Hot Eats: Kota Wood Fire Grill
A new South Coast-inspired restaurant is an unexpected and delicious addition in Grand Center.
Story: By Cristy Miller
Photos: Photos by Jonathan Pollack
The space at 522 North Grand has seen a tenant or two over the years; The Tuxedo Room in ’06 and more recently, Reggie’s Backstage. It’s a challenging place for any restaurant to make its home—there’s very little foot traffic when there’s not a show at The Fox, and if there is, parking can be tricky.
When I heard there was a new restaurant going in the space, I raised an eyebrow at the thought, but when I learned who was behind it, my misgivings subsided. Restaurant industry vet Chris LaRocca and his company, Culinarch Group, joined forces with Lori Dolan and entrepreneur and Lawrence Group CEO Steve Smith (also behind Triumph Grill) to open Kota Wood Fire Grill at the end of February. LaRocca, who’s restaurant resume includes Crazy Fish, Tomatillo Mexican Grill and Sage in Soulard, has over 40 years experience—opening restaurants and consulting on the menu, design and concept. Needless to say, when Kota finally opened and I prepared for my first visit, I knew I would be in good hands.
The menu can best be described as coastally influenced, drawing inspiration mainly from Southern ingredients, flavor and cooking style. Warm, homemade chipotle cheddar buttermilk biscuits arrived first and in my opinion, were a tease of what would follow—our appetizers. South Coast crab cakes that were light and made with more crab then crumb; large goat cheese-stuffed mushrooms flash-fried and served with a parmesan aioli; and barbeque duck and mushroom mini quesadillas that were delicate and sweet. Kota’s menu also includes a list of ten sandwiches, including a “Fox” burger with brown sugar hickory bacon and white cheddar, and fish tacos; two moderately sized tortillas stuffed with grilled tilapia, salsa fresco and a cilantro cream.
The space has plenty of room to roam—a large bar and lounge area, with an open hot stone fireplace, occupies the front that faces the The Fox and there are several dining areas that offer table or booth seating. Entre?es are reasonably priced, and I appreciated the well thought out half- or full-plate options, like the pan-fried chicken breast served with Gouda grits or the espresso- rubbed filet medallions, served atop buttery mashed potatoes. And I absolutely fell under some kind of magic with the voodoo shrimp pasta—a lighter-than-expected blend of black “squid ink” fettucini in a jalapen?o cream sauce served with small hickory fired shrimp. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for plate of well-cooked pasta. There’s also a nice Cajun-style jambalaya and a smoked pork chop prepared with a to-die-for apple and fig chutney and finished with Ancho-maple glaze.
And if there’s one thing that can win me over instantly, it’s a milkshake. Kota has eight (some alcoholic, some not)—from a classic chocolate malt to a cheeky Girl Scout Thin Mint shake to a decadent caramel nut crunch with pieces of Snickers and chocolate syrup. How milkshakes ties into the coastal theme, I have yet to figure out. I’ll just have to keep trying.