Rockwell Group puts a seductive spin on fried food for New York’s COQODAQ

Chicken Cathedral

“The ritual of dining together is such a powerful thing,” said David Rockwell, architect and founder of Rockwell Group. “Something about coming together to share a meal is very healing.” COQODAQ, the 190-seat, Korean fried chicken restaurant in Manhattan that Rockwell recently designed for restaurateur Simon Kim, is a celebration of this ritual.

The dining area is populated with low-slung banquettes, topped with lazy Susans (Jason Varney)

After four years of conceptualization, Kim, executive chef Seung Kyu Kim, and president Dexter Zimet, conceived of COQODAQ as an opportunity to explore an elevated experience of a beloved fried food. The menu is inspired by the ancient Korean philosophy of Eum-yang: a concept grounded in the idea that duality is fundamental to nature’s balance. Gluten-free ingredients and pickled vegetable dishes lighten up the heavier fare, and in addition to the usual chimaek pairing with beer, COQODAQ offers an extensive champagne menu—the nation’s largest—a hint of which can be gathered from the eatery’s name, a portmanteau of the French and Korean words for “chicken.” Its interior design, then, also had to rise to the gussied-up occasion.

In the back dining room, the walls are paneled in crackle-painted paster, a subtle nod to the crackly skin of fried chicken (Jason Varney)

Table lighting includes Zafferano’s Pina Pro lamps (Jason Varney)

“We talked about the idea of creating a cathedral to chicken,” Rockwell said, explaining his original concept for the 4,300-square-foot restaurant. “But we also wanted it to be a very luxurious, sexy room: A place that could pivot from day to night, and that combines some elevated and some more grounded design elements.”

A dark, moody color palette helps elevate the experience of eating fried food (Jason Varney)

The architects were strategic with the lighting design, from the lit up arches to the bar and theater lights of the banquettes (Jason Varney)

The entrance of the restaurant sets this moody tone: Diners are greeted by a custom handwashing station made of green soapstone and surrounded by backlit bronze oval mirrors, an ode to dining’s ceremonial nature. Seating comes only in the form of bar stools or low-slung banquettes with lazy Susan–topped tables. The walls are paneled in crackle-painted plaster or mirrored bronze. Light originates either by foot candle, the marquee-lit bar, or from the series of sweeping cast-glass and bronze arches that vault a portion of the main dining room—a collaboration with lighting company L’Observatoire International.

The handwashing station is in green soapstone with a leathered finish and bronze Italian fixtures (Jason Varney)

At COQODAQ, light is the main driver of design. Though the food may not subscribe to any specific religion, its arched luminaires do indicate a place of communal gathering, aimed at creating “a sense of welcome in the form of embrace,” said Rockwell. While the restaurant’s material palette is fairly simple—bronze, walnut, hunter green leather, soapstone, and champagne-colored glass—theatrical layering, a Rockwell signature, creates a space that feels elegant enough to be one of New York’s hottest new dining destinations yet casual enough for one to unabashedly dig into some of the best fried chicken drumsticks around.