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Written By Scott Joseph On June 1, 2015

Kokino interior

Just when you thought that every possible niche and gimmick had been exploited in the restaurant world, along comes Kokino, a new restaurant in the Bay Hill Plaza in the Restaurant Row district.

Just going by the name, I was expecting maybe a sushi bar or other type of Asian restaurant. I may be misremembering it, but I think my waiter might have used the term Asianified. However, on its Facebook page, Kokino is described as new American. It also places itself in the tapas bar category. Apparently there was no box to tick off that lists its true intended specialty: tartare bar.

Yes, that’s right. Kokino’s owners are hoping that the thing diners have been craving is a varied selection of tartare preparations. Not just the standard steak tartare, but also other meats and seafood. It might remind you — it did me — of the trend of a few years ago to do riffs on eggs Benedict.

It might be a bit more logical, because tuna tartare has been around for a long time. But Kokino adds veal, salmon, shrimp and scallops to the mix. the scallops, our server told us, were cooked. (He also, in pointing out the tartare list on the menu, asked us if we knew what a tartare was, which is a dandy way to insult a guest’s intelligence.)

The tartare menu is presented in a sort of chart. The first part shows the various proteins and, on either side, the price for a four ounce or an eight ounce portion. Beneath that chart is a list of of countries or regions that are representative of the other ingredients, seasonings and presentations available.

For example, if you’re looking for a classic steak tartare presentation, you’d go for the Paris style, with Dijon mustard, cpapers, shallots and Worcestershire sauce. (Kokino also adds cognac, which I’ve not seen in any classic tartare recipes, but there you go.) If you’d prefer something Bankokian, you’ll find avocado, sweet chili, cilantro, basil and orange blended in.

My guest and I decided on a Paris presentation with certified angus beef and a tuna with the Tokyo option.

Kokino steak tartare

The classic tartare was served with a raw quail egg, its top lopped off, for us to blend into our meat. Actually everything had to be blended in — everything except the tiny French flag that had been planted into it to claim it as Parisian. It was mostly OK. Though it was not the best steak tartare I’ve ever had it was far from the worst. The flavor could have been vastly improved with a couple of dashes of salt (none was provided).

But here’s where it fell short. For a classic tartare, the meat should be chopped. The raw beef here appeared to have been run through a grinder and so was in the form of little strands instead of cubes. Yes, it’s still the same meat, but the texture is not the same, and that can affect the overall flavor profile.

Kokino tuna tartare

The Tokyo tuna (also identified by flag) had soy sauce and rice wine mixed in, along with lime juice, sesame oil and black fish eggs (not cracked open like the quail egg but one wouldn’t expect them to be). A few wonton crumbles decorated. This one got it right on the texture of the fish, but it was overly soyed — no need for added salt, for sure.

There is also a list of nontartare foods and from that list we selected the braised pork belly, which was served on top of shrimp fried rice with hen of the woods mushrooms and a broth of miso and pork jus. Some dried bonito flakes were sprinkled on top. The belly was very nicely done and had a perfectly crisped crust with juicy, flavorful meat underneath. Although it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, I liked the stewiness of the dish and all the flavors therein.

Kokino occupies a space that once was a seafood market. The dining space has a bar with an attractive river-rock motif on one side of the room and a dj booth at the far end. The music, apparently, wants to set an ultra-lounge/nightclubby mood that I’m not sure is appropriate.Tables are bare except for red napkins set atop white side plates. The staff, despite the condescending question about our knowledge of tartare, was gracious and welcoming, and thanked us vociferously as we left.

Kokino is at 7705 Turkey Lake Road, Orlando. It is open for dinner Monday through Saturday and for Sunday brunch. The website was not yet functional at time of publication but links to Kokino’s Facebook page. The phone number is 407-270-9199.

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