Perched comfortably in the heart of Evanston, Koi Fine Asian Cuisine is a restaurant that truly aims to serve ambiance and authenticity. With plenty of unique offerings from the 8 different regions of China and a solid spread of sushi choices, one might be baffled that such an array of options could be available right on Davis Street.
Owner of both Koi Fine Asian Cuisine and Le Sud (upscale, French-Mediterranean cuisine), Sandy Chen aims to highlight not one singular style of Chinese cuisine, but all of the distinct and signature styles of the Chinese culinary world. Recently, we had the honorable pleasure of sitting down and getting to explore a few of the offered regions!
While the weather is still nice out, one can enjoy sitting at some of the tables Koi has set up outside or enjoy the fresh air in their main dining room whilst the street-facing side opens up completely to provide a lovely breeze and open-air dining experience.
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To get things started, we dove into the spring rolls, the Truffle Tuna Nigiri (cooked with truffle oil and topped with truffle salt), and the Salmon Brulee Bundles (equipped with mango, caramelized cane sugar, and more!). The spring rolls were accompanied by two sauces, one sweet and tangy, and the other a spicy sauce with the same kind of kick as wasabi. If you’re looking for a ripe burn in the sinuses, give your roll a nice dip and get sent to a different headspace! Of the three options, the Truffle Tuna Nigiri shined with its rich blend of umami, salt, and creamy texture from the included avocado. While a bit pricey for two pieces, it’s a delectable choice to begin a meal with!
Our waiter had a thorough knowledge of both the dishes on the menu and the regions from which they originated, and after a wonderful verbal tour through the history of these foods, we settled on exploring Chuan and Hui cuisine. Chuan (coming from the Sichuan region) cuisine is known for the spice of chilis and peppercorn that both heat the mouth but also numb the tongue. Hui cuisine, highlighting the Anhui region, takes care to pay attention to the temperature at which dishes are cooked; the meats in these dishes are often braised or stewed.
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Our Chuan dish was the Hot Pepper Plate with delicious, tender beef. Though the menu warns that the Hot Pepper Plate is a three-chili spice dish (meaning, it’s hot!), we didn’t find the heat too bad. Perhaps it’s that we’re masochists and love spice so much that we’ve burned our tongues truly numb, but just know that for less experienced spice-lifers, this dish could prove some trouble! To offset the chili oil and heaviness of the Hot Petter Plate, our Hui dish took us on a foray into the herb world with the Basil Plate made with chicken. Sweet peppers and earthy basil were a delightful juxtaposition to the heaviness of the Hot Pepper Plate, with each bite working as a lovely palate cleanser. Though not a part of a specific regional cuisine, we also dipped into the vegetable Lo Mein just to get a taste of some noodles too; we were not disappointed. Crips vegetables accompanied by a firm, chewy bite is the only thing you should expect!
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Were we wildly full when it was time for dessert? Yes. Did we get it anyways? Uh, yeah! Their Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake isn’t actually made of cake but purely of mousse. How do they pull it off? We’re not quite sure because this cake is gluten-free but still chock full of body. Despite being stuffed to the brim from our meal, we polished off the whole plate. (Please pray for us.)
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Whether you’re looking for a casual bite or a full-bodied dining experience, Koi Fine Asian Cuisine & Lounge is absolutely an Evanston stop that cannot be mixed. Head to their website to get more information about their offerings or, if you’re sold, you can stop on by at 642 Davis St, Evanston, IL 60201! (Note that currently, there are a reduced number of tables available given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic so a reservation is never a bad idea!)
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Featured Image Credit: Koi Evanston