Koi Fine Asian Cuisine & Lounge continues to inspire diners with fresh sushi and authentic cuisine from 8 different Chinese regions. Since opening in 2004 in Evanston they have become one of the most respected Asian restaurants in the Chicago region. Koi has been voted “Best Chinese & Sushi, Chicago Northshore Suburbs” by Better Magazine for the past six years. The cuisine focuses on both Japanese and Chinese, with a staggering number of menu options.
Koi recently invited Your Chicago Guide to visit for a sample of their extensive menu.
The first section of the menu focuses on sushi and maki, along with many traditional Japanese starters. For this visit, my guest and I opted for one starter and two maki rolls:
- Xaiolong Bao (steamed pork soup dumplings) – Soup dumplings. Need I say more? These are fantastic. They are served with two sauces – one sweet, one tart – so you can discover entirely different flavor combinations from bite to bite if you choose.
- Salmon Brulee Bundles (seared salmon, spicy tuna, mango, caramelized cane sugar, fried shallots, yuzu mayo, yuzu tobiko) – Moving away from the “traditional” look of maki, these are like a cross between maki and dumpling. The hint of caramelized cane sugar gives both a crunch and a delightful sweetness to pair with the umami and savory flavors. This is a definitely “yes” if you want to try something different.
- Lotus Flower Maki (spicy tuna, salmon, crab stick, masago, spicy mayo, unagi sauce, wasabi sauce, crispy fried onion) – If you only order one thing from the maki menu, this is the one you should try. It’s nearly impossible to describe the medley of flavors and textures but – trust me – this will be one of the best maki rolls you have tried.
Moving on to the next section of the menu, don’t be intimidated!
Following the tradition of Chinese cultures, Koi has designed a large part of the menu for communal dining and sharing with family-sized portions. I suggest asking the knowledgeable staff to guide you through an authentic Chinese dining experience. One of the most extraordinary things about the menu is the fact that it is divided into sections highlighting eight different Chinese regions.
- CHUAN CUISINE (Sichuan Region) – One of the most famous Chinese cuisines in the world, characterized by spicy flavors with a myriad of tastes, Chuan cuisine emphasizes the use of chili, peppercorn, garlic, ginger, and fermented soybeans.
- YUE CUISINE (Cantonese Region) – Tasty, clean, light, crisp and fresh Guangdong cuisine is familiar to Westerners. The basic cooking techniques are roasting, stir frying, sauté, frying, braising, stewing, and steaming.
- XIANG CUISINE (Hunan Region) – Hunan cuisine consists of the local cuisines of the Xiangjiang Region, Dongting Lake and XiangxiCoteau areas. It is characterized by thick, heavy, and pungent flavors. Chilis, peppers and shallot are used frequently.
- MIN CUISINE (Fujian Region) – A combination of Fuzhon Cuisine, Quanzhou Cuisine and Xiamen Cuisine, Fujian Cuisine is renowned for its choice sea food, beautiful colors, and delectable tastes of sweet, sour salty, and savory.
- HUI CUISINE (Anhui Region) – Anhui chefs focus much more attention on the temperature at which dishes are prepared and are excellent at braising and stewing.
- ZHE CUISINE (Zhejiang Region) – Comprising the local cuisines of Hanzhou, Ningbo, and Shaoxing, Zhe cuisine wins its reputation for fresh ingredients and soft, smooth flavors.
- SU CUISINE (Huaiyang Region) – Popular in the lower regions of the Yangtze River, it stresses freshness, light, sweet flavors. Presentation is delicately elegant.
- LU CUISINE (Shandong Region) – Consisting of Jinan cuisine and Shandong cuisine, Lu Cuisine is characterized by its emphasis on aromas, freshness, and crisp but tender properties.
My guest and I managed to explore four of the eight regions.
From the Chuan menu, we sampled the Szechwan Whole Red Snapper. When we asked the server for a recommendation for something that they consider “iconic” on the menu, this was the item they recommended. The sauce is a superb combination of sweet and slightly spicy. As you might guess, the fish is served whole so it’s a huge portion – something to share around the table. The fish is flaky and perfectly cooked with a crispy outer skin and that delightful sauce. It was a close call what I would rate as my favorite bite of the evening and this was #2 only barely edged out by the next item.
Moving on to the Yue menu, we were treated to the Walnut Shrimp. This wins my award for the best bite of the night. The combination of the candied walnuts with the citrus aioli created a magical combination with the shrimp.
On the Su menu, we were intrigued by the Black Pepper option and the server recommended the Black Pepper Beef. The black pepper options can come with various meats (or tofu) but the server recommended beef as the best option. This is seared tableside with green peppers and sweet onions (like fajitas in a Mexican restaurant). The beef was fork tender and the peppery sauce had just enough bite without overpowering the flavors of the vegetables.
Finally, we moved on to the Xiang menu for a sample of the Glazed Orange Chicken. I rarely order orange chicken because my memory of this entrée is all about masses of fried batter with tiny, hard, dry chunks of chicken. I now understand what a truly excellent orange chicken preparation can be. The breading here was light and crispy, serving as a carrier for the sauce. The pieces of chicken were large and succulent. I am a convert.
Koi offers one of the area’s best happy hour menus – every day from 4:30 – 6 p.m. Specific menu items may change, but the prices are extraordinary considering the high quality of Koi’s food. The happy hour menu includes beers for $4 with cocktails and wine for $5. The starters and maki rolls range from $4 – $8.50.
One of the most intriguing things I learned about Koi was their unique “Table23” program. “Table23” encourages guests to dine and then the restaurant will donate 23% of the total check back to the community. Guests should call ahead to make a reservation and request Table23. You may choose the organization you like to support. They only have one “Table23” per night with the timeslot of either 4:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m., or 8:30 p.m. To reserve Table23 you will need to call (847) 866-6969 or email [email protected].
Koi Fine Asian Cuisine & Lounge (624 Davis Street, Evanston, IL 60201) offers dinner Tuesday-Thursday, 4:30 p.m.-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4:30 p.m.-10 p.m.; and Sunday 4:30 p.m.-9 p.m. The happy hour menu is available daily from 4:30 – 6 p.m. For more information, call (847) 866-6969 or email [email protected]. Reservations are available using Resy.