Koi: Asian Fusion’s Fish Out of Water
In a city peppered with traditonal Japanese restaurants, sushi spots, and asian fusion powerhouses, Koi stands out like a fish out of water, and not in a good way. A ‘celebrity favorite’ in the Bryant Park Hotel, Koi shows the dark underbelly of big-box pre-fabricated fusion spots through its sub-par cuisine, Malibu barbie hostesses, and table service that’s worse than the sandwich counter at your neighborhood deli.
In the lobby of the Bryant Park Hotel, just off the park itself, Koi is at first sight impressive, in the way that these incredibly large over-designed hotspots are. How they get the ceilings so high is beyond me. The main dining room is large, lined with tan leather banquettes, and stuffed with dark minimalist furniture; it is designed to evoke an indoor zen garden with bamboo shoots curling around boothes, the backlit bar, and even encroaching on the Buddha. A large sculpture starting on the floor and arching up towards the ceiling mimics the scale pattern you’d find on a garden’s koi fish. Lush and unquestionably overdone, the look at Koi walks the fine line between Vegas-style expensive and totally tacky.
The cuisine is “Japanese-inspired” with California undertones – essentially, anything with a little sushi, a little miso, and a little rice flies. The trick with restaurants like Koi is that the food is meant to sound fantastic – how delicious does diver scallop tempura with asian pear salad sound? or lobster tail in sake truffle butter sauce, grilled tiger prawns with sweet potato and kumquat glaze, and kobe beef carpaccio with fried shitake mushrooms? Yeah, unilaterally, the food is just bad; rather than being bright and refreshing, the flavors come off as muddy; the meat and fish seemed unforgiveably over-cooked. All that fancy food couldn’t even be saved by an abundant use of truffles.
Koi is the type of place to go to if you’re looking to be seen and if you’re new to New York. As a young intern here years back, I thought a restaurant like Koi was the ultimate luxury, having never seen a place quite like it before. Yet, as restaurants go, Koi can’t hold a candle to other Asian fusion big boxes such as Nobu, Morimoto, and Buddakan. While all of these places may sport atmospheres worthy of the Vegas Strip and a scene meant for Meatpacking, a few select ones actually produce food worth paying for. Koi, you are not one of the select.
Perfect For: putting on stilettos and strutting your stuff, impressing out-of-towners with your wallet, a night of flirting with the hostess, after-work drinks if you work at Bank of America