Location: Bryant Park Hotel, 40 W. 40th Street, call 212.921.3330 for reservations
Cost: $150+ tip (depending on your penchant for apps/mains/desserts)
Best Dish: You must try the Koi Crispy Rice which is molded in advance (they have a special lady who is hired specifically for this job), pan fried with soy butter and served under mouth-watering tuna tartare and yellowtail tartare.
Overall: Featuring a wide variety of Asian flavors, it’s sure to please even the most developed palate and Asian food lover with everything from sushi rolls to dumplings and even dessert spring rolls, along with flavorful and distinctive cocktails.
While you may typically think of a restaurant in a hotel, especially in a tourist-cramped spot, as passé, this restaurant certainly broke any perceptions I had about these drawbacks with “Japanese-inspired cuisine with California accents,” near Fashion Week’s old stomping ground. Koi’s chefs serve up some of the most unique, bold and tasty flavors I’ve had a chance to eat.
My companion and I started out with signature cocktails including the Lychee Martini served with pureed lychee (hand pureed on the spot) with an accent of cranberry as well as the Blue Sky with muddled blueberries, Absolut Acai Berry and white cranberry, a perfect spritzer or consideration for your holiday punch menu.
Following our toast, we enjoyed a barrage of appetizers – all distinctive – including the Seaweed Medley salad served with a side of cucumber and sweet vinegar (also beautifully presented), along with a popular favorite, the Creamy Rock Shrimp glazed perfectly with a spicy sauce, as well as the Tuna Tartare with Crispy Wontons, Edamame dumplings (melt in your mouth), and my favorite, the Koi Crispy Rice featuring rice that’s been molded and pan fried with soy butter and topped with spicy tuna and yellowtail tartare. According to the waitress, “lips have been lost” over this one.
After sufficiently grazing on the appetizers, we were served mains of Seared Golden Tilefish with black “forbidden rice” (named during the Ting Dynasty when only the king was allowed to have it) and a new offering, the Peppercorn Filet – a premium cut of filet mignon – served over creamy, truffled mashed potatoes. This is a rich one, but very tasty if you’re looking for bold flavor and satiety.
Since we couldn’t settle on just sampling one cocktail, I imbibed a White Cosmo, a clean martini featuring Grey Goose Citron, White Cranberry and Elderflower (another of my favorites), and my companion ordered a strong nightcap, the Koi Harvest, with Makers Mark, Amaretto DiSaronno, and apple cider.
To further hit the sweet spot, the waitress brought out a small platter of Milk Chocolate Banana Spring Rolls for dessert with banana cream anglaise for dipping and served up with a side of chocolate ice cream with crunchy flakes. Even though we were only able to finish a small bite each, it was easy to see we’d reached Japanese paradise, “tengoku.”
Inventive, delightful and most of all, mouth-watering until the last bite, tourists and locals alike will never tire of this Japanese hot spot. Go get some tengoku for yourself.