If you know me (or if have at least shared a meal out with me), you know that I cannot try out a new restaurant without asking the waiter for suggestions. I like to blame my behavior on my journalism schooling that has instilled a burning passion to ask the “hard questions.” But more likely, I have established this routine because asking the waiter takes the pressure off my indecisive self to choose, while simultaneously lessening my chances of choosing the WRONG thing. To be honest, I also just like hearing the waiters describe their dish of choice, foodie to foodie. Even though my family and close friends scoff at my eagerness to ask the waiter, “What’s your favorite appetizer? Entrée? Dessert?,” I am pleased to say my method rarely disappoints. That is, until I went to Koi.
I met my older brother at Koi on Davis Street in Evanston, IL. on a Tuesday evening. The restaurant was hushed, but filled almost completely. I walked in and was greeted by a friendly face, who led me to the table my brother was seated at. The ambiance was nicer than I was dressed for, definitely a “parent place” instead of a typical meal out with dorm buddies. We quickly ordered shrimp dumplings and wonton soup, safe appetizers that we were used to ordering at our favorite Chinese restaurant back home in California.
Then came the ultimate question: “What is your favorite entrée?”
The waiter described a pork chop dish, claiming the dish is flavored with the right amount of kick, that the meat falls “right off the bone,” and is balanced by a garnish of grilled vegetables. He was very convincing. Since I usually don’t eat pork, especially at school, I saw it as a promising choice and went with his word. I ordered the Salt and Paper Pork Chops - I was very trusting.
The shrimp dumplings and wonton soup were delicious. The shrimp was delicately wrapped, making them both flavorful and light. They were paired with a plum sauce, a step up from the soy sauce placed on the table. The dumplings came in a bamboo case and were placed daintily on banana leaves. Very picturesque if I do say so. One always runs the risk of getting “over salted” when ordering wonton soup, but this was not the case. The wonton itself had a slightly sweet taste and the veggies were both generous and refreshing.
Then came our main entrees: my beloved pork chops
I am pretty sure my mouth dropped as the waiter placed the dish in front of me, gleefully announcing “Aaaaand the pork chops.” My prior vision of juicy, uniform pork chops were replaced by what looked like shriveled, hacked up pieces of an unidentified animal. But, I am not one to dismiss something without trying it, so I picked up my chopsticks and found a reasonably sized piece to start with.
I quickly learned that this was not a chopstick kind of dish, but instead a full fledged hands-in-food-elbows-on-table thing. The dish was not perfectly seasoned, but over salted, making the dish dry. The meat did not stylishly “fall off the bone” but was aggressively pulled with the strength of my front teeth. However, the dish was garnished with grilled veggies and rice, which were delicious.
Overall, the good company, comfortable ambiance, and stellar appetizers made my dining experience at Koi worthwhile. While I did take an “L” with my entrée selection, those dry, over salted, un-Instagrammable pork chops strangely taught me a lesson: Seek advice unashamedly, but do not let others make decisions in your life for you. After all, you’re the one who is eating the dish.