One of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had so far this year came courtesy of Koko Share Bar, a serene subterranean space several steps below Yorkville Ave. The menu touts modern takes on Korean and Japanese dishes, so it makes sense that their two signature dinner platters are Bossam (make-your-own Korean lettuce wraps) and Temaki (make-your-own sushi). Believe me, getting your hands dirty while creating your own meal has never been so classy or so fun.
The space itself is minimalistic, inviting and intimate. Co-owner Sang Kim is the reatauranteur behind Blowfish and his learnings and experience payoff ten-fold at Koko. The service is without a doubt impeccable. On my first visit, Sang and another staff member happily answered questions about the menu, stopped to talk to every table, and created such a warm environment that tables also began talking to each other.
While there are many other items on the menu, the Bossam and Temaki are $25/person, with a minimum two orders required. When we dined on a Monday night, things were slow so Sang allowed us to split the items, with one order of each for our party of two.
First up was the Bossam, a traditional Korean dish that has been slightly North-Americanized for our palate. A large white bowl is filled with crisp Boston lettuce leaves, blanched onions and Napa cabbage. It’s set beside a platter of spicy chicken, slow-roasted pork belly and Korean BBQ beef. I especially loved the three sauces: spicy mayo and the more traditional sweet chili paste and salted baby shrimp.
It’s easy enough to construct a custom wrap. Pick either a piece of lettuce or cabbage, slather it with whichever sauces you’d like, add some blanched onions, rice, one or more of the meats, and then tightly wrap it like a miniature burrito. The cool, crisp wrap contrasts in temperature and texture with the warm, chewy insides. You’ll enjoy each of the slightly messy but scrumptious bites.
It’s a similar process with the Temaki, and the variety of fillings provided is dizzying. In terms of raw fish there’s a daily chef’s selection of sashimi. (On this day it was salmon, yellowfish, tuna, butterfish, clam and ebi. On another there’s also a shot glass of scallops and salmon roe.) Expect it all to be incredibly fresh, since Sang brings in his fish on a daily basis.
If you want some crunch in your DIY handroll, there’s tempura vegetables, shrimp and sometimes soft-shell crab, plus a variety of fresh, grilled and poached vegetables (cucumbers, seaweed, daikon radish, arugula, four types of mushrooms and more). Of course there’s also sushi rice and high-quality, extremely crispy nori (seaweed). The three sauces that accompany this are again superb: spicy mayo (not as spicy as you’d expect), garlic mayo and a sweet soy. With so many choices there’s an infinite number of combinations. Plus, Sang is there to encourage experimentation and push you to make rolls you wouldn’t normally order.
Next week we’ll tell you more about a few more of Koko’s dishes, including the extremely popular and unique Hot Pot Spicy Seafood Bouillabaisse, which Sang is serving above. There’s also an Oxtail Sukiyaki Hot Pot, that Chef Jamie Kennedy and his family were enjoying at a neighbouring table. Earlier that same night, Chan-wook Park (director of Old Boy) was chatting with Sang and enjoying Koko’s fare. If you feel like you’re missing out on some celeb spotting and a very memorable meal, what can I tell you? You are. It’s as simple as that.
Koko Share Bar / 81 Yorkville Ave. Toronto
416 850 6135 / Hours: 7 days a week, 11:30am-12am