40 Country Hills Landing NW
Traditionally located in or near the core, Japanese restaurants have recently been popping up in the north west like pimples on a pubescent teen. Taiyo, Ajisai and now Koiji Restolounge. My latest food adventure (From this summer, I have a huge backlog) takes me to Koiji Restolounge up in Country Hills. Located across the street from the T&T market, it has arguably the best location out of the three that I mentioned above. Asian people love sushi. Ironically, when we arrived that Sunday, the space was mostly occupied by white people. Which, I guess explains the restolounge part.
We were quickly seated upon arriving. The space was beautifully decorated complete with a trendy faux fireplace along the elevated seating area which I never got a picture of.
Browsing through the menu reveals a solid selection of hot and cold appetizers. Those who know me will no doubt tell you that I love appetizers. In fact, I love appetizers so much that I can skip the entree altogether. In addition to the appetizers, there are a bunch of other stuff you can order; tempura, grilled fishes and what not (but no zaru soba, katsudon or tonkotsu ramen).
Oh, and then there's the sushi list.
But that's a given. Except maybe at Ajisai.
The sushi list was decent too; offering a solid lineup of raw seafood, including three types of salmon, the presumably-wild-sockeye-salmon, the no-doubt-farmed-atlantic-salmon and the for-the-people-who-pretend-they-eat-sushi-smoked-salmon. No fancy exotic fishes though. Unfortunately. We ordered our usual favorites plus some; salmon of the sockeye variety, hamachi, scallops, octopus, toro, amaebi (sweet prawn) and botan ebi (Canadian sport prawn).
The waiter returned shortly after we placed our order to inform us that they had run out of toro. I don't know what everyone’s experiences are, but I don't think I've ever had toro north of 20th Ave. Do they not swim this far beyond of the Bow? But I digress. Koiji Restolounge offers two types of shrimps. Nay! Three types! Amaebi, botan ebi and ebi. Besides being ordered alphabetically, the preceding list is also ordered based on awesomeness. Amaebi is a true prawn served raw. The flavours are sweet. So if you can stomach it, I highly recommend it. What I like most about Koiji is that they pre deep fry the head so you can nibble on the little claws when you please. Points for saving me the trouble of having to ask the server afterwards. Next on the list is the botan ebi. This dinky little shrimp is also served raw and comes as a pair. Flavours are sweet but it's too little and does not come with a deep fried head. And lastly, we have the ebi. Which I never order individually. This oversized cocktail shrimp is typically served cooked and cold. Lame.
Moving on. Sockeye salmon was the preferred choice of the three available. Generally more flavourful, the sockeye salmons exhibit flesh that is typically redder in colour, I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the food they eat. The scallops could have been a little fresher. A little too mushy. Nothing special about the hamachi or octopus.
Oh and we also ordered the "Stampeder" roll. Also known as the rainbow roll at other sushi establishments, this roll consist of a bunch of fish rolled up in rice with strips of avocado, ebi and salmon layered on top. It's missing quite a few hues of the rainbow so many places have opted to rename it the "Stampeder" roll to avoid the confusion. Not sure how that one works elsewhere though as I believe it is named after the Calgary Stampeders. If it's not, then it makes even less sense. How about Truncated Colour Spectrum Roll™. I guess it doesn't have the same ring to it.
The seafood miso soup was the first to arrive. This hearty bowl of soup consisted of shrimp, scallops, crab, mushroom, tofu, wakame and a bunch of other stuff (It was a long time ago). It was really flavourful. Sweet from the plethora of seafood. Very tasty and only 3 dollars more than the regular miso soup… Sorry, organic miso soup. The seafood one is organic too. Definitely worth the money. Regardless of whether they used organic miso or not.
We also ordered two appetizers. After yammering on for a full paragraph about how much I love appetizers, how could I not? The first to arrive was the salmon yukke. Korean inspired, this dish is the tasty offspring of a steak tartare and bruschetta; except it's made with salmon and not beef. This dish basically consist of diced salmon and avocado marinated in a tangy special sauce. This is then served over a slice of garlic toast. This is one of those restolounge-fusion dishes I was talking about.
The final dish to arrive was the chicken karaage. Chicken wings, stuffed with fish roe, is deep fried to the max and served with a dipping sauce. It was ok. The lack of bones in the mid wing section was nice.
Atmosphere: 8 out of 10. Beautiful interiors. It's hip. It's trendy. It's the little details. But the fireplace was definitely a contributing factor. Everyone loves fireplaces right?
Food: 7 out of 10. Food was good. It's definitely more Japanese fusion than traditional Japanese. Especially the none sashimi items. So just keep that in mind when you make a trip out. Don't go leaving angry comments when you find weird sauces on your food.
Presentation: 6 out of 10. My cup was dirty and stained. At the time of visit, they were opened for maybe a couple of weeks? Time to ask for a refund on that dishwasher. A replacement cup was provided with no fuss. Presentation of the food was good. The cup dragged it down.
Price: 7 out of 10. Above average prices. Not sure what everyone is complaining about. I don't think I've ever had "cheap" Japanese food.
Service: 6 out of 10. Average service. Nothing to email home about.
Overall: 7 out of 10. Good overall. It is interesting to note that Koiji claims they are the first Japanese restaurant to serve "Japanese burgers" which I’ve coined Jurger™ (Sounds like I have a slur). Not sure what that means. I don't believe the Japanese were known for their burgers. It's probably another one of those fusion things. Maybe they're trying to be the next JapaDog… I may give that a try on my next visit.