fell apart. The steamed shiitake mushrooms were okay. Nothing special to me, but the Mrs. really liked them.
The crab legs looked good, but we were too full to order them. Next time.
And while it listed the edamame on the menu at $3, they brought us a free bowl of them to begin our meal.
And the best part? All this and a small bottle of Kirin was $40 before tip.
Izakaya Haru Ulala
368 East 2nd Street
As someone who has professed love for this place on this board, I must take responsibility for your dissatisfaction with your experience.
KOKEKOKKO is the closest approximation to a real Japanese yakitori-ya that I've managed to find in LA (my search has been by no means exhaustive---and this point might very well be irrelevant to you anyhow). Ie., like a sushi-ya, I think one pays for a certain amount of quality ingredients and artisanship that are absent at places like Zankou, Dino's, and, arguably, your Korean BBQ comparisons. It is a bit like comparing a plate of potatoes fried in duck fat at AOC costs 8 bucks, when you could get a truckload of In n ' Out fries for the same price. Potatoes are potatoes, right? Well....not quite.
Service is definitely---um---deliberate, although this type of eating (despite the modest surroundings) is not meant to be a yer in-yer out type of affair. I will admit that at peak times (Fri, Sat nights), waits for tables and food can get irritating. And they don't take reservations.
Also, I've never noticed a pecking order, although, like at many Japanese restaurants, I'm sure regulars receive preferential treatment (this understandanly irks many Hounds).
It does sound like you experienced some frustrating stuff (that nonsense about your bill is unacceptable). And, despite my attempts, one cannot really argue with another person's assessment of value.
I'm glad you did enjoy the food (esp. the chicken hearts---livers are also delish here).
Bottom line: Worth checking out once (which obviously you did), and if you like it (like I do), worth returning.
203 S. Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012.
re: rabo encendido
Please don't take personal responsibility for my negative experience-- I took all houndly wisdom into account, not just yours ;)
By the way, I see based on a few responses here that I miscommunicated my feelings regarding the long wait. In fact despite the 3 hour visit, we did have a very good time drinking, chatting with other customers at the bar and eating at a leisurely pace. The most frustrating part was that last 20 minutes of waiting for the bill and getting rushed out of our seats (and then standing for 5 minutes as we waited for the bill).
I agree, the livers were really delicious, althought my girlfriend ate only the smoky, crispy bits on the outside and gave the rest to me :)
Incidentally, they did take a reservation for us at 7:00pm on Friday (I made reservation at around 12:00 on the same day). We were seated immediately. I knew to do this after a previous attempt to dine there a few months ago when we were refused due to the fact that we did not have reservations.
Anyway, now that I am no longer afraid of chicken hearts, I think I will get my fix down at pollo a la brasa... don't know how much they will cost, but I'm sure it will be less than $80!
I'm fond of this place, though I've not been there enough to be a regular, and I think regulars may in fact have a leg up with the servers.
It is, however, the closest downtown comes to a real yakitori (Shinsengumi's in Torrance comes equally close, for a smaller $$$, but it's a heck of a drive if you wwork downtown...) and you're undoubtedly paying for that to some extent.
Also, they apparently are careful enough about their quality control that they can serve the hard-to-get-in-LA "chicken sashimi" , which you don't mention getting. (someone fluent help me out here with the right word...)
Apparently, unless you are (a) Japanese and (b) ordering in Japanese, the staff will not only assume that you don't wanted it included in the set menu, but will ACTIVELY DISCOURAGE you from ordering it. In fear of litigious Americans, they have all sorts of warnings in the menu about the risk. If you're ordering in English, the waitress may repeatedly insist that when you say "rare" you in fact mean "medium". Stick to your guns. You want it "almost RAW like sashimi". OW, you're right, it's pretty expensive chicken, just like chu-toro is "pretty expensive tuna" when compared to Star-Kist...
And I had to laugh, since the Chow-Spouse, (more fond of places with "ambiance" and "dining experience" than I am) has been trying to break me for seventeen years of my habit of re-calculating, say, the price of the fixed menu at Charlie Trotter's in terms of the number of Burrito King soft tostadas it represents, ending with the conclusion "Well, this is better, but I don't know that it's FIFTY TIMES better!"
re: Silverlake Bodhisattva
Funny, now that you mention it, the server did ask if I wanted the chicken "medium or well done". Rare was not a profferred option. And I did notice not just on the menu but posted all over the restaurant were signs warning of the dangers of uncooked chicken.
I was indeed at shinsengumi's yakitori about a month or so ago and indeed we did enjoy ourselves just as much (if not more) for considerably less $$. Plus the festive yelling as patrons come and go added an atmosphere that just hit my funny bone in the right way every time.
Also, I neglected to mention that several of the regulars mentioned to me that they sell out of certain non-standard chicken parts very quickly that are apparantly all snatched up by the regulars (like the necks, not on the menu).
re: Silverlake Bodhisattva
i'll second a few of these kokkekoko assessments... the only place in town you can get rare/raw chicken lol. while i do prefer shin sen gumi (i think their birds are plumper and more flavorful), it's quite a drive to the south bay, and when i'm not in the mood for that kokkekoko delivers. incidentally, kokkekoko is the more authentic of the two, since a yakitori traditionally only serves chicken parts. SSG skewers up parts of various other animals, but that's not to say that they don't do so deliciously.
I heard from a good, reliable source that this place will change ownership sometime maybe around October. So maybe things will change there.
Mr. Taster, yes indeedy, Kokkekoko definitely has a pecking order and plays favourites; I stopped frequenting that restaurant a long time ago because of it (and I was a regular at the time). Also, part of the price factor is premium chicken and bincho charcoal from Japan.
I was referred to Yakitori-ya on Sawtelle many years ago (10-ish?) and have never been back to Kokkekoko (even though I work downtown). Yakitori-ya also uses premium chicken and bincho charcoal from Japan and IMO is better all-around restaurant.
In the past, Yakitori-ya had tori-sashi (raw chicken, served sashimi-style) and tori-wasa (almost-raw chicken served w/wasabi) on its menu, but, alas, the LA Health Dept demanded that it be removed along with medium-rare chicken breast some time ago.
11301 W. Olympic Blvd, #101, West Los Angeles, 90064
(entrance is on Sawtelle in the area of what people are now calling “Little Osaka”)
Wednesday – Monday 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
I heartily agree with yinyangdi, having been to both Kokkekoko and Yakitori-ya. We now live in the SG Valley and tried Shin-sen-gumi in Monterey Park as well. Yakitori-ya rules! Their saboro chicken is the best I've ever tasted-- the proper balance of salty, sweet, and a touch of ginger. Unfortunately the service @ Yakitori-Ya is not very good. I'd describe their service as spacy-- the waiters and waitresses are wandering around without thinking about their customers.
I've been here before once and all I could say is that I HATED it. The service is horrible, the servers ignore you or forget what you asked for, the wait is long, and the have order minimums! What the heck!
Above all, the chicken isn't even that great. Too dry, and the tare is unremarkable. SSG can kick their butt any time, and so can Bincho (RIP) in South Bay, Honda-Ya in the OC.