SALEM – When a restaurant serves Miller High Life in champagne glasses, cooks their food out of a shipping container, and projects old Kung Fu movies on the walls, you can be sure they don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s all fun and a whole lot of flavor at Kokeshi.
Located in Salem, Massachusetts, Kokeshi is a big, festive space serving a menu that spans Asia, according to owner Larry Lebowitz.
“It pulls from a lot of different regions of Asian culture. We’re not Mandarin or Szechuan. And we’re not sushi. We’re not Korean food. It’s a little bit of everything. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and we just want to put out really good food in a fun environment.”
The vibe at the restaurant is special.
“We incorporated some local artists to help with the design of the restaurant,” Larry explained. “It has extremely tall ceilings. We further accentuated that with the street lamps that you’ll see and some of the graffiti and street art that dons the walls. We’re hoping to create an atmosphere where you can relax, have fun in an unpretentious environment.”
So Phantom bellied up to the bar, ordered up the champagne of beers, and started his search for The Perfect Meal.
The appetizers at Kokeshi take Asian Street food to a new level. There is delicate Tuna Tartare served with Crispy Wontons for added crunch, and Flash Fried Wings – Larry’s go to appetizer.
“I love our Chicken Wings. When you first bite into it you get that crisp outer coating, but they’re soft and juicy on the inside. They’re delicious.”
The Octopus Hot Dog is something you won’t find on many menus, topped with a sriarcha mayo and Daikon slaw for an Asian twist on a ball park classic. If you really want to kick your meal off right, there’s no better app than the Steamed Pork Buns, stuffed with pickled carrot and cucumber and slathered with sriracha mayo.
“Our Steamed Pork Buns are probably one of the most popular appetizers on our shared plate menu,” Larry said. “When you bite into it you get that meaty texture from the pork belly, and then you get a little sweetness from the vegetables, but enough acid to cut through that sriracha mayo.”
Since steaming bowls of soup are the house specialty, some noodles are a must order at Kokeshi. There is the Farmer’s Harvest, a vegan option with thick udon noodles swimming in a mushroom tea broth; authentic Vietnamese Noodles made with a spicy chili broth, ground pork, shaved carrots and bean sprouts; and for something not so traditional there is the Colonel Sanders soup – fried chicken ramen.
“It starts off with Tokyo wavy noodles, the Kokeshi broth, and then we add in big chunks of fried chicken, and then it gets finished off with Vermont butter, Thai basil, and sambal, which provides some really great heat,” Larry described.
When it comes to bowls, Phantom likes the flavors of breakfast, so he prefers The Bacon and Eggs bowl.
“The Bacon and Eggs starts off with some of that fatty, rich pork belly. It then intensifies with two slices of crisp bacon. We add nuruto and a soft egg, and it gets finished with our Kokeshi broth. It’s a great bowl of soup and it’s actually quite filling.”
Beyond starters and soups, Kokeshi offers a range of entrees, from Chicken tossed in a Thai Green Curry with coconut, green beans, bok choy and baby corn; a Rice Bowl loaded up with Korean Short Rib and spicy cucumbers and kimchi; and a satisfying sandwich called Num Pang.
“The Num Pang is a Cambodian Sandwich,” Larry said. “It’s what we believe will be the Bahn Mi of tomorrow. We make it in two styles, either with shrimp or a shoyu egg. Both are bathed in a chili mayonnaise and then get topped with a lot of fresh, crisp vegetables, including daikon, carrot, napa cabbage. Gets a little bit of sweet and sour sauce.”
Steamed Pork Buns, Bacon and Eggs Bowl, and the Num Pang make for the Perfect Meal at Kokeshi.
You can find Kokeshi at 41 Lafayette Street in Salem, and online at kokeshirestaurant.com.
Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.