Our Review of Kobo by Nai: A Mediterranean Balancing Act

kobo restaurant nyc
Photo by Gabrielle H

It is a Thursday, with slightly above-average temperatures, and I’ve got nothing but time. So much time, in fact, that I stop at a nearby restaurant and order a happy hour cocktail while I wait for Kobo to open. It is a delicious drink with pineapple, soju, quinquina, and lemon, and is an excellent way to pass the time. My companion arrives promptly at 5 o’clock and we proceed inside (her through the main door, and me through the open floor-to-ceiling window panes). We are seated at a small table and somewhere, my brain knows there’s not enough space for the food we will order, but I leave that issue for the future me to handle.

Beverages at Kobo

My dining companion supposedly doesn’t drink, but she could have fooled me; between the two of us, we ended up with three cocktails.

The Kobo Kiss, served with maraschino cherries in a martini glass, is a little too medicinal for my liking. The Dark & Stormy, made with rum, ginger, and lime, is refreshing but runs a little sweet. The Old Fashioned, however, is just right – both punchy and smooth, zesty and deeply elegant, I keep this one and let my companion finish the other two.


The waitstaff is generous and attentive; they inform us that the chefs have already planned our menu for tonight but are more than amenable to additions. My dining companion immediately requests olives (“We’re starving!”) and all I can hope for is that the chefs will bring out something else as well. Is it myopic of me to think that only sociopaths eat olives, straight-up with nothing else? Maybe. Will you change my mind? Probably not.

olives at kobo
Olives. Photo by Gabrielle H

Fresh raw Oysters

The starters arrive in quick succession. There are the aforementioned olives. Then there are fresh raw oysters, served with orange zest and rosemary and an abundance of olive oil. I’d recommend removing the rosemary sprig; my companion does not and gets stabbed twice in the mouth before heeding my excellent advice. The oysters are…surprisingly delicious. Only the tiniest bit sandy. Brought to life by the fragrant orange zest and rosemary, made infinitely more palatable by the grassy olive oil. 

Our Review of Kobo by Nai
The fresh Oysters. Photo by Gabrielle H


Next is a plate of mortadella, garnished with pistachios, and sourdough bread. Two slices of bread for a mountain of mortadella seems a little stingy, but we pile on the soft meat and dig in. It is luscious. The mortadella is soft and savory, the bread is perfectly charred and invites the slightest bitterness. 

When the final starter arrives, I see nothing but opportunity. It is burrata, beautifully garnished with olive oil and chile flake, over a bed of near-bursting tomatoes and basil.

burrata at kobo nyc
The Burrata. Photo by Gabrielle H

And, of course, more of that delectable sourdough (but still not quite enough). So I heap on the last bits of mortadella, then top it all off with an obscene schmear of burrata and tomato, and take a huge bite. Good lord, it is delicious. The closest thing to perfection I have tasted so far tonight. If there is one recommendation I leave you with, it would be to order these two starters and eat them together.

mortadella at Kobo in nyc
The Mortadella. Photo by Gabrielle H

Pasta & Mains

After the burst of appetizers, there is a pleasant lull while we wait for the main courses to arrive. First comes the fideuà, served in a personal-sized paellera, nearly black with squid ink and topped with a creamy saffron sauce. The noodles are delightful, equal parts springy and crispy at the bottom, with tender baby squid.

The second dish is the branzino, butterflied and served with the glorious head and tail. It is blanketed by an olive and anchovy tapenade and is tasty and well-prepared. The fish is tender and succulent; the olives add both sweetness and salinity, with the anchovies only amplifying their existing meaty quality. 

My companion favors the fideuà, which is fine by me as I have already begun chipping away at the branzino carcass. I nibble on the tail, pry the meat out of the cheeks, and of course, suck the juice out of the eyeballs. There are a few remaining bones, but it remains more than tolerable for anyone who wants the experience of an almost-whole fish with far less labor.

The waitstaff asks us if we want more to drink, but I have been eying the focaccia with garlic butter on the starter menu and request this instead. It arrives, steamy and delicious, and my companion and I dig in but emerge slightly confused. It is undoubtedly good, especially with the garlic butter and fragrant herbs within the bread. But it is not focaccia. It lacks the distinct airiness, the crispy bubbles, the tender and glutinous chew. It is, instead, a very good bread with a crispy bottom and soft crumb. Tread with caution, future diners!


The options are tiramisu or panna cotta, and since my companion is allergic to both, I opt for the latter. It arrives, elegantly plated, although my companion and I both note that the visual appearance could have been elevated with a sprig of mint or other verdance. The taste, however, is everything one would hope for in a panna cotta. Soft and yielding, but never soggy or broken, the panna cotta itself is marvelous. 

panna cotta kobo restaurant
The Panna Cotta. Photo by Gabrielle H

There is a pleasant yogurty tang to offset the density of the cream and a hint of vanilla bean. It is topped with what I initially believe to be a simple raspberry coulis, but upon first taste reveals far more depth. A surprising acidity with a little resounding sweetness that is reminiscent of apple cider vinegar, it pairs well with both the raspberries and the panna cotta. An excellent end to the meal.

Final Thoughts

The quality of the food and service is better than average, to be sure. There are a few stand-outs and surprises, but a large part of my brain is left wondering if the tiny restaurant I had ambled into a few hours prior would have been more satisfying. There is nothing wrong with the food or the decor; nothing objectively bad-tasting ever enters our mouths. But there is a sense of incompleteness in many of the dishes, from the lack of sides with the main course to the small quantities of bread to the glaring lack of garnish on the dessert. It is the devil in the details, or in tonight’s case, the lack thereof. If each dish represents a balance of flavor, aroma, and visual appeal, and the overall meal a balance of taste, texture, and temperature, then Kobo has not yet found the delicate equilibrium separating good meals from truly great ones.

For more reviews check Yelp.

Three Best Bites

  1. The Old Fashioned – a classic done deliciously well.
  2. Panna cotta – nearly effervescent, certainly surprising.
  3. Combining the mortadella and the burrata starters – don’t knock it until you try it. Seriously.

Bathroom Corner

Very clean, with slightly hard-to-lock sliding doors (although it could have been user error on my part) and hilariously huge black trash bags for such small trash cans. No toilet paper holder, unless you count the barrel that the loose rolls are propped up on as such.

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