When it comes to love and restaurants, you know you’ve got a good thing when you can’t stop thinking about it. Koko’s is a good thing.
Billed as a Nikkei izakaya, the Brooklyn space opened late last year. Its ambiance and Japanese-Peruvian plates invite sharing. As with some other favorite recent openings, it feels like a party you’re actually happy to attend.
The difference between a Food Business and a restaurant is usually pronounced, and Koko’s is clearly the latter. It’s the kind of place where you’ll feel like a regular the first time you visit and factor that feeling into future evenings out before you sign the check.
A couple of typical two- and four-tops are up front, and the bar and a long row of tall tables backed by banquettes are up a few stairs beyond. Its decor anchor is a vibrant mural, and attention to design abounds throughout the rest of the room and the menu items.
The $14 eigakan 映画館 cocktail (in Japanese: Movie theaters) is one of Koko’s Instagram Things. The tipple tops caramel corn-infused rum, a cola reduction, lime and elote liqueur with a generous handful of caramel corn, all served in a vessel fashioned after a vintage red and white striped popcorn box. One note and obviously bracingly sweet, this is not even Koko’s best cocktail, but the seldom locally-seen presentation (similarly styled tipples have appeared at England’s Steam & Rye and New England’s The Ghost Walks) is conversation-stopping and portends further charms to come.
The Fuego Llama 熱いラマ ($13) is a perfect mix of tequila, aji amarillo, triple sec, lime and togarashi that transfers just a bit of pleasant heat. The smoky mezcal-based El Sombrero ソンブレロ ($15) is a hit, too, as is the Machu Pisco ($15) マチュ ピスコ, which adds cinnamon, lime and bitters to house-smoked pineapple pisco. That one’s served in an icy Inca Kola can. This is solidly a bar you can eat at and a restaurant you can drink at.
Koko’s food menu also has some exceedingly sippable options. The excellent $20 ceviche carretillero’s aji amarillo leche de tigre, brightly acidic and swimming with plump seafood, could be served as shots. It's fixed into fish tins with a side of fantastic fried calamari that amounts to a flavor and texture triumph you’ll turn over in your mind en route home, in your dreams and the morning after like you’d reimagine a fresh crush. Order it first while your appetite’s electric.
At $17, the hamachi kama’s another winner. The yellowtail collar’s best bites are toward the top as plated, so tear in and work your way down the juicy bit of lightly aromatic fish. It flakes beautifully, and it’s delivered with a portion of perfectly prepared rice. Add an order of pulpo anticuchero ($14), with its ideally finished octopus, tender potato medallions and dollops of botija olive mayo to create a tasting that Koko’s could charge a lot more under that label while coming by it honestly.
And isn’t honesty the foundation of any good relationship?
The Vibe: Fun, lively and welcoming with a clear focus on hospitality.
The Food: Excellent ceviche you’ll wish to sip, plus a terrific yellowtail collar and other items that amount to a marvelous DIY tasting experience.
The Drinks: The eigakan 映画館 cocktail’s a real beauty, but the tequila-based Fuego Llama and smoky mezcal El Sombrero are even better.
Time Out Tip: Koko’s has happy hour Sunday-Thursday from 4pm-7pm, when select bites and drinks are $9 or less.
Koko’s is located at 588 Grand Street and is open Tuesday-Sunday from 4pm to 1am and Sunday from 10:30am to 12am.