Simon Kim Wants Coqodaq to Be the Undisputed Champion of Fried Chicken

"Everyone has this strong nostalgic connection to fried chicken. I thought it was time for us to be able to create something that’s a little more elevated," Simon Kim tells Observer of Coqodaq.

Coqodaq. Coqodaq

Simon Kim will open New York “fried chicken cathedral” Coqodaq on Friday, January 12, and he sees an even bigger market opportunity than he did when he debuted game-changing Korean steakhouse Cote in 2017.

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“Some people love red meat, and some people don’t,” Kim, who earned a Michelin star at Cote, tells Observer. “Everybody, unless you’re pescatarian or vegetarian, loves chicken. Everyone has this strong nostalgic connection to fried chicken. And America has been consuming more and more chicken per capita. My premise came from, how come we’re stuck with just fast food fried chicken restaurants? I thought it was time for us to be able to create something that’s a little more elevated. So we started on this journey about four-and-a-half years ago.”

Kim visited regenerative farms in Nebraska and Arkansas, but in the end, it wasn’t the right fit. “The mission was too good. So taste-wise, it was just not quite there,” he says.

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Then the restaurateur found a Pennsylvania Amish farm with pasture-raised, antibiotic-free, hormone-free chickens that are fed a completely vegetarian diet. The flavor and texture of the meat was ideal for Kim’s plans. Once the sourcing was sorted, chef/partner SK Kim (no relation) spent 14 months researching and developing recipes. His experimentation led to Coqodaq using a gluten-free batter that has rice flour and other starches, which results in crunchier bites with less fat retained. Coqodaq also stands out by frying chicken in cultured oil made by fermenting Brazilian sugarcane.

“It’s certified non-GMO, certified non-deforestation,” Simon Kim says of the oil. “This sugarcane just grows like weeds. It’s one of the fastest-growing crops. And cultured oil has higher monounsaturated fats. It’s almost like extra virgin olive oil, but it has a higher smoke point. So the idea is it’s better for you, and it’s better for the planet.”

Coqodaq, which serves a $38-per-person “bucket list” feast complete with consommé, banchan, cold noodles and frozen yogurt featuring seasonal fruit, is putting a Korean spin on fried chicken. In addition to the Coqodaq original flavor, there’s the option of an umami-rich soy-sauce-and-garlic glaze or a spicy gochujang glaze.

Coqodaq’s “bucket list.” Coqodaq

Kim wants to make eating fried chicken a well-balanced experience, so Coqodaq is serving banchan like pickled white radish, cabbage kimchi, pickled celery and scallion salad with romaine hearts. “You consume a bunch of vegetables and you don’t feel so heavy afterward,” he says. “That is always our ethos.”

Kim also wants to enhance the fried chicken experience with what he claims will be the “largest Champagne list in America,” along with beer and cocktails.

“The acidity of Champagne really pairs well with the fried chicken,” he says. “The idea is to elevate fried chicken so it can be a little fancier. But we also wanted to make our Champagne more approachable to the public. Fried chicken allows you to do that. Champagne can be seen as a bougie thing. It’s expensive. But Victoria James, our beverage director and a partner, put together 400-plus labels of Champagne, and we also made a list that’s a hundred types of Champagne and sparkling wine under a hundred bucks.”

Having this kind of range is important for Kim, who wants to marry luxurious experiences with accessibility in his nearly 200-seat restaurant. He’s set up a bar area with 16 high-top seats for guests to sip and savor during casual drop-bys. He also has a small private room that might turn into something like his vibey Undercote bar, located, fittingly, below Cote.

Everything is on the table,” Kim says as he considers his future plans and expansion ideas for fried chicken. “I think there’s definitely an opportunity to open more Coqodaqs. And then I think there’s also an opportunity to open more of a QSR [quick-service restaurant]—instead of a full cathedral, a little shrine that can tell the gospels of a better fried chicken. Once I’ve gained the championship belt as the undisputed champion of fried chicken in New York City, there are a lot of ways to do good for the community as well as expand the business.”

Image: Portrait of Simon Kim.
Simon Kim. Gary He

He’s looking to create a destination restaurant for the masses, so Coqodaq’s interior features striking details like David Rockwell-designed hand washing stations near its entrance. Kim is making a statement about the importance of hygiene, but also a statement about how the nicest things don’t have to be exclusive.

“More and more people are going toward membership dining,” Kim says. “It’s so elite-focused. Our bucket list is $38 per person. And it’s in a beautiful space. I think fried chicken is a great equalizer.”

“The reason I’m in New York is its diversity. We have the best Champagne list in America as well as caviar. If you want to splurge, you can really splurge. But if you want to come in and really have an amazing dining experience with your family, you can do that,” he opines. “I want to make the spectrum thick, so that a billionaire is next to an NYU student or somebody taking their family out on a budget. I feel like that diversity is what really makes New York what it is.”

Coqodaq, located at 12 E. 22nd St., opens Friday, January 12, 2024.

Simon Kim Wants Coqodaq to Be the Undisputed Champion of Fried Chicken