JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
DJ K-Smooth spun a chill mix of neo-soul, lounge R&B and hip-hop for the classier, 20-something crowd that gathered at Koi Sushi last Friday.
Koi offers fine sushi and premium spirits
SANSEI SEAFOOD Restaurant and Sushi Bar used to be one of my favorite late night haunts. This was long before they moved to Waikiki. Fridays usually meant more than a few plates of sushi along with sake and beer to wash it all down. There were also DJs on hand, spinning the kind of music you'd expect 20-somethings to listen to while grinding with friends.
KOI SUSHI BAR AND SAKE LOUNGE
Location: 1700 Kapiolani Blvd.
Hours: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesdays through Sundays
How much for a Bud Light?
Forget about Bud Light -- it's all about the Eichigo ($6) at Koi.
Get things to do?
There is a plasma screen over the bar here, along with pool tables on one side of the room. Weekends also feature DJs spinning live from 10 p.m. until closing.
What about the grinds?
From nigiri sushi to elaborate rolled creations, the menu here will keep you coming back at least a couple of times to try everything. A Euro-Asian hot-food menu is in the works.
And the help?
If there's one area that could use improvement, it's the efficiency of the servers and bartenders. Once they're completely trained on the importance of being polite and providing the same level of attention to all customers, the drinking and dining experience will only get better.
For some reason, no other establishment has attracted the same type of crowd that flocked to Restaurant Row from 2002 to 2004. But now that Koi Sushi Bar and Sake Lounge is open at the former Blue Tropix location, young professionals have a great option for both pau hana and late-night cruising.
KOI HAS REPLACED the Blue Tropix monkeys with a man-made pond full of the Japanese fish and a pair of large tanks behind the equally expansive, J-shaped bar.
As long as you don't spend too much time looking at the ceiling, it's relatively easy to forget the room's former incarnation as a nightclub. One VIP area remains, but the other has given way to an open expanse with pool tables, and there's water flowing under a bridge where the dance floor was.
Cross that bridge to one of six seats at the sushi bar proper, or just kick back on the couches in the rest of the lounge. I'm told there's more furniture on the way, but I kind of like how there are different areas to choose from.
If you're the gaming type, post up near the pool tables. Want some privacy? Go for one of the couches on your left as you first walk in.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Koi Sushi Restaurant and Sake Bar has taken over the space that housed Blue Tropix. The monkey is gone, replaced by fish. Bartender Crystal Murakama mixes a drink.
And if you're lucky enough to find the place empty after 10 p.m. on a weekend, a few couches are right in front of the area where turntables are set up on Fridays and Saturdays. The soundtrack is generally smoothed-out hip-hop and R&B, much like what you'd hear on Hot 93.9's "Groove Mix at Six."
NOW IT'S TIME to get to my favorite part of the Koi experience -- the sushi.
Regular readers of this column will recognize the name Grant Kawasaki, of Sushi Supreme fame and a key player in the brief success of Club Queen Bee before it went back to its buy-me-drinkee ways. Along with co-executive chef Norlan Horita, he's developed an extensive menu to satisfy any craving.
If you haven't tried their Infamous Spicy-Creamy Baked Dynamite ($12-$16), you're definitely missing out. Choose a California roll made from spicy ahi, salmon, shrimp, scallop, hamachi or lobster, which is then smothered with four special sauces and baked.
The Spicy Hamachi Chef's Special ($14) is another must-try. A spicy tuna roll is topped with hamachi slices and a special firecracker sauce. Or, take a trip on the wild side and order the Hawaiian Big-Eye Ahi "77" Sashimi Special ($14), which arrives with the tuna rolled in wasabi tobiko and topped with jalapeño slices.
Keep in mind that happy hour at Koi lasts from 5 to 8 p.m. and features a variety of rotating specials, including $1 handrolls. Once kitchen renovations are completed, expect a complete dinner menu.
IF YOU'RE NOT convinced yet that this place is worth your time, consider this: Koi might be the only bar on Oahu to offer the Eichigo brand of beer.
I consider myself a beer aficionado of sorts, but I had never heard of this particular brew before Kawasaki and Horita introduced it to me. Produced in the Niigita region of Japan, it's made from rice and goes down great with sushi.
"I think we're the only ones to sell it," Kawasaki said. "And we're running 18 different sakes, we've got everything you can imagine at a regular bar, and we've got tons of imported beer."
Another unique offering in the works is a chef's special sake and sushi pairing. Customers receive three different slices of fish to accompany a cup of otokoyama, kikumasamune and dassai sake.
"It's all served chilled, and all come with the chef's recommendations on the plate," said Kawasaki. "We're excited about that."
So leave the Crown shots, Long Island Iced Teas and casual attire to the crowd upstairs at Skybox. If you're looking for the grown and sexy with a taste for fine sushi and premium spirits, Koi is definitely worth a visit. With other trendy spots like Fashion 45, Shokudo, The O Lounge and Brew Moon just a short taxi ride away, it makes for a great first stop both during the week and on weekends.
Barfly appears every Friday in the Star-Bulletin WeekEnd section. Reach Jason Genegabus
with suggestions of neighborhood bars to visit.