Eat Up Downtown: Koja Sushi
Eat Up Downtown is a week-long event featuring over 20 restaurants offering $25 prix fixe menus. I decided to try two diametrically opposed restaurants to feature here on EatJax. Last night, I chose Koja Sushi.
Of all the restaurants on the list, Koja Sushi seemed to be a no-brainer. I love sushi more than any other food. I have eaten sushi everywhere from an open air revolving bar at Paddington Station in London to the Wal-Mart deli counter in Arlington. I don’t have very many hang-ups about it. Sushi, especially nigiri, is like a hamburger to me. I fully appreciate a $100 wagyu beef hamburger served with the finest cheeses and I can handle a burger from Wendy’s when I’m traveling. I appreciate fine food, but I am not a snob.
As hard as I have tried, I have never had bad sushi… until last night. First, I fully admit that I sashayed over to Koja Sushi while breaking all of my own rules. After all, this was a Downtown Vision event! Why would they put BAD restaurants into their event that is meant to promote eating downtown? So, I did not look up Koja Sushi on the restaurant health code violation website. It was only after I got home that I looked them up. At the last inspection, they had 44 violations. By that time, I was not surprised.
When I worked at the Landing about six years ago, the parking lots were always full. So, I was very interested in the “free valet parking” offered on the Koja Sushi Eat Up Downtown website. When I got to the Landing there was no valet. I parked in the pay lot on the east side because the website also offered validation of parking at that lot.
I met a fellow blogger and went up the stairs. It was sunset, so we asked to sit outside. I was pleasantly surprised when our server told us that we would not have to choose from a prix fixe menu and one drink would be included. We could choose one appetizer, one entrée and one dessert off of the regular menu. The only restriction was on the dessert. They offer four desserts, but only tempura cheesecake and tempura ice cream were available.
We ordered edamame and tempura shrimp and vegetables to share as appetizers. This is what the edamame looked like:
It was extremely overcooked. The beans were soft to the point of being a mealy paste that suggested that they may previously have been soybeans. It is the first time I have walked away from edamame without finishing it. The tempura fared no better. Each piece was overcooked to the point of disintegration. The shrimp was like jerky and the vegetables were gelatinous goo. The tempura batter was greasy and soft. The grease tasted like it hadn’t been changed since Bill Clinton was in office.
We both ordered the Sushi Dinner Box for our entrée.
A photo of that:
Beginning from the top left and working clockwise – The steamed vegetables were barely cooked at all. There was no seasoning whatsoever. The onions were harsh and raw. The “pickled salad” was comprised of spare bits of cabbage, poorly cut, which had possibly been shown a vinegar bottle in a previous life. Again, there was no other seasoning. I’m not sure what the little red bits are supposed to be, but if you’re expecting something resembling kimchi from this restaurant billed as Korean, you will be sorely disappointed.
The tempura was comprised of yet another bit of shrimp jerky, a broken mushy potato and a “crab cake.” The crab cake was sweet to the point of inedibility, mushy, greasy and overcooked. My dining companion was not even that lucky. She got this for her crab cake:
The artificial half-moon shape of the crab cakes suggest that they are brought in frozen then reheated. There was no hint of actual crab in the cake.
The California roll would have been decent if they had not inexplicably leaned an orange slice against the roll. Four of the pieces tasted like oranges. The nigiri itself was not terrible. It is technically difficult to mess up raw fish on a bed of rice. The fish itself was fine, but certainly not anything to write home about. (Believe me, by this point, I was sniffing everything obsessively!) However, it was impossible to pick up the pieces with chopsticks because they fell apart as soon as we touched them.
After I had eaten the nigiri, (I did not finish any of the other dishes) I noticed to my horror that there was a large crack in the dish under my food. I have enlarged that here:
It is obvious in the photographs, but, as I said, we were sitting outside in the evening and I didn’t notice it until I had actually consumed the nigiri. I would NEVER have eaten raw fish from a broken plastic plate, had I known. I would like to say that our server was attentive, but a server is the last stop in quality assurance. She served me raw fish on an unsanitary broken dish. Nothing else matters – that is unconscionable.
However, I had an article to write. I soldiered on. We shared the two desserts.
The first was tempura cheesecake:
It had been cooked for so long that the cheesecake inside was not just warm, but a dry paste which vaguely tasted of cream cheese. I took one bite and told my friend, “Don’t eat that.”
Then the tempura ice cream:
All of the ice cream had melted and run out onto the plate. When I bit into it, it was a hollow shell of badly fried soft, greasy dough with a small, watery puddle of melted poor-quality ice cream.
What should have been a “great deal” turned out to be four pieces of nigiri, half a California roll and a Guinness for $25, plus tip and parking. Everything else was inedible. I didn’t think to ask, but we were not offered parking validation. I’m willing to take the blame on that. But, the Eat Up Downtown website states that along with free valet parking, the $25 includes admittance to Twisted Martini. I’m not sure what the days and hours are for that bar, but it was closed last night. So, if you’re looking for free valet parking and waived cover at that bar, check the operating hours for those services.
I still have one more “Eat Up Downtown” restaurant to go. I have high hopes for my next restaurant. But, next time I want sushi, I’ll be headed to Crazy Sushi on Southside. I cannot recommend Koja Sushi in any way, shape or form. I am thankful that it only cost me money, disappointment and a wicked case of heartburn.