Restaurant Reviews

Koi (Boise)

There's something extremely attractive about a dark, air-conditioned dining room with a massive water feature during triple-digit heat.

That is exactly what you will find at Koi, the new Japanese concept in the Mode Building from Mai Thai co-owners Carlos Tijernia and Billy Pho.

They seem to have a knack for designing comfortable pan-Asian settings. And there always is a Buddha involved.

At Koi, a large alabaster Buddha seems to hover over a hazy pool of water.

Glass bead curtains cut the crimson-hued dining room into sections. There are even small private dining rooms next to the levitating Buddha.

Or opt to sit in the decorative sushi/sake bar, where the walls are adorned with interlocking geometric shapes and dark wood panels.

The owners also have done a good job of finding friendly people to wait tables at Koi.

Behind glass cases of relatively fresh fish, sushi chefs in starched coats and little white hats are busy twisting maki rolls and dishing up nigiri.

The Nobu-inspired (new Japanese cuisine) menu has both raw and cooked Nipponese items.

One sultry evening, we sat next to a tranquil wall of water and ordered tall bottles of Sapporo ($6), a refreshing rice lager from Japan.

Soon we were staring at a ceramic tray of blanched and sea salt-sprinkled young soybean pods ($3.95/edamame).

We next committed to Ray's Spicy Eel ($12.95), a good but not great maki roll with lightly seared freshwater eel (unagi), avocado, cucumber, nori and sticky rice squiggled with zesty mayo and chili-garlic sauce.

Entrée salad fans will like the grilled duck salad ($8.95). A fresh pile of mixed greens came mingled with super-juicy pieces of duck breast (redolent of smoke and citrusy yuzu), sautéed shiiatake and portobello mushrooms, julienne beets, toasted sesame seeds and a vertically positioned crispy potato gaufrette.

We weren't as impressed with the seafood tempura ($17.95), mostly because it only had two prawns (extremely tender, I might add), one piece of yellowtail and two calamari rings. The light batter was crisp but lacked seasoning

Battered and fried pieces of sweet potato, green beans, eggplant and ornately presented fried wheat sticks (that looked like little tree branches) rounded out the plate next to a pungent pile of marinated daikon radish.

Redemption came in the form of Koi's Scallop Dynamite ($8.95), a small earthenware dish of wok-seared bay scallops and shiitake mushrooms in a spicy sauce sprinkled with masago (smelt fish roe).

Sticky rice was there to help soak up the residual sauce.

We finished with Chunky Monkey Rolls ($7.95). These somewhat lackluster fried dessert spring rolls — packed with banana and crispy mint leaves — came next to delicious dabs of red bean and green tea ice creams and zigzags of crème anglaise and dark chocolate sauce.

During a lunch visit we opted again to cool our heads next to the fountain.

Koi serves bento boxes and other specials for lunch.

We especially liked Bento A ($8.95), a compartmentalized lacquer box packed with tender and briny California rolls, nigiri (ahi, salmon, yellowtail and sweet shrimp over pads of sticky rice), fresh slices of melon and tamago, a small omelet-like morsel striped with a band of nori.

The yakisoba ($7.95), a tasty tangle of wok-seared egg noodles mixed with seasoned pork, cabbage and scallion in a semi-sweet brown sauce, was a good blend of starch and protein, garnished with julienne dried nori and pickled eggplant.

We also enjoyed the Japanese-style yellow curry ($7.95). This hearty golden curry stew came with tender pieces of beef, diced carrot, sweet peas and ornately cut potatoes. It was served with a mound of sticky rice.

Koi seems to do more right than wrong. That's a great sign for a new place along 8th Street's bustling restaurant row.

James Patrick Kelly is the Idaho Statesman's restaurant critic. E-mail him at jpkfood@yahoo.com.

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