Words by Jake and Eliza Jarvi
Koi combines its sleek, clean, Asian ambiance with a menu full of unbelievably good food and inspired drink pairings.
Walking past the floor-to-ceiling stone waterfall wall, Koi welcomes you into a comfortable dining area with square black tables aligned to give the whole place a geometric elegance. Everything from the wistful, beat-driven electronica drifting over the sound system to the exposed brick walls and ductwork in the bar area speaks of bringing an energetic urban edge to the convenience of the North Shore.
We began by sampling two of their signature cocktails: the Dragonfly, which introduces itself with a citrusy pineapple punch and delivers a smooth vodka burn in the aftertaste, and the Asian Mojito, combining rum, fresh fruit, mint, ginger, lime, and a touch of their house sake for an exceptionally tasty twist on the sweet cocktail. Instead of the cool mint base that normally defines a mojito, the Koi version uses the mint to a rich, herby effect, giving the drink a more robust, mature quality.
As an appetizer we had the Xiaolong Bao, a steamed, soup-filled pork dumpling that arrives in a picturesque bamboo steam basket, accompanied by diluted red wine vinegar with fresh ginger and hoisin with a dollop of Sriracha dipping sauces. Combining both dipping sauces on top of a dumpling creates a spicy-sweet sensation, nicely complimenting the tender pork filling. They’re an exceptional start to the meal and with five in the basket, they’re gone before you know it.
Each entrée portion arrives family-style with easily enough food for two—but with such a wealth of options at our fingertips, we decided to sample an array. The Hot Pepper Chicken carries the red-chili-pepper warning on the menu and they’re not joking. With diced chicken cooked alongside spicy chili peppers, onions, sweet peppers, garlic, and celery, the spiciness of this dish exists as a heat-factor resolving in a pleasant simmering burn in your mouth. The meat is smoky and the peppers and onions retain a little crisp crunch. The spiciness of the dish was nicely balanced by drink suggestions by Koi bar manager Dan Roer. The Stone Fruit, Rhienfalz Riesling from Germany is sweet with a dry, mineral tone that is perfect with the chicken. If you want to stay more authentic, go with the Gekkeikan Nigori Sake, a creamy, unfiltered sake with sweet tropical fruit overtones that takes the sting out of the chili pepper spice.
Next the Peking Duck Bao arrived at the table as a series of ingredients to be assembled at will. A bamboo basket of fresh, steaming wheat buns arrived in which to pack crisp vegetable shreds, lettuce, and thin slices of Peking duck swaddled in cilantro.The rich flavor of the duck shines through and the texture combination of crispy meat and the warm marshmallow-like softness of the bao is outstanding. For a drink combination, we went with the Hangtime Pinot Noir from Napa, California. Unlike many other pinot noirs, this one has no other varietals mixed into the final presentation; it’s 100 percent pinot noir and carries a subtlety that flatters the flavor of the duck.
We also sampled the exquisite, nutty sweetness of the crispy Walnut Shrimp with carrots, snow peas, glazed walnuts, and house-made citrus aioli. The delicious fried coating on the shrimp carried an almost candy-sweet taste. The Cumin Lamb entrée had a decidedly Indian flare with the savory spiced lamb mixed with green and red peppers, cumin seeds, and spiced chili. It’s almost the inverse of the Hot Pepper Chicken in that the spice rides in the complex flavor rather than in stinging your mouth.
By that point in the evening, we’d had more than enough delectable dishes to call it a night, but we couldn’t stop ourselves when they brought the Divine Chocolate Fudge Lava Cake to the table. Plated with a perfect splatter of chocolate sauce across the bowl, this decadently delicious dessert is grounded in just the perfect amount of dark chocolate semi-sweetness to linger against the flavor of the vanilla ice cream scoop that rests atop it. We couldn’t resist finishing it.
With a large sushi menu and a wealth of lunch and dinner combination specials, there’s enough delicious entrées on the menu to keep a couple coming back every night. The friendliness of the staff and the owner Sandy Chen set the stage for a fantastic night out, and the vibe is the perfect mix of sophisticated and fun. And if you’d rather bring the whole family, the kids will love the tapioca bubbles you can add to the pure fruit smoothies.
Koi is located at 624 Davis Street in Evanston. For more information or reservations, call 847-866-6969 or visit koievanston.com.
Since many of the menu items at Koi take pride in their spice factor, here are two
options for drinks that take the edge off of the burn and add a nice complimentary flavor to the proceedings.
Stone Fruit, Rheinpfalz, Germany. $9/glass, $36/bottle
The vineyards from the area of Germany in which this Reisling is produced have more shale in the soil, providing a cleaner finish to the flavor. A spectrum of fruits make up the tastes and aromas within this bottle, from citrus to peach to medium bodied earthiness—it works nicely as a balance to the spiciness coming out of the Koi kitchen.
Gin-ger Lemonade, $10
Bombay Sapphire East gin with muddled ginger and fresh squeezed lemon juice. The gin is so far buried underneath the refreshing 50/50 flavor profile built up from the summery mix of ginger and lemonade that it is only detectable toward the end of the glass. Utterly refreshing and delicious.