#256: Koi Garden

I received an in-person request this morning by a co-worker to check this place out.  Having had a small and early lunch I was more than eager to please.  I was headed out the door with my camera before 5PM.

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This is Koi Garden, an Asian Cuisine restaurant located on Roseville Parkway at North Sunrise.  Some Yelp reviews give the impression that this is a rebranded and downsized iteration of the previous tenant here, Koisan.  Although I can find no official evidence of this, I do believe it to be true because the friendly server greeted me and said “long time no see,” and she did seem familiar from my Koisan visit.

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They have split the big anchor space in two and now occupy the left half.  They are reusing the tables, chairs, and other than a new red wall and the obvious lack of a buffet, the dining room feels about the same.  The atmosphere was a little boring due to a lack of music.  The only sound came from a small TV at the front of the room, playing a procedural crime drama, at low volume and the droning of the kitchen exhaust, which actually was fairly loud in comparison.

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I had popped in here a couple weeks ago, while stopping next door for a quick Mango Lassi to-go from Tandoori Nights, and grabbed a menu, so I had already looked over everything and picked out a few items to order prior to arriving.  As soon as the server came over to see what I wanted to drink I went ahead and ordered everything – General Chicken (lightly battered chicken in a spicy sweet sauce)[$9.50], Honey Garlic Pork Chop (in a honey garlic soy sauce)[$10.95], Walnut Shrimp (lightly battered shrimp in a chef’s creamy sauce with caramelized walnut)[$12.95] and a diet coke (because I’m trying to watch my figure)[$2.25].

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It took about 13 minutes for the first dish to arrive, and the others came one by one about a minute apart after that.  Perfect timing to grab some photos of each before digging in.  I started with the shrimp, which is usually my favorite.  Lending itself to evidence that this is the same place as Koisan, I found the shrimp to be hot, juicy and generally tasty, but not particularly noteworthy beyond that.  This is especially the case when compared to the same dish from Leo’s Kitchen, Bambu or Wong’s Garden, all of which are unbelievably good and have a crispy texture that is unmatched elsewhere, including here.  The walnuts were OK, they just lacked the crunch I expect from candied walnuts.  One upside to this dish is that I received more shrimp here than at the previously mentioned places for about the same price.

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Next up I tried the General Chicken.  This was a very good sized pile of medium to large pieces of chicken doused in a thick, dark, syrupy sauce.  It was nice and piping hot when it arrived.  Now this one was special.  Flavor aside, and it was delicious, the texture of this chicken was downright magical.  It had the most delicate yet satisfying crispy shell, just underneath its thick coating of sauce, which gave way to the tender chicken within.  The sauce was very rich, sweet and with just a hint of spice that only built over consecutive bites.  I’m looking forward to my leftovers on this one for sure.

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Finally, the Honey Garlic Pork Chop.  When this was set down before me I immediately got strong aromas of sweet honey with a little bit of garlic undertones.  Interestingly, tasting it was the opposite.  The garlic was front and center and only here and there did I get little bits of honey.  This one was another excellent dish in terms of texture.  The pork was sliced thinly and the entire outside had a bit of a crunch to it.  Internally, the pork was flavorful, but not as tender as I would have hoped.  I did come across a piece here and there that almost melted in my mouth, but those were few and far between.  Most was a tad dry and chewy.  The water chestnuts did not add anything really exciting to this.

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The service throughout my visit was good.  My server checked on me regularly, offered refills just before I needed them and boxed up my leftovers right at the table.  The food was obviously a bit of a mixed bag.  My lunch experience at Koisan faired a little better than here, so they have the potential.  I think I just didn’t order quite the right dishes to experience what they have to offer.  Despite this I’ll likely be sticking to my go-to’s for Chinese (Wong’s Garden and Leo’s Kitchen) in the future.

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AM11: Teriyaki Land

Today I decided to try out Teriyaki Land on Auburn at Walnut, near Les Schwab.  I’ve never thought much of this place, other than being curious that they seem to serve fish & chips in addition to teriyaki and sushi.  Like most sushi places, they advertise 50% off all rolls.  This is such an annoying gimmick, particularly since nearly everyone uses it.

Being hungry and looking forward to it earlier in the day I popped on Yelp briefly to get an idea of what I was going to see.  There aren’t many reviews but it seemed to be a very polarizing place with mostly 5 or 1 star reviews.  I skimmed the restaurant info and was taken aback by the ambiance category of “divey”.  It makes sense, yet until now I’ve never thought to use that word to describe anything but a bar.

I walked in at 5 and the place was deserted, save for a guy standing outside that followed me in who I was half expecting to ask me for money, but instead he was grabbing his order to go (way to jump-to-judgement, Sean!).  A woman was waiting by the counter and greeted me immediately, waiting with a pen and paper to take my order.  Felt very much like Anchor’s Fish & Chips so far.  I had to go over the menu for a minute or two first.  Wanting to sample both sides of the menu, I ordered the Teriyaki Land Special Teriyaki Combo (One choice of teriyaki chicken, beef or pork w/ rice, noodle, salad & soda)[$8.99] and also the Pink Lady roll from the Deep Fried Special Rolls section (d.f., spicy tuna, avocado, crab, tobiko, eel sauce)[$12.50 $6.25 all rolls are half off, remember?].

I took a seat in the quiet dining room.  The woman and, presumably, her husband worked to prepare my order, making the only sound aside from some traffic noise coming in through a propped open side door.  There was no music, so I listened to a podcast and snapped a couple photos to pass the 10 minute or so wait.

She called out the items of my order to announce that they were ready.  I retrieved the bento box with teriyaki combo and a tray with my sushi roll, it’s pieces arranged in a neat circle.  She mentioned to the utensils to the right and I grabbed a fork and some chopsticks.  She asked if I wanted sesame seeds and then sprinkled some on with my go ahead.

Everything was piping hot, including the roll since it was deep fried.  The roll came with the usual wasabi/ginger, but also included a little dish of a slightly spicy, probably mayo-based sauce.  I really liked that it came on the side so I could use as little or as much as I wanted, which I did experiment with from piece to piece.  This roll was really good.  It was perfectly crisp on the outside and the spicy tuna really came through nicely, even though there didn’t seem to be a whole lot in it.  The avocado was actually the biggest percentage of the center and was nice and ripe.

The teriyaki was pretty great, particularly the noodles it came with.  They were flavorful, hot and even had a bunch of dark chicken meat bits mixed in.  The white meat chicken was very tender and moist.  The salad was really the only thing that I wasn’t super enthused about.  It wasn’t bad, just not anything special.  Lettuce was fresh and crisp, yet the dressing was just kind of boring Italian.

The service was minimal, but the woman seemed very nice and happy to serve.  Despite it’s shabby appearance, this place delivered.  I will definitely return for some pre-bowling dinner.

Website: None

(Scanned) Menu: Click Here

#233: Umai Savory Hot Dogs

I’ve been excited to write up this post since the day I first heard about Umai via Reddit over a month ago.  They weren’t even open yet but the menu looked insane.  So what is Umai?  Obviously it is a hot dog place, but it’s very different than a typical diner like Parkers, or even the now-closed Knucklehead’s.  Umai is Japanese Fusion, so you’ll se a lot of flavors/ingredients that you wouldn’t normally associate with hot dogs such as furikake, roasted nori, panko, bonito flakes, and sauces that include unagi, wasabi and teriyaki, among many, many others.

Umai opened 3 weeks ago and I couldn’t resist going on the opening day to check it out.  I returned again today to do a proper review now that they’ve had some time to settle in.  Umai is located across from the Galleria, in-between Stanton Optical and Blast 825º.  When I arrived on the first day it was close to 2PM and they had recovered from the first lunch rush.  There was one other customer at the time.  They had a row of tables running down the long wall, where they have a nice looking menu set up describing all the different signature dogs (21 of them).  I thought this was a little awkward because you’d basically be staring right above someones head to see it.  Since then, they have received more tables and rearranged the seating a bit.  You’re still looking past people to see the menu, but at least they are now turned 90º from you and it should’t be quite as weird feeling.

At the register, like many places, they have a tip jar but they have fun with it and make it a vote that they change often.  Today was Rick Ross vs Bob Ross.  The menu is large and overwhelming, but both times the staff were helpful in explaining options, describing flavors and offering recommendations while also being very patient.  For my first visit I had already picked out my dog well in advance.  The Umai X Truffle Dog called my name from the moment I saw it online.  It consists of a 100% all Angus beef dog, caramelized onions, white truffle sautéed shiitake mushrooms, minced black truffle, truffled aioli, Umai teriyaki sauce and furikake [$12].  I didn’t notice it until after I ordered it, but this is basically the craziest dog on the menu and has a note that says it is made to order and is a 10 minute wait.  I made it a combo with fries and a drink and upgraded the fries to the Umai House Fries (French fries tossed with our seasoning mix, signature Umai Teriyaki glaze, Nori seaweed and topped with our Dynamite sauce).  All together this came to $16.13 after tax.  Pricy, but that Truffle Dog is what did it.  Most of the dogs aren’t anywhere near that price.

While I waited, a random rush formed and the place filled up quick.  While my dog came within the 10 minutes, others were definitely seeing longer than usual wait times and there was a bit of confusion.  Understandable for day 1.  The truffle was immediately noticeable when the basket arrived at my table.  It’s aroma is unmistakeable.  People at the next table over mentioned that they could smell it.  This thing was nuts.  I don’t think I’ve ever had actual truffles in something, probably just sauces infused with the oil.  This had the rich flavor in so many different ways at once that it was almost too much.  Almost.  You need to put a small amount of effort into eating this, basically making sure you balance the amount of truffle-soaked toppings with each bite of the dog itself, or else it can be overwhelming.  I had one bite of basically nothing but mushrooms, aioli, and truffles.  That made my stomach turn slightly and had me being much more conscious of the ratio of dog to toppings I had from then on. With that mentality I was able to very much enjoy it greatly.

The Umai House Fries were pretty damn good.  The teriyaki & dynamite sauces made it pretty messy, so I used a fork for most of it.  The fries stayed crisp for quite a while, even with the sauce.  Flavor-wise it was a mix of savory and sweet, with a bit of a lean towards sweet.  I’d definitely like to try some of the other fry variations available.  For soda on the first day something tasted off.  I’m not sure what it might have been but today it was fixed and the Dr Pepper was on point.

Today I tried one of the more “normal” signature dogs.  This was the Kyoto Fire (Hot Link, Batter Fried Onions, Yum Yum Sauce, Creamy Habanero, Unagi Sauce, Jalapeno Pepper Slices, Furikake)[$5] and went with an order of the Inu Rangoons (Smoked sausages, cream cheese and pepperjack cheese wrapped in won ton wraps and deep fried. Served with your choice of dips. Choose between our Yokohama, Tokyo or Sapporo Rangoons)[$3].  They didn’t have the Sapporo version of these, which I think I recall the cashier describing as being the spicier of the three, as they hadn’t made them yet (I arrived right at opening).  He hadn’t tried the Yokohama himself and wasn’t sure how to describe it, so I figured I’d see what it was all about.

I was the only customer at the time so my food came pretty quickly.  The Kyoto Fire arrived in just a few minutes and the rangoon followed a couple minutes later.  I tried some of the rangoon first and they were extremely mild, basically tasting like cream cheese with hot dog.  That probably sounds little boring  but I did enjoy them. There was an option of ranch or sweet chili dipping sauce. I picked ranch, but really used very little of it because they were perfectly good on their own.

The Kyoto Fire was delicious.  The hot link itself had a really nice snap to it.  The three sauces quickly started to saturate the bun, which was barely holding onto everything as it was, so this got messy quick.  The heat in this was intense.  For a good half hour or so after leaving Umai my lips were still burning a little bit.  The creamy Yum Yum sauce might be intended to temper the heat a bit, but it’s still very spicy.  The onions were nice, crisp and flakey.  Overall I really enjoyed this hot dog.  The Umai X Truffle Dog was a fun experience, almost a novelty.  The price and richness will probably keep me from going back to it with any regularity though.  I would definitely have the Kyoto Fire again, but I have 19 more to try out first!

Safe to say I love this place and it somewhat fills a gap that was left when Knucklehead closed.  I always enjoyed trying their wild creations.  This place is very different, but has a lot of that experimental feel to it, just with a Japanese twist.