Most of the time, you go to a restaurant to have someone cook for you. But at Modesto’s new Hoki Korean BBQ & Japanese Cuisine, cooking is definitely not a spectator sport.
The new restaurant on Coffee Road brings together traditional Japanese cuisine with tabletop grill-it-yourself Korean barbecue. The result is a contemporary spot with a diverse menu offering some of the most popular and hottest in Asian food trends, including the city’s only current restaurant serving Korean fare.
While Hoki opened in late July, chances are good you’ve eaten at one of the business partners’ restaurants in the past. They include husband-and-wife team Terry and Annie Chang, who previously were with Modesto’s Kimoto Sushi & Sake; Yun Li, who owns Modesto’s Dynasty Garden Chinese restaurant; and Bobby Wong, who owned the long-running Wang’s Smorge in the same space.
Together, the team has created a modern Asian restaurant with a full bar, sushi bar, 10 Korean BBQ booths, a private banquet room and additional booth seating throughout. The 6,000-square-foot space between Bella Italia and Bear Postal in the Western Plaza shopping center fills space that was formerly Wang’s Smorge and a frozen yogurt shop.
On the Japanese side of the menu, you’ll find a large selection of specialty sushi rolls ($9 to $19 each), Japanese bento boxes ($16-$19) and teriyaki, katsu and tempura plates ($15-$18).
Terry Chang and his team of sushi chefs crafted the unique roll menu, which includes standouts like the SF Giants (tempura shrimp, albacore, yellow tail and avocado for $14) and Jurassic Park (grilled chicken, spicy imitation crab, bell pepper, cilantro, red onion and deep-fried jalapeno for $15).
On the Korean BBQ side, you can choose between the two-person options of Dinner A (bulgogi of thinly sliced marinated chicken or pork, sliced steak, pork belly, prawns and shiitake mushrooms for $19 per person) or Dinner B (beef bulgogi, squid, marinated short ribs, pork sausage, Japanese peppers and pork belly for $22).
But on the Korean side, the real magic comes after you order. The ingredients are brought out raw, and the round cooking plate in the middle of the table is turned on. Then, it’s grilling time.
Annie Chang, immediately recognizable by her shock of short red hair, said she happily walks newcomers to Korean BBQ through the process, as will any of the waitstaff. Longer-cooking meats should be placed around the outer edge, with quicker-seared meats going on the hotter center later. The meats can be eaten on their own, in a lettuce wrap or with rice.
While Korean BBQ has been around for ages, the trend of cook-it-yourself restaurants has become more popular in recent years, with many sprouting up in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
But Korean food has been in short supply in Modesto. About 10 years ago, Korean Kitchen opened in Coffee Plaza catty-corner from Hoki’s shopping center, but was short-lived. Annie Chang said now that more people have tried Korean BBQ restaurants elsewhere, she thinks the area is ready to embrace the trend.
Now, be prepared, grilling it yourself takes longer than ordering off the menu. But it’s the shared experience, and the novelty of cooking at the table, that has made it so trendy. But if you really hate the idea of grilling it yourself, you can order prepared Korean dishes off the à la carte menu.
“This is the time to bring it here,” said Annie Chang. “People are very happy we’re here now, and others are interested in finding out more when they see it.”
Also, don’t be confused by the banchan, small side dishes served with many Korean meals that are often pickled or fermented. The most famous is kimchee, spicy fermented cabbage, but you can also enjoy bean sprouts, daikon, seaweed and marinated cucumbers. Banchan is meant to be eaten alongside or on top of the main dishes, as sort of a condiment.
At Hoki, the Korean BBQ has proven so popular that there have been waits for the 10 tables, and the owners plan to add more by the end of the year. While some Korean BBQ spots offer all-you-can eat, the partners of Hoki decided to offer high-quality meats and seafood instead. And, trust me, it’s still a ton of food, and no one should leave hungry.
The space currently fits about 160, including the private party room. The restaurant has a staff of 23.
While the restaurant has been open for close to three months, it took until this month for it to begin serving its Korean menu. The Changs said the city and fire department took extra care approving their in-table grills, the first in the city. Unlike with Japanese teppanyaki grills made popular by places like Benihana, the Korean grills are smaller and operated exclusively by the diners — not some chef throwing shrimp at you.
If the concept proves popular in the Valley, Annie Chang said, they might bring hot pot, another popular Asian communal do-it-yourself dining experience, but this time with soup. But until then, you can wash everything down with one of Annie Chang’s signature cocktails, which are as colorful as they are dangerously tasty.
And the name and logo, Hoki, is a nod to the restaurant’s seafood-heavy fare. Also called blue grenadier, hoki is a hearty kind of fish found largely off New Zealand and Australia and in Pacific waters.
“It’s a small, tough fish, and we are small and survivors,” said Annie Chang. “So for us, ‘hoki’ means we’re lucky.”
Hoki Korean BBQ & Japanese Cuisine, at 2625 Coffee Road in Modesto, is open 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. for dinner Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 209-887-7888 or visit www.hokitogo.com.