I was meeting a friend for dinner at Koi, just as we’d done so many times in the past. It had been an exhausting day, and my appetite -even for Asian food-was challenged at best. I studied the menu, looking for something that would be as comforting as mac ’n cheese or meatloaf or warm apple pie with ice cream.
“You know,” I said to the waiter, “if this were an Americanized Chinese restaurant, I’d order egg foo young.”
He smiled. “We can make it for you,” he said. “No problem.”
I smiled back. Egg foo young and a glass of Riesling… my stress level plummeted.*
Koi’s egg foo young was so good that I’ve ordered it time and again, often as part of a family-style dinner. And, actually, a family-style dinner is a good way to sample Koi’s menu, which features dishes from eight of China’s regional cuisines, in addition to sushi, sashimi, maki rolls, nigiri, chirashi, teriyaki, and both Pad Thai and Thai basil fried rice. That’s a lot of culinary ground to cover, but owner Sandy Chen’s family tree includes a long line of professional chefs.
Now 54, she’s been working in the restaurant business since shortly after her family emigrated to the United States when she was 16. She bussed tables at New Diamond, a mom-and-pop Chinese restaurant in Highland Park, as a teenager, followed by front-of-the-house stints at T’ang Dynasty and House of Hunan, trend-setting restaurants that introduced Chicagoans to regional Chinese cuisine.
Koi is Chen’s second restaurant; the first was the eponymous Chen’s in Chicago’s Lakeview East neighborhood. Preferences changed during Chen’s eighteen year-run. Spice levels escalated as diners developed an appetite for hotter food, and -at the same time- sushi and its relatives went mainstream, as did Pad Thai, poke and edamame.
Chen opened Koi in 2004. Not only was the menu more diverse than at Chen’s, but the restaurant’s location was more convenient to her home in Wilmette. Having survived both the recession of 2008-2009 and the worst of the Pandemic, Koi continues to expand its culinary horizons.
Consider the options.
If, for example, you have a taste for fish, you can order a whole red snapper in a spicy Szechwan sauce rife with garlic and chilis or salmon with black bean sauce or sole paired with eggplant, asparagus and a sauce spicy enough to merit a single chili emoji or whole snapper in a mix of black vinegar, soy sauce and sugar or steamed Dover sole with scallions, cilantro, soy, broccoli and glass noodles.
And then there are the specials: Happy Hour from 4:30-6, Dim Sum brunch on weekends, $6 cocktails on Wednesday, half-priced bottles of non-sparkling wines on Thursday, and half-price on a specific maki roll until 9pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
And, of course, there’s the egg foo young. It’s not on the menu, so you have to ask for it. Trust me. It’s definitely comfort food Chinese-style. And given the news, we all need a lot of comforting.
Koi Fine Asian Cuisine & Lounge, 624 Davis Street, Evanston 847.866.6969
*As it turns out, egg foo young has authentic Chinese roots, and the dish-in various iterations-is served throughout the Chinese diaspora.
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