Koi - CLOSED
14603 NE 20th
Bellevue WA 98007
Contemporary Yet Inexpensive Japanese Dining
By: Bryan R
*** Closed as of January 2008 ***
(Grant): Restaurant closures are an unfortunate, yet common occurrence in the dining industry. In fact, many restaurants may not even be profitable until after their first year of operation. With that said, it's actually surprising to see Koi close it's doors after half a year of operations.
Given the large upfront investment cost for a restaurant like Koi (architecture, design, food inventory and impressive koi pond), our impression would be that the owners would be willing to ride out the first year. Our impression is almost that business must have never have picked up (not impossible, given the hidden location) or perhaps there were even management/owner disagreements. In any case, we can only speculate now that Koi's doors are closed.
Here's to a better run next time, Koi.
Strip malls are so bland and boring- each little business has the same exterior, that dull big box look, and about as much soul as a cinder block. So I’m floored when I enter yet another strip mall eatery and am wowed by the extra mile they’ve taken with the interior design. I never get used to it and probably never will. Examples are sparse, but Bellevue’s Koi Japanese restaurant is that kind of place.
Since we were feeling hungry for some sushi, so we decided to give Koi a go. When we pulled into the parking lot, we were confronted by the usual uninspired appearance of a strip mall restaurant. Nothing about Koi’s exterior marks it as something special; it’s a plain, gray restaurant tucked between many other options.
But soon as you step in, the name “Koi” suddenly makes sense. Our attention was immediately drawn to an impressively huge, indoor koi pond gracing the center of the dining room. Several small waterfalls cascade down a tall, brick wall into the water. The happy, well-fed school of koi helps to create a serene and relaxed atmosphere. Getting seats around the pond could be difficult during popular hours, so it might be worth your while to call ahead and reserve a pond-side table.
In contrast to the lavishly ornamented koi pond, the rest of the restaurant is decorated in a subtle and minimalist style. A few pieces of modern-style Asian artwork are carefully arranged around the restaurant. Lighting is minimal, and most of the soft glow bathing the dining room emanates from the many pendent lights hanging over the tables.
Aside from the main room with the pond, Koi offers two additional dining rooms. Each of the extra dining rooms reflects the same tastefully understated décor the rest of the restaurant exhibits. The larger of the two rooms does double duty as a dance floor or karaoke hall during the evenings.
After taking in our comfortable and calming surroundings, we settled into our corner table and perused the menu. Koi offers the typical range of Japanese and sushi cuisine. For lunch, we chose to try various bento box combinations. Each of these boxes offer a main entrée accompanied by a small sample of another dish, such as beef or chicken teriyaki with an option for katsu or sushi, etc. For example, one bento box combo came with chicken katsu, a negihama roll (yellowtail fish and vegetable roll), salad, steamed rice, sliced fruit and miso soup.
The starter miso soup was remarkably tasty, and we finished it just as our main appetizer, gyoza, arrived. We made quick work of the plump, delicious, handmade dumplings. Similarly, the katsu was also very good. The tender pieces of white chicken were breaded thickly enough to be quite crunchy and flavorful. However, the negihama rolls came out on the bland side, despite having tender, moist yellowtail tucked in between the veggies.
The salmon teriyaki proved that Koi uses some of the best quality fish, because although the salmon was a little overdone, it was still succulent. The spider rolls were quite appetizing and presented the perfect combination of fresh fried crab, avocado, cucumber, and other veggies wrapped in rice and seaweed. All in all, its pleasant flavors and crispy textures hit the spot. Unfortunately, we’d have to say that the beef teriyaki really isn’t Koi’s strong suit; our reviewer thought it was a little too salty and just not very remarkable.
We did find the nigiri sushi, dabbed with a touch of wasabi, was fresh and rather delectable. The same was true for the sashimi, but the serving size was on the small side (in fact, it appeared that the four advertised pieces of sashimi had originally been two medium-sized pieces cut into halves). And we all found the small serving of fresh fruit a nice touch to end the meal.
Because Koi is an unpretentious restaurant displaying classy taste, we found it an easy candidate to nominate for our ambiance award. The food, while pleasant and enjoyable, is not especially outstanding. It’s really the lovely atmosphere that makes Koi a good recommendation.
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