Koi, a 21-year-old veteran of La Cienega Boulevard’s bustling restaurant zone, reopened on January 3 in the adjacent building. After closing right on Christmas Eve, Koi is already back to serving elegant, saucy takes on sashimi, sushi rolls, and other modern Japanese dishes with an energetic new covered outdoor patio and see-and-be-seen type of dining room. After two decades of drawing in famous people (from Paris Hilton to George Clooney) and batting away paparazzi on the sidewalk, Koi is taking the opportunity to reincarnate itself with this new venue.
Upscale Japanese restaurants serving arrays of hamachi with yuzu ponzu sauce and serrano chile slivers, glazed miso black cod, and crispy rice topped with chopped spicy tuna have become reliable celebrity hotspots around the country. The dining format founded in the mid-’90s and early 2000s by the likes of Nobu Matsuhisa’s namesake establishments in Beverly Hills (Matsuhisa) and Tribeca (Nobu) in New York City, has exploded into a universe of restaurants that includes well-known players like Katsuya, Catch, Katana, Sushi Roku, Morimoto, and more.
Koi founder Nick Haque has parlayed the popularity of his West Hollywood original into locations in New York City and Las Vegas (inside Planet Hollywood) but always thought about improving the physical space of his LA flagship. And now, with the brand new kitchen and a sleek if somewhat unoriginal design, Koi can potentially attract a new generation of celebrities (and their oglers).
Koi’s menu, still overseen by longtime chef Rob Lucas, features a lot of the genre’s popular dishes, like its own invention of Koi Crispy Rice (basically hash brown bites with chopped, seasoned raw fish and rectangles of fried rice), miso bronzed cod, baked crab rolls, and dragon rolls. There’s a lot of sauce, maybe too much, on every dish, especially truffle oil or sweetened soy, which makes the prospect of eating raw fish easier on its regular clientele. However, the braised short ribs with plum wine reduction make for an excellent meaty entree.
The desserts, while not necessarily inventive, are pretty tasty, from the white chocolate-topped cheesecake to the flourless molten cake. At a certain point, these dishes, from miso black cod to ponzu-dressed salmon carpaccio, start to transition from dated to classic, though it’s not always clear which ones make that jump, or when. Koi’s crispy rice is certainly a standard now, even widely imitated, but the “She’s So LA” roll with soft shell crab and spicy tuna might still feel like it belongs in the aughts.
Ask anyone in Japan if this food seems familiar, and most would likely scratch their heads. This is Americanized Japanese food for the aspirational and scene-stealers, served in loud, rowdy restaurants with thumping electronic tunes and sleek servers. Most diners don’t seem to care about the playfulness of the food because everyone’s just having a great time. As it enters its third decade of relevance, Koi’s next chapter proves, perhaps, that there is something a little timeless about this kind of Japanese food.
Koi is now open in West Hollywood at 734 N. La Cienega Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA 90069. Dinner service is 5:30 pm. to 10 p.m. nightly, with a 10:30 p.m. closure on Fridays and Saturdays.