Larry Leibowitz will be the first to tell you that Kokeshi, the new Asian-influenced restaurant he has opened with partner Tim Haigh, is not authentic.
“We’re doing our own take, blending Asian style flavors with classic American preparations and our own casual whimsical spin,” he says. It’s the same approach the pair takes with Bambolina, their first collaboration, located just around the corner. At the “neo-Neapolitan” pizzeria, pies are made using imported Italian flour in an imported Italian oven – then topped with whimsical combinations like clam chowder.
The menu at Kokeshi (pronounced co-kesh-ee) is just as playful, including a Grilled Octopus Hot Dog—slow-cooked octopus, finished with a quick sear, served in a hot dog bun, or Osaka street corn, flavored with miso aioli and togarashi –a peppery Japanese spice blend. A kimchi tasting menu from local pickle producer Maitland Mountain Farm will heat things up.
There are also a lot of noodle and soup dishes, as well. Haigh and Leibowitz have been itching to bring a ramen-style noodle shop to the North Shore. “Ramen is blowing up all over New York, San Francisco, and a lot of major cities,” Leibowitz says. “It’s got some ethnic spin to it, in the sense that there are Asian ingredients, but it’s familiar because at the end of the day, it’s a bowl of hearty noodle soup, which everyone can appreciate.”
While initial plans called for a small ramen joint, when the 3,000-square-foot place on Lafayette Street became available, the team broadened their vision. The quirky space is well-suited to street food – it was once actually a street, enclosed over the years to house a variety of businesses, it is now sealed on both ends with garage doors. Maintaining an exterior industrial vibe, the long narrow space is decorated with cool graffiti and vintage kung-fu movies with projected onto the walls. A shipping container serves as the hot kitchen, and on the mezzanine level, there will be a lounge area with acoustic music.
“It’s hard to fit us into a box – it’s not sushi, it’s not Chinese food, it’s not Korean barbeque,” Leibowitz says of the space. “It’s unpretentious food, with a little twist, in a relaxed casual atmosphere.”