Thick slabs of shadowy marble with faint, creamy veins that double as tables; elegant, earthy artwork of obscure, mysterious shapes; and rich, dark-green walls make it clear that Cote is a restaurant that takes itself seriously. But not too seriously — overlooking the dining room is an oversized pink neon sign of Cote’s Korean flower logo, which reassures diners that they’re allowed to have a bit of fun with their dinner. This original combination, rare among Michelin-starred restaurants, only seems paradoxical, though, until you meet Cote’s founder and owner, Simon Kim.
Speaking with Kim makes an impression. He is extremely articulate, with a manner of speaking that is more akin to an old friend than a restaurateur, a characteristic enhanced by the nostalgic, soothing tones of his voice. Grace, integrity and purpose were behind every word he spoke. But just as naturally, Kim made me feel at ease with his lightheartedness; he may be the only Michelin restaurateur to identify “fire, beef and booze” as the secret ingredients to his success.
To understand Kim’s ambitions requires an understanding of the influence of Kim’s parents in shaping the essence of the restaurant. It takes someone with special perseverance and clarity of purpose to bring Korean barbecue to Michelin status. These characteristics can be traced back to Kim’s mother: “My mom, she is one of those ladies, if she puts her mind to it, anything is possible sort of a lady. So, I think I got that entrepreneurial spirit. If I have an intention, if I have a will, there’s going to be a way. And if it doesn’t work out, it means I didn’t try hard enough.” From his father, Kim finds the importance of plate integrity and detail-oriented service. “I am in the hospitality business, and it’s all about the details, and my father is literally the epitome of appreciation of fine details. My father never really appreciated anything because it was highly sought after. There’s going to be someone who actually physically and metaphysically connects with a product, service, restaurant or hospitality institution, and I think that’s my father,” says Kim. “He will go to a restaurant if they have the best product, or where the owner of the restaurant had the best intention and attention to detail, in a very humble but very meaningful, integrity-driven way. He always appreciated that, and I think that impacted me more than anything.”
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