Queens-based Micheline-recognized restaurant Kōyō is one of the handful of New York eateries that focuses on a kaiseki dining experience. There, chef and owner Jay Zheng puts a distinct touch on his dishes by fusing his Chinese cultural background with traditional Japanese cuisine.
In 1994, Zheng immigrated to the United States. It was then, at eight-years-old, that he began learning how to help in his parent’s restaurant—spending the majority of his time there since his mother and father worked six to seven days a week. “In the beginning [I was] playing around and stuff, but throughout time, I think when I was 11 or 12, my dad, being a chef, had me start washing dishes,” he recalls. “And when I turned 13, that’s when he first had me pick up a pan to learn how to stir fry, braise, steam, all these techniques throughout the years.”
In 2008, Zheng began working at a Japanese restaurant in Chicago, later owning his own eatery there. His establishment before Kōyō, previously known as Gaijin, was where he started adding flavors from his Chinese background to Japanese fare. “So throughout time I was playing with different ingredients that are traditionally not served in Japanese cuisine, but essentially to me it is the same because where I’m from we are facing the coastal water [that’s] the same water as Japan,” he says. “So we get a lot of the same seafood, and a lot of it is popular in traditional Japanese cuisine.” For example, Zheng utilizes a summer squash that is a local ingredient in China but is also considered a Japanese flavor.
The kaiseki dining experience was previously an omakase sushi restaurant. Today’s dining experience features a seven-course tasting menu that changes seasonally, with previous offerings including Sakizuke, amuse bouche nerigoma tofu, house-made black sesame tofu with classic kaluga caviar and freshly grated wasabi; Uni Ikura Donburi, uni with ikura and oyster mushrooms; and Yakimono, a grilled octopus leg from Monaco brushed with tare, finished on a charcoal Binchotan grill and served with a Japanese jidori egg yolk to Gohan, forbidden black rice with hijiki seaweed and aori ika, Japanese reef squid. Indeed, Kōyō proves to shine among the kaiseki restaurants in New York City.
The eatery also boasts a robust sake and Japanese beer list. Zheng and Wing Yee of World Sake Importers together choose fine and rare sakes that enhance the overall kaiseki experience. The list rotates based on market availability. The beer list offers a number of Japanese craft beers with diverse options, such as the Oze No Yukidoke IPA and the Kizakura Matcha IPA.
“I believe that any chef that cooks should always be able to put their own personality in their own background, enter the menu instead of just following, and that’s how the menu evolves,” Zheng says of the Kōyō experience.
3712 31st Avenue
Astoria, New York 11103