by Michelle-Marie Heinemann
The significance of food in culture has long been considered an art form, and we human beings delight in beauty and order and presentation.
I have always considered myself a food enthusiast and when a restaurant comes along that crosses over onto the canvas of Art I feel compelled to share it with the world…..such a restaurant is KOA.
This classically structured modern Japanese restaurant is located distinctly in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, New York and owned by Toranosuke Matsuoka and Keiko Ono Aoki who also owns Benihana of Tokyo.
Upon entering KOA I immediately noticed the magnificent bar encased with mushroom wood. I was told the boards came from 25 year old upstate mushroom huts and these dark huts are where mushrooms are grown directly on the wood and over the years the fungi slowly eats away at the softer parts of the wood exposing its beautiful contours. The fact that a wood was used with a direct correlation to food is genius! The energy and history of this wood welcomes one to the bar for a Nama Sake or an organic glass of perfectly chilled Prosecco.
Toranosuke, known to all as Tora and Keiko were most gracious and welcoming and recommended several dishes that were outstanding. The food in presentation and taste is exquisite as renowned chef Yuji Wakiya known as the foremost Chinese chef in Japan, broke new ground in the culinary world with the concept of Haute Chinese, and Iron Chef fame, as well as an author of 13 culinary books.
I thoroughly enjoyed discussing the vision of KOA, which is an acronym for Keiko Ono Aoki. Keiko explained to me the perfectly hung elongated ropes hanging from the ceiling in a portion of the space represented and was symbolic of Noodles, more specifically Sorba, which was created by her. This dish is a new style of noodle that is healthier, more flavorful and visually stunning.
My evening began with chilled marinated Filet Mignon, which was thinly sliced and served with asparagus and a soy milk mustard dressing. Pure heaven!
I followed this with steamed pork buns, succulent honey roasted pork belly served with sliced cucumbers and a hishiho miso sauce. These buns were so soft and beautiful, truly the most delicious steamed pork bun I have ever had.
Next, I was served a larger dish of steamed Chilean Sea Bass, which was white and flaky and perfectly cooked and served with broccoli and ginger scallion soy sauce. Pure perfection! After this my Sorba arrived. I selected the vegetable Sorba, summer vegetables with a soy milk broth. KOA is the only restaurant in the United States that imports this ultra premium soy milk from Japan. It is amazingly smooth and creamy, so much so cocktails are even made with it.
Keiko also shared that KOA can accommodate 250 people for private events and there is a small semi-private VIP area in the back, that is perfect for 20 seated guests, with DJ equipment and an integrated sound system. This is wonderful as dining privately with family and friends is always appreciated on special occasions.
As my evening came to a close I felt elevated to a higher state of consciousness as my surroundings, hosts for the evening, and the most divine food, enabled my senses to soak up the significance of Art and Culture.