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When fried chicken and Champagne is a match made in heaven

New York's hottest new restaurant is a fried chicken joint with one of the ‘largest’ Champagne lists in America

The bright acidity and bubbles of sparkling wine pair well with fried chicken.
The bright acidity and bubbles of sparkling wine pair well with fried chicken. (Freepik)

When Coqodaq opened its doors on January 12 in New York’s Flatiron district, it was more than ready to assume its role as the “cathedral of fried chicken,” in the words of restaurateur Simon Kim—in contrast to sister Korean steakhouse Cote, the “temple of beef.”

It had already amassed a collection of more than 400 Champagne selections—topping every other list in the US—making it a basilica of bubbles as well.

“Who should have the largest Champagne list in America? Should it be a French restaurant?” says Kim. “No, it should be a Korean fried chicken restaurant.” (The name Coqodaq is a mash-up of coq, chicken in French, and daq, chicken in Korean.)

Under the auspices of Seung Kyu (SK) Kim, the executive chef whose fine dining bonafides include Jean-Georges and Nougatine, the main attraction is an elevated take on fried chicken: Humanely raised birds from Pennsylvania Amish country are coated in a gluten-free rice-flour batter and triple-fried in cultured sugarcane oil. Whether served plain to be dipped in honey mustard or presented glazed with soy-garlic sauce or spicy-sweet gochujang, the ultimate pairing with the crispy chicken is Champagne, says Simon Kim.

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“Fried chicken is fatty, crunchy; it needs effervescence,” he explains. Instead of the traditional pairing with beer—which is offered—Kim has opted to focus on Champagne. The bright acidity and bubbles of sparkling wine cut through the richness of the food while standing up to the robust dishes, he says. Just don’t get too precious about it: “Champagne should be gulp-able with fried chicken,” he adds.

While this is hardly the first emporium devoted to fried poultry and sparkling wine (see: Birds & Bubbles, which closed in 2017), it’s surely most over-the-top.

The dark, high-ceilinged space,  designed by David Rockwell, includes cracked plaster wall panels, intended to subliminally evoke the surface of fried chicken, and a tunnel of illuminated golden arches that might bring to mind a gilded chicken coop. Immediately inside the entryway, a hand-washing station features luxury soap brands and ovoid mirrors (chickens and eggs are prominent visual motifs), the better to clean your “utensils” without a detour to the restroom. A red wine cave is visible in the dining room behind glass doors, while the Champagne cellar is below the restaurant.

To build the Champagne list, Victoria James, business partner and executive director of beverage, spent four years scouring wine magazines, local best-of rosters and wine lists at Michelin-starred restaurants. Among those Coqodaq has surpassed: Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, New Jersey (some 382 selections); Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in the Houston Galleria (369 selections) and Downtown Houston (232 selections), both in Houston; Acqurello in San Francisco (308 selections); SingleThread Farms in Healdsburg, California (242 selections); and Manhattan contenders Eleven Madison Park (283 selections) and Le Pavillon (200 selections).

“It’s the largest Champagne collection in the US,” James says. She can’t confirm it’s No. 1 globally: “I didn’t have time to research the whole world.” 

The expansive wine list—500 sparklers, including the list of 400 Champagnes, for now—includes blue chips Philipponat, Veuve Clicquot and Dom Pérignon. The expansive collection means it will be possible to sample a flight of cuvées from the 1970s, taste a flight from a specific region spanning the last 10 years or dive deep into offerings from one producer. Half-bottles of Krug ($170) and A. Margaine ($60) are listed alongside a 375 ml private-label “baby bottle” from Gaston Chiquet ($70) that’s exclusive to Coqodaq.

The menu includes 100 bottles under $100, at least a third of which will always be Champagne, James says. Six Champagnes are offered by the glass ($25 to $45).

In the opening days, top sellers have been at the higher end of the scale: bottlings from Selosse ($750–$1,600), Prevost ($690–$900), Dhondt-Grellet ($180–$750), 2000 Dom Pérignon P2 ($1,220) and older Krug ($1,790–$3,300), James reports, along with Burgundy such as aged Corton-Charlemagne ($585) and a Leroy Vosne-Romanée from 1978 ($3,750). About a dozen wines come on and off the list daily.

Rounding out the drink offerings is a “Coqtail” menu with many featuring tea—a reference to the US South’s traditions of sweet tea and fried chicken—overseen by Sondre Kasin, the restaurant group’s principal bartender, and Coqodaq bar manager Matt Chavez (formerly of Ci Siamo). This includes a “Make It a Spagett” option for a pony of Miller High Life, with aperol and lemon juice added to “the Champagne of Beers.”

“In the past, Champagne hasn’t gotten the spotlight, because it’s not always the easiest sell,” James explains; some guests find it intimidating or assume it will be prohibitively expensive. “But when you have the best platform in the world—fried chicken—it’s easy to do.”

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