Koji brings fine Japanese dining to Vancouver

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Why: Koji opened Aug. 19 in the space formerly occupied by Tommy O’s in east Vancouver. The restaurant serves traditional Japanese cuisine and is the fourth of the family-owned business. The other three are established in Portland under the name Koji Osakaya and geared toward casual dining; the new Clark County location offers both casual and fine dining.

Atmosphere: The space has the same layout as its former tenant, but the decor is less elaborate and the lighting more subdued. The cocktail bar and sushi bar, both near the entry, are more casual than the open dining room and banquet room. I sat in the sushi bar, where the smell leaves no doubt that seafood is on the menu. The overall vibe prepares the senses for a traditional Japanese experience.

What I tried: Both my dining companion and I had the Six Course Dinner:

• Sakizuke: a small starter.

• Wan mono: either Miso Soup or Chawan Mushi, a soy-based egg custard.

• An appetizer, one of three chef’s choices.

• Sunomono, a cucumber salad.

• A main course, one of three chef’s choices.

• A dessert.

We chose Gyoza (dumplings) and Yakitori (skewered chicken) for our starters. The chicken was flavorful, as were the gyoza, whose petite size gave them a nice filling-to-pocket ratio.

Of the soups, I preferred the Miso to the Chawan Mushi, which comprises three layers beginning with a base of chopped seafood and topped with a custard reminiscent of flan. Between the two layers is a thin, salty broth.

The appetizers were: an asparagus spear wrapped with a butterflied prawn, a seaweed salad and Tamagoyaki — small wedges of sweet fried egg served with a spicy soy bean dipping sauce.

For our main courses, my dining companion had the Wagyu beef hamburg steak (Japanese-style meatloaf), and I had grilled salmon, which was served as three thin-sliced, grilled fillets. Both dishes were accompanied by cubed, fried sweet potatoes, cooked carrots and green beans, and a bowl of rice.The sweet potatoes were pleasantly absent of oil and the vegetables were soft-cooked, though a bit cool. I found the salmon cooked completely to the center, giving each fillet a dry texture. My dining companion enjoyed the meatloaf, which was topped with a rich sauce that reminded her of the demiglace that Outback uses on its Victoria steak, but with an added hint of soy.

Green tea ice cream was served for dessert. The ice cream was topped with a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkled with sencha powder — a blend of ground matcha leaves, sea salt and sugar. The ice cream did not have the sweet, rich character or familiar flavor of Western ice creams.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: Koji offers a large selection of traditional sushi and sashimi. Although there is a lot of seafood on the menu, there is a good balance of beef, pork and chicken selections — including pork and chicken katsu — as well as traditional rice, udon and soba noodle dishes. Among the salad choices are a crab wedge salad and a basic house green salad.

Other observations: I found much of the menu a bit difficult to understand due to the lack of accompanying English translation. When I brought this to the waitress’s attention, I was told that I was not the only one to mention this and they are in the process of clarifying many selections for a final menu version. The waitress was very knowledgeable on the menu items and translated with patience so my dining companion and I could make our dinner selections.

I found the six-course dinner offered a wide variety of flavor and textures. In my opinion, it is appropriately priced for the portions.

The wait staff was professional and attentive.

Cost: Lunch selections are between $5 and $18, with many in the $8 to $10 range. The six-course dinner is $30. Dinner entrees range from $15 to $28.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. 11:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Happy Hour is 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily.

Telephone: 360-882-5654.

Where: 4101 S.E. 192nd Ave., Vancouver.

Online:koji.com

Health score: Koji has received a preopening inspection and is scheduled for a routine inspection in the future. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.