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Eat Up Downtown: Koja Sushi

written by 19 August 2009 7 Comments

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.


Image: jacksonvillelanding.com

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.

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  • avatar
    phoenix said:

    Cracked plates?!
    44 violations??!

    be glad you sat outside. can you imagine what the carpet must be like? i’d be surprised if it doesn’t squish.

  • avatar
    Sharon said:

    Yes, Jodi, unfortunately that was my impression also. Good company, though.

  • avatar
    diningninja said:

    I’ve eaten here once. Will never do so again. You can get better sushi at Publix and that stuff is pretty terrible.

    Also, I recommend being a bit more assertive and put this in your title …
    Throw Up Downtown at Koja Sushi.

  • avatar
    nwooton said:

    Koja is 50/50. I’ve been there only a few times and when it good, its edible. But when it’s bad its BAAAAAAD. I recomend Crazy Sushi, or my #1 place since moving here from Chicago is Osaka Japanese Restaurant?, on San Jose Blvd. Be prepared to wait on the weekend though.

  • avatar
    ToJohnson82 said:

    by ToJohnson82 at Citysearch
    I would think that a place that has a BEST SUSHI of JAX banner showing in front of their restaurant would live up to the expectation….little to know it was from 2006 and its 2009!!!! As soon as I walked into the restaurant I wiffed a foul odor maybe coming from the across river but as I continued walking across the restaurant I noticed that it might be coming from their carpets. So I decided to sit outside on the patio and it took over 10 mins for a waiter to come over. By now we knew what we wanted to order…I ordered the practical Dyno roll and a couple of pieces of Tuna, my friend ordered the beef box…and to our surprise our food comes finished faster than our refills do. THE MOST UNPROFESSIONAL THING ABOUT MY WAITER WAS HIS ON-N-OFF USE OF HIS iPHONE WHILE APPROACHING THE TABLE. As I took a bite of the Dyno roll I noticed the inside was not cooked and the heavy use shrimp and spicy was used to cover up the uncooked fish which really made the roll hard to enjoy, hot on the outside and uncooked on the inside. The tuna sashimi was even worse as it took more than five bites to chew because of all the fat that was on it. It was one of the worst sushi rolls and nigiri pieces I ever had!!!!!! As my friend recieved her box she noticed the beef to look a lil sloppy and the overuse of onions. The vegetables were steamed but the menu clearly states it is suppose to be sauteed which really not no big deal but the extend of the horrible dining experience had took toll. For a person that is not very picky or impatient I could not notice that everything in that restaurant was falling apart. The bathrooms were smelly. The inside of the restaurant was dark and the smell was of old mildew. The food was something I would use for trash compost. The service was as awful to where there was no excuse because on a Friday night….where most restaurants are packed we were one of 6 tables in attendance. FROM MY EXPERIENCE…DON’T EAT AT KOJA’S!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar
    Alvin Woodson said:

    Here we have a perfect example of why you should be careful where you eat your sushi. I guess some people just don't know what they're doing.

  • avatar
    Kris gylwww said:

    Good for reading.

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