Once you’ve walked over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and left behind quaint Carroll Gardens, one discovers Korhogo 126 sitting on a quiet stretch of Union Street. It’s a space that local foodies have known since 2005 as Bouillabaisse 126, but earlier this year it was reborn.
Bouillabaisse, named for its trademark dish — a hearty seafood stew — was a joint effort of Emmanuelle Chice and chef Neil Ganic. But about 13 months ago, the joint began to experiment with African-influenced French fare courtesy of new chef Abdhul Traore (formerly of Les Enfants Terribles in Manhattan).
The bistro then got a makeover; it now has African touches throughout, and Traore took over the kitchen completely in September. Even the name, Korhogo, pays tribute to a town in the Ivory Coast. The restaurant’s growing pains are apt, said Chice, since the Columbia Street Waterfront District is also changing in the same fits and starts.
“People come from Manhattan to see us,” she said, “but we get a lot of locals — it’s an up-and-coming neighborhood.”
But no matter where you live, this restaurant is worth the trek. On a recent evening, a friend and I stopped into Korhogo 126 for dinner and, despite the rain outside, found the dining room crowded at 7 pm. Tucked into a corner table — a large party had Shanghaied the power table with a view of the open kitchen — we intently read the menu while we picked at a plate of bread, served with a chive-sprinkled olive oil.
On such a chilly, damp night, everything was appealing; escargot in puff pastry would surely chase the chill away, but would a barbecued baby octopus salad do a better job?
We settled on two starters: Traore’s famous crab cake served on a puddle of red pepper coulis, and “Accra de morue,” a plate of six light-as-a-feather codfish fritters served with an arugula salad and an earthy tomato sauce. We made quick business of both appetizers; the crab cake was good, if predictable, but the fish fritters were the surprise of the night.
The entrees — there are a dozen on the menu in addition to nightly specials — also skew seafood, but if it ain’t broke, don’t take it off the menu. We ordered a plate of the salmon in red sorrel, ginger and Kenyan curry sauce and what came out was far beyond the menu’s description.
The hunk of fish (easily twice what other restaurants consider an adequate amount of protein on a plate) sat on a pile of roasted vegetables and was accompanied by a mound of savory saffron-flavored rice. The spices in the fish’s crust were just right to take the filet from ho-hum to “hot damn!” and the heft of the dish’s parts combined was like sweet revenge for those of us who order fish and are forever leaving the table hungry.
While we had creatures from the sea covered, another entree, “steak korhogofefemougu,” a shell steak marinated with cardamom and served with what might be the best French fries in Brooklyn, was ordered to see how Traore handled land-dwellers. Another oversized plate — perhaps French women don’t get fat because people in Brooklyn are eating all of their food — arrived, and we greedily dug in. The steak was rare, like we ordered it, and had a pleasant crust on top. The cut of meat was fatty, as shell steak tends to be, but could have benefited from more attentive trimming, especially at the gristly tip of the filet.
Stashed between the steak and the fries, which deserve a second mention, was an unnecessary knob of coleslaw that wasn’t really French or African, and took up valuable space that could have housed more spuds.
One of the restaurant’s hallmarks is its diverse, and rather expensive, wine list. Chice said that no other African restaurant in New York can rival its selection. We stuck with a Syrah that went nicely with everything we tried. At $13 per glass, though, it should. Beer is available, hard liquor is not, but despite the gold-plated price tags on the wine, this type of meal really does beg for it.
Already bursting at the seams, we decided to show great restraint and only order one dessert: clafoutis, a custard cake with berry sauce and a crown of homemade vanilla ice cream. What’s not to like? And while the dessert menu leans heavily on wine pairings, the sweets themselves — save for the molten chocolate cake, which I hear is all the rage at Tupperware parties in the Midwest — were inspired. They all incorporated fruit and elements made in-house, and the clafoutis was a rich, sweet way to end an equally decadent meal.
Korhogo 126 (126 Union St. at Columbia Street in the Columbia Street Waterfront District) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $16-$24. The restaurant serves dinner Sunday through Tuesday, and Thursday through Saturday. Closed Wednesdays. Subway: F or G to Carroll Street. For information, call (718) 855-4405 or visit www.korhogo126.com.