The scene always becomes interesting when restaurants that sell almost identical sets of menus are placed around the same block. As the two most prominent Korean restaurants holding their ground in Collegetown, Koko and Four Seasons are definitely worthy of a comparison. The Sun has compared the two restaurants before, but this time, I wanted to try out a couple different dishes and revisit the topic. Since both restaurants each feature different sets of popular dishes and present a different restaurant atmosphere, I had to make my comparison as fair as possible by visiting the restaurants both on weekends around dinner time and ordering the same dishes. In order to compare, I ordered jeyuk-bokkum, pork dish marinated in spicy flavor, dduk-mandu guk, a beef broth with steamed dumplings and rice cakes and pa-jun, a lightly pan-fried wheat batter with scallions.
A single step into each of these restaurants gives contrasting vibes. Koko itself has a smaller restaurant space but presents a more warm, traditional ambiance. Its walls are covered in Korean (Hanguel) wallpapers and adorned with traditional decorations, and K-pop songs play throughout the space. Four Seasons, while providing a casual atmosphere, resembles more of a spacious barbecue place. Both services were fairly quick and friendly, although the food took about 20 minutes to be served at Koko while it took less than 10 minutes at Four Seasons.
To start off, the jeyuk-bokkum dish was pretty different from one another. Four Seasons seemed to have more stir-fried kimchi, a national Korean dish of spicy pickled cabbage mixed with pork, but Koko’s plate had no kimchi and instead included more sauced soup underneath the pork. Although not as spicy as Koko’s, Four Season’s jeyuk-bokkum definitely had more tender pork and a more viscous sauce, making the plate complement well with the other dishes. They had completely different tastes to it, but both were very savory.
The second set of dishes, the pa-jun, was supposed to be an appetizer but it arrived later than the jeyuk-bokkum. Anyhow, the pa-juns were very similar to each other in terms of texture and taste. Personally, I liked Koko’s better because of its remarkable balance of having the batter be crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. Four Seasons’ pa-jun appeared healthier per se because it had more variety of vegetables added into the batter beside the scallions.
The last dish was served at just the right time to calm down the spiciness and help us settle down more cozily. Ddukmandu guks were pretty similar to each other too, with the exception of the taste of the broth. All ingredients that were included — rice cakes, scallions, dumplings and eggs — were almost identical. The dumplings were filled with a juicy mixture of beef and tofu, and they resembled each other a lot in terms of the shape, size, taste and amount of filling. The broth, however, was slightly different in that the one Koko served had a deeper taste of the beef while Four Seasons’ version had a saltier flavor.
Both restaurants cost a little more than average — around $40 dollars — when we ordered three plates each time. Four Seasons cost only about $2 more than Koko’s so they were around a similar price range. Considering their locations, services and food quality broadly, I think either would be a great location for a heartful dinner on weekends but they’re certainly not easy to go to, cheap restaurants that you would seek out everyday.
Overall, both of these places are already on top of my go-to list in Collegetown. Both have their own unique, casual atmosphere with delicious traditional Korean foods. I wouldn’t recommend one over another because the price range is fairly similar and each restaurant is well known for its own special menu. Koko is known to a group of Korean students at Cornell for having the best buddae-jjigae, a mildly spicy kimchi soup with hams, ramen and pork. Four Seasons, on the other hand, is best renowned for its samgyupsal, Korean-styled grilled pork, and Ohjingoh Dolsot Bi Bim Bap, stir fried spicy squid with vegetables over steamed rice in a sizzling stone pot. You should definitely check out both these places if you crave Korean plates once in a while.
Vibe: Casual, cozy, traditional
Serves: Traditional Korean cuisine
Four Seasons: ★★★★★