On a recent Saturday night at Terra Cotta, I almost thought I had walked into a club. The bass was thumping. The party was bumping. The sparkly chandeliers dangled, disco ball-like, and I wondered how long it would take before I started to regret my reservation. Thankfully, I never did. Yes, the Koreatown stunner is flashy and a bit of a scene, but it is also incredibly fun—thanks, in large part, to chef Danny Ye’s food.
Ye, formerly of NYC’s Nobu, has constructed a global (though Asian-skewed) menu with some absolute knockouts. Seafood is king here, like the Japanese buri aka hamachi, which shines with a dressing of bright ginger salsa and a terragon avocado medley. Hamachi takes another form in the Hama Kama, where the flaky fish’s collar is served, intact and almost dinosaur-like, with daikon and a scallion salad. (Pro tip: Eat this dish like you would ribs—with your hands.)
Despite the cocktails clinking around us and the glowing blue lights that screamed Vegas lounge, parts of the menu alluded to a casual izakaya. We wrapped up juicy hunks of short rib and caramelized onions in lettuce leaves before dunking them in galbi sauce, licking our sticky fingers clean. We popped Korean fried cauliflower into our mouths like popcorn clusters. The one misstep: a tomato and lobster salad, which took the Vegas vibe too far with its focus on appearance over flavor.
The party continues at Terra Cotta with dessert; in particular, a fantastic matcha mille feuille that resembles stacked Lego blocks. Scoops of creamy matcha custard sit between a few layers of caramelized phyllo, a block of coconut ice cream close by. We uttered approving “mmm”s and “yummm”s that almost—almost—drowned out the bass.
What to Eat: The Korean fried cauliflower ($10). The Hama Kama ($19). The Japanese hamachi ($19). The galbi toban ($25). The matcha mille feuille ($11).
What to Drink: Beverage director Michael Nemčik has done a commendable job of crafting cocktails that are both refreshing and buzzworthy. Many of his drinks take advantage of ingredients that the kitchen uses on a regular basis: black sesame, fresh yuzu, shiso leaf, foo gwa melon. The Blac Velvet ($12)—a murky black cocktail made with Rhum JM, Angostura 7-year, black sesame and lime—is perfect for Instagram, but I was more enamored with the bright Vegetable ($12), one of Terra Cotta’s four gin and tonics. Using Ford’s gin, shaved cucumber, black pepper and Thai basil, it’s enough to make anyone without a green thumb consider starting a garden.
Where to Sit: Normally the chef’s counter is considered a coveted spot, but Terra Cotta’s version is squirreled away in the back of the restaurant, and in the direct path of harried servers bustling between the kitchen and main dining room. If you are offered a spot there, ask for a tabletop instead—or better yet, a booth if it’s available. Then take a look at the geometric tiled floors beneath your feet and the glamorous chandeliers above your head, and revel in Terra Cotta’s splashy opulence.