You'll want to check out the lavatory of this slick Dr. Phillips-area Latin-Asian tapas joint. It's all low lighting and lounge music, combined with the mesmerizing effects of a disco ball. Yes, a disco ball whirls above the latrine.
Overall, though, the restaurant is a looker. With its supper club vibe, the restaurant, run by Nicholas Virthe (managing partner at the now-shuttered Senso Supper Club), seemed to suffer a dearth of customers during our visit. We were led to a step-up booth with a large mirror dangling above, the only diners in the posh room from 7 to 9 p.m. one weeknight. Compared to the populist and packed-to-the-hilt Fresco Cucina Italiana next door, Kokino seemed like the poor little rich girl no one wanted to talk to.
That said, I did find myself unconsciously, then consciously, wriggling along to the beat of lounge tracks being piped from above as I scoured the menu. Kokino once touted a gimmicky "tartare menu" offering nine proteins and 14 different international sauces with which to pair, but no such menu was presented to us (I'm guessing their tartare offerings have been pared down somewhat since the restaurant opened in March of last year). But we got a dose of raw with Sewansecott (Virginia) oysters in the seafood canoe ($35), all of which were superbly briny yet smooth. Unfortunately, the jumbo shrimp and Alaskan king crab that also occupied the platter were devoid of succulence. So it was back to more oysters – kimchi butter-baked oysters ($10), specifically – which were somewhat overwhelmed by a heavy-handed use of lime and Thai chili powder.
You get the sense that chef Edgardo Rodriguez (Vines Grille, the Ravenous Pig) is a little deflated by the tepid response to the restaurant, yet dishes like grilled asparagus sprinkled with bresaola, smoked peanuts, grana padano and topped with a poached egg ($9) offered glimmers of his potential – as did perfectly cooked lamb pops rolled in sofrito and crushed plantain chips ($13), though the bed of salsa rosa (house-made ketchup and mayonnaise) I could've done without. Pan-searing a steak in butter then adding a burnt mushroom chimichurri really made for an oily ribeye plancha ($23): While it looked good on that wood board (save for the river of grease), the steak, surprisingly, lacked flavor.
Cocktails were crafty, wine pours generous, and our server couldn't have been more attentive or accommodating but, then again, we were the only people in the restaurant. I thought the images of the terra-cotta warriors hanging on one wall were a little ominous. Given their purpose was to protect the Emperor in the afterlife, I couldn't help but draw parallels to the restaurant, falsely perhaps. But a delightful lavender olive oil cake ($8) with macerated strawberries, Chantilly cream and lemon-buttermilk sorbet was hardly a funerary offering.
It's a beauty of a restaurant, sizable covered patio – ideal for the hookah and cigar set – included. Yet I felt a tinge of melancholy leaving the place. It was like parting with a really pretty girl you didn't quite connect with on the first date, knowing, or rather hoping, there's someone out there for her.
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