It's a good thing we arrived early for our dining experience at Koi Restaurant. Hip, hot restaurants come and go, but Koi is holding its own in the Los Angeles neighborhood of West Hollywood. (Opening photo: At a long, tastefully-lit sushi counter you can watch the artful preparation of sushi and sashimi dishes by efficient Japanese chefs.)
Koi is a restaurant frequented by the likes of stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Liv Tyler, Sharon Osbourne, and Denzel Washington. Our reservation gets us through the front door, beyond which is an open lowered lounge. This is one of two indoor/outdoor patios with retractable roofs, where both aperitifs and digestifs may be enjoyed and cigarette smoking is allowed. This front lounge patio features a fountain, dual fireplaces, comfortable leather banquettes and towering bamboo greenery.
We are led across the wood floor through French doors to the back patio and to a table right next to a discreet Buddha overlooking a small pond. No Japanese carp here. Water trickles from a small fountain, calming frayed LA traffic nerves. A single orchid in a smoky glass cylindrical, bamboo-design vase adorns the table.
Our waiter, Cliff, is handsome enough to be a movie star himself. He's also charming and without any pretense explains to us the extensive sake menu. The Japanese hot wines are divided by fragrance, smoothness, richness and "unfiltered." It's served either by the bottle or in round bamboo tube cups.
"Bottle ones are premium sakes," explains Cliff. "They go through a much finer refining process."
I was happy to see on the Koi menu one of my favorites, Seaweed Salad. Vegetable dishes include Edamame, Sweet Ginger Tofu, and Shishito, a Japanese pepper that is sautéed and not too spicy as the seeds have been removed.
A Koi Signature Cold Dish is the Tuna Tartare with Avocado on Crispy Won tons, with a little sesame oil and smelt egg and side of wasabe cream sauce. The most popular dish is Crispy Rice With Spicy Tuna. "The rice is sautéed in a pan with the tuna on top and slice of jalapeño on top of that," says Cliff.
The Kobe-style Filet Mignon Toban-Yaki is a classic Japanese dish. The meat is grilled first, then finished in a clay pot. The filets arrive already sliced, so the dish is easy to share. However, it's so good you may not want to!
A popular Koi Signature Roll is the Baked Crab Roll, a mix of snow and Alaskan crab wrapped in soy paper. Other rolls include Sautéed Shrimp on California Roll and Spicy Rock Shrimp Tempura Hand Roll.
Brothers Nick and Dipu Haque opened Koi Restaurant a little over two years ago, and it's been featured in several glossy LA magazines. The décor that enhances the palate is German designer Thomas Schoos' concept of serenity. Elements of stone, water, and fire combine with red ochre and granate colors to suggest the textures of the earth. Light shafts downward from ceiling pin lights and beams up from the floor through bamboo foliage. Votive candles are abundant and it all feels very Feng shui. A popular designer of LA luxe homes, Schoos is noted for creating a kind of functional tranquility.
Low background music is techno rhythmic with a sustaining bass and drum line; the hip-hop flavor to it is happily not overpowering.
The dessert menu is verbal, and tonight our choices were a chocolage lava cake (very similar to a soufflé); Mochi ice cream in flavors of mango, strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla; a warm banana bread cake; a crème brulée trio; and raspberry or coconut lichee sorbets.
This is an exotic and romantic Hollywood restaurant with a crowd that seems to get more youthful and lively as the evening progresses. Even if you don't recognize a star, it's a great place to people-watch.
Under the watchful eye of executive chef Stephane Chevet, Koi Restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Sunday. Go for the cuisine, stay for the atmosphere.
Feature and photos by Carolyn Proctor, Jetsetters Magazine Las Vegas Food and Wine Editor.