Yakitori KOKKO is the latest Japanese evening to late night dining venue for San Mateo This is good news for most of us J-food fans, because it is rather authentic and a wonderful breath of fresh air after the tried and true cooked appetizer/side dishes at Sushi Sam's, the old and tired Lakuni, the generally mediocre fare at Izakaya Mai (other than their Nagasaki Champon noodle bowl), or the non ramen dishes at Himawari for comparison.
Finally San Mateo gets a true chick stick restaurant, or yakitori (grilled chicken skewer)
The interior is classical minimalist design, adorned with wood floors and wood ceilings. Some of the sections/tables are separated by noren (curtains like those you would see at a very serious old school sushi or Japanese restaurant....for reference Ino Sushi in SF has them which you have to pass through before getting seated).
The restaurant is a new business venture by Keisuke Suga, owner of Kappo Nami Nami in Mountain View (who previously co-owned Hanamaru in Sunnyvale and interestingly Himawari before opening Kappo Nami Nami, and is supposedly a fan of Sumiya Yakitori as a late night South Bay haunt) who I suppose brought some of the fine interior decor elements from KNN to YK.
The ordering process is very easy, a paper menu printed on both sides with the usual yakitori suspects and also skewers with other meat selections (beef, pork), seafood selections (as well as vegetables) then some izakaya type side dishes for you to customize your meal, in addition to some fancy fusion type dishes (but not too fusiony).
Each order is one skewer, unless specified on the menu. You may want to load up to avoid a wait, especially if you are really hungry.
Similarly to Sumika, for the chicken skewers, for the most part, you pick the seasoning you want, shio (salt), or tare (sauce).
Here's what I tried
(s) = shio
(t) = tare
Momo - Chicken thigh (s) (t) - shio momo was dead on perfect in all aspects. The standard must order.
Sunazuri - Chicken gizzard (s) - good crunch, way way way way better than Santa Ramen's version at the old location for obvious reasons.
Kawa - Chicken skin (s) (t) - the skins are not crispy but somehow they managed to make it juicy and with just the right tooth bounce
Tsukune - Chicken meatball (t) - unfortunately the tare receipe was not good, too salty for one thing. Sumika does their tare receipe way better.
Hatu - Chicken heart (s) heartfully juicy
Nankotsu - Chicken cartilage (served with mayo on the side) - very interesting if you never had this before. Slightly crispy, almost like eating fish cartilage.
Gyu tan - Beef tongue (slightly chewy and thick slices but good after squeezing the lemon wedge over it)
Butabara - Pork Belly (overrated, marinated with spicy miso, and quite salty to boot) grilling pork belly is just not enough to make it perfect.
Tontoro - Pork cheek (way better than butabara). Taiwanese folks who like "sai bahng rou" (boiled pork cheeks) would love this.
Shitake - mushroom (smothered with too much katsuoboshi, made it hard to taste the smokey mushrrom)
Aspara bacon - Asparagus wrapped in bacon (good but as this came late in the meal it felt like a chore finishing it up)
Iwashi - 2 sardines (overly salty, a tad bit dry, perhaps to mask the fishiness or freshness, or a trick to get you to consume more alcohol to drown it out?)
Ginnan - ginko nut (don't bother, buy this at home and eat with congee instead)
Sazae - sea snail (like a cross between canned abalone and clam)
They also have Nagoya style chicken wings, perhaps a similar prep to Dohatsuten in Mountain View.
The two waitresses who worked that night spoke perfect English.
Reservations strongly recommended.
509 2nd Ave
San Mateo, CA 94401