After months of anticipation, the new non-traditional Japanese restaurant, Cotra, opened its doors in Gowanus for an awaiting crowd on June 21.
The new spot comes from the creators of another Japanese sensation, Bed-Stuy’s Trad Room. After living in New York for 15 years, Tatsumi Suyama, born in Japan, formed his dream team. He met his wife and his business partners, Chefs Max and Nori while working in the restaurant industry. They have now worked together for 10 years.
The owners chose the location with a vision.
“I know that in two or three years, the streets in Gowanus are going to be busy with pedestrians,” said Suyama. “We are going to be hosting weddings and parties in our backyard.”
The name Cotra has 2 meanings. One comes from the Chinese calendar, as 2022 —when the team started to develop the new business— was the year of the tiger, Co-tra means baby tiger. It is also a play on the words “Co”, meaning child, joined with “tra” for Trad Room.
“Many Japanese chefs would want to go with strict Japanese food,” said Suyama. “We are mixing American styles, French techniques and a part of the Japanese culture that is historically a mix on its own.”
The concept of the new place presents a time juxtaposition. Patrons walk into space with a decor reminiscent of the Meiji era, back in the late 1800s, when Japan started to open up to foreign influences and became increasingly Westernized. The artwork, the light fixtures and the color pallet were carefully curated Suyama. The menu is where the creators integrate a modern twist.
Made with a mix of bold Japanese ingredients like bonito flakes, miso, harissa and yuzu, the chef puts together dishes that might sound familiar to Brooklinites —oysters, edamame, fried chicken, fried rice and sushi rolls.
“We wanted to do something that no one here had tried before, like we did with our concept of Japanese oysters in Bed-Stuy,” said Suyame. “Here we have a brick oven, so we are going to try to invent a Japanese pizza soon.”
Cotra’s location carries a lot of history. It now stands where the oldest Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, Monte’s, a popular hangout for famous singers including Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr., used to be before it closed last year. Now the spot is back in business.