Koto Steak House and Sushi Bar
The Hot New Berkshires Asian Restaurant
By: Pit Bulls - 10/11/2012
Since its opening three months ago Koto has become the hot new Asian restaurant in the Berkshires.
A non descript building, at the intersection of the malls in Pittsfield, formerly housed Panda a generic Asian buffet. Not to be confused with another Panda restaurant on the main drag between Pittsfield and Lenox.
Arriving for lunch we were floored by the extreme makeover including a spacious main room set up with several Hibachi grills rimmed by seating. Separately, there is a Sushi bar. Along the periphery is a corridor with booth seating.
The wait staff was enthusiastic and friendly. There is an affordable and enticing menu with many options for lunch including- Bento Combo Boxes for $8.95 and six Kitchen Specials- Bulgoki, Mango Chicken/Shrimp, Basil Chicken/Beef, Curry Chicken/ Shrimp, Pad Thai and Koto Spicy Noodle- each for $8.95. There were three options for Sushi Lunch Box at $11.95 and Lunch Maki with a large selection at $7.95 for two rolls and $10.50 for three rolls. There were also options for Hibachi from $7.50 (vegetarian) to $12.95 (Steak and Shrimp or Shrimp and Scallop).
A minimum of two persons is required for Hibachi.
There were a number of diners enjoying the lunch specials but we found ourselves alone in the large Hibachi room.
While we explored the menu the head waiter came by to chat.
There is a vast dinner menu with many options from $11.95 to $30.95 (Hibachi Seafood Dinner with Lobster Tail, Shrimp and Scallop) and $59.95 for the all out Koto House Special for Two.
We asked how it’s going?
The answer was surprising. The restaurant is full Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Even with reservations it can take one to two hours to be seated in the Hibachi room. It's faster for seating with the regular menu. He described staff in tears trying to keep pace with the demand.
On weekends he advised coming before 5:30 PM or after 9 PM. No problem during the week but it is advisable to make reservations. One may only imagine the mayhem of a busy Saturday night. Of course it is no longer high season so it is less frantic during the dead of winter, which is when most restaurants suffer and long for spring.
There is also the sensation of being the new hot place to check out.
During a less hectic lunch we were able to get a sense of the palpable excitement of a unique dining option in the Berkshires. For this report we opted for Hibachi but hope to return over time and enjoy leisurely and affordable lunches. When shopping at the malls it will surely be a new destination.
We opted for the Steak ($9.95) and Chicken ($8.50) Hibachi. On the dinner menu Steak Hibachi is $19.95 and the Chicken $15.95. (Dinner comes with soup or salad, mixed vegetables, shrimp appetizer, fried rice or fried noodle.) To sample the Sushi we split a Lunch Maki with two rolls (Eel and Avacado and Spicy White Tuna) $7.95.
The young chef arrived wheeling in a table with ingredients on a tray, sauces, and condiments.
It started with a ritual drumming on the grill with knives and spatulas flipping in the air.
The grill was seasoned with a spray of oil that erupted in dramatic flame.
First came the egg. The ingredients were placed on the grill starting with rice in the center and vegetables on the side.
We were enchanted by the ritual which we learned took four years to learn. Kind of like earning a B.A. in Hibachi.
There was a lively interaction as he squirted Saki into our mouths as well as flipped vegetables at us like shooting hoops. It was such terrific fun and the chef proved to be wonderfully playful.
Clearly, it’s the drama and excitement that packs the dining room on weekends. And makes the restaurant a destination for parties.
Pancho It’s been awhile since I’ve had an experience like this. My last Hibachi was in New York. I thought that Flavours of Malaysia (in Pittsfield) was the Asian place to beat. The benchmark. But I’m learning that the honeymoon’s over.
Cisco Quote from an on line review that we agree with. “Good food, bad service, high prices. Sat at the bar, waited to order while the ‘bartender’ blundered around trying to mix drinks to order. Finally his mom came out to help him and then she took my order. After I got my salad I finally asked for silverware and water. Got the food fairly quickly and it was good, but not worth the $19 menu price. It's a good thing I wasn't terribly thirsty, I was never asked if I wanted a drink, while sitting at the BAR, even after the real bartender relieved the fill in.” We arrived at a virtually empty restaurant and were led to a bad table. When we complained the owners gave us attitude. We left. Unlikely to return for food that is superb but over priced.
Pancho Now with the Hibachi setup this is the Asian place to be. Our discussion with the head waiter indicates that it’s working. It’s successful.
This was a great experience and the good thing about Hibachi is that it is vegetarian, fish, fowl, and beef. So it accommodates any dietary preference. Of course there are other things on the menu that have to be experienced. Like a whole red snapper. It’s another standard by which to judge an Asian restaurant.
We had the rolls, eel and avocado, and the spicy white tuna. I haven’t found one Sushi place yet in the Berkshires that beat what I experienced in New York. The rolls were normal. In general I do not do Sushi outside New York. In my psyche the Berkshires are landlocked. Where New York has the famous Fulton’s fish market.
Bizen (17 Railroad St Great Barrington, MA 01230 (413) 528-4343) is still the best place for Sushi in the Berkshires. That may still be the place. But they don’t have what we experienced here, the Hibachi.
We have not tried the regular menu. Just the Hibachi. But regular food cannot be compared to Hibachi. The pleasure here is a great show from a young chef who knows his stuff. Here we have super fresh ingredients and that’s what makes Hibachi what it is. It’s not complicated dishes. It’s super fresh and done in front of you.
Today the highpoint was when the chef squirted saki into our mouths or flipped the food at our mouths.
Cisco Isn’t that normal?
Pancho No I’ve never had that. The knife work and tossing food in the mouth. That’s unheard of. I’ve never had that.
Cisco We were alone on the dining room and the chef seemed to be having fun with us. Perhaps that doesn’t happen on a busy Saturday night. That’s another reason to come for Hibachi lunch as you get more attentive service. You get the full treatment at roughly half the dinner price.
Pancho I can’t see that on a crowded night. We got the royal treatment. My meal was fine. Very fresh. Very Japanese. Sedate. No overdoing anything. Just perfect. My steak was just right.
My only criticism was the fried rice which was flavorful but had some hard, overcooked grains.
Cisco That’s exactly what I liked. That the fried rice was prepared with dry rice and wasn’t soggy. So, for me, it had just the right texture and that bit of crispness that you describe. I see that as a positive rather than a negative. One experienced the grains and texture of the rice. Too often fried rice is presented as mush. Also I like the drama with which he started the meal with the treatment of the egg. Then how it was folded in with the other ingredients.
Pancho The vegetables were absolutely glorious.
Cisco They were kept to the side away from the hot center of the grill. First he served the rice. Then he finished the meats. Finally he put the vegetables in the center and flamed them superbly. The trick seems to be in the timing of the different elements- rice, meat and vegetables; getting them all on the plate in rapid sequence so they are served hot.
So this may be a new favorite place for you.
Pancho This is definitely a keeper. I will be back to explore the menu further.