Sherman's Food Adventures: Koko Japanese

Koko Japanese

After a horrific "Japanese" meal (if I can even categorize it as Japanese) at Kawawa a couple of weeks ago, I was looking for some "real" Japanese food. It also happened to be my dad's birthday and honestly, I wasn't going to take him out for crappy Japanese food. Besides, he already told me specifically, "No all-you-can-eat!". It seems almost randomly, we decided on Koko. Actually, I spotted it from across the street while I was leaving On Lok on Thursday morning. Koko has been around for a really long time. In fact, it was one of the oldest Japanese restaurants in town. With seemingly an endless supply of Japanese restaurants, I never think of going here. I know my mom has been here a long time ago; but I'm not too certain I've even eaten there myself.

Although the sushi chef is Japanese, the rest of the staff are Chinese, since I overhead them speaking Cantonese. The importance of a good sushi chef is never more apparent if you have ever had crappy Japanese food before. You will know the difference between authentic vs. impostor. It's having properly cooked and mixed sushi rice, correctly rolled sushi (which won't fall apart) and perfectly cut sashimi. None of which I experienced at Kawawa (yes, I still have flashbacks). We started off with a green salad and it was spring mix with a nice light dressing. Nothing much to talk about other than we got some greens in the meal? I got a Gomae assuming it would be good and yes it was! Unlike some "Japanese" restaurants, the gomae here was not bathed in with a ridiculous amount of overly salty or sweet sesame dressing. Rather, it was lightly dressed while still being extremely flavourful. We could taste the aromatic flavours of sesame which is much better than plain saltiness. We followed that up with a small order of Ebi Tempura. As the picture shows, the tempura batter was quite crispy and not oily. It may not be apparent in the picture; but it was light as well. Something as simple as frying up tempura is not easily executed like you would think.

So that we could sample a nice selection of sashimi, we got the Assorted Platter. Beautifully present, the sashimi was both fresh and cut perfectly. The highlights of this dish were the wild salmon and geoduck. Although the portion size on this was not big; the quality made up for it in spades. I ask you, would you rather have quality or a large quantity of mushy, poorly cut fish? At least for me, I choose the former. My mom loves dynamite roll, so we naturally had to get an order of it. According to her, this was the best dynamite roll she's ever had. The ebi was so meaty, it had "lobster-like" qualities. It was rolled up nice and tightly. While we were enjoying it, we regretted not getting the larger version so we could eat more of it.

I'm not a huge fan of Fried Gyoza; but Viv seems to like it and that was one of the dishes she chose. I normally do not like it because it's not served that hot and crispy (especially at AYCE joints). Well, this one was not only hot and crispy, there was lots of them. A total of 10 were on the plate. I must've had 5 to myself and I don't even really like the stuff! I liked how they were not that greasy and the filling was not too dense. As always, I got a couple of pieces of Nigiri - 2pcs Tamago, 2pcs Tai, 2 pcs Unagi, 1pc Tako and 2 pcs Inari. Again, the sushi rice was the perfect texture between being fully cooked while still a bit firm. Everything was fresh tasting and presented beautifully. Except, I found the tamago a bit "rough" looking and a tad overcooked.

Something that we don't see a whole lot on Japanese menus (especially non-authentic joints) is Pressed Sushi. It is essentially sushi which is pressed into a block-shape mold and comes out as a long rectangular piece. We got the Ebi Pressed Sushi which had pickles in the middle. Since it has been pressed, the sushi itself is a bit denser than regular rolled-sushi. This was probably the least favourite of all the dishes we ordered. It was nothing against the pressed sushi per se; rather it was a bit plain. I gotta say that it's very nice to have a decent Japanese meal. One that is authentically prepared and presented. It's really sad that so many "Japanese" restaurants in the GVRD butcher the food so badly. Thank goodness these places still exist. Although the food wasn't outstanding, it was pretty good. In terms of value, I think that you'll find that it's a bit more expensive than most places and the portion sizes are a tad smaller. I'm not about to come here every week; but I will return when I experience the next "Japanese" food horror show.

The Good:
- Food that looks and taste like Japanese food
- Qualified sushi chef
- It's not Kawawa

The Bad:
- A tad pricey
- Portions are not very big

Koko on Urbanspoon

14 comments:

shokutsu said...

The trauma you experienced at that other place is still being felt, priceless! Good report on Koko, I know its gotten good vibes from many, the food looks solid in your pics.

Sherman said...

Hi shokutsu! Well, I'm no expert in Japanese food, but I know when it's good and it was good here. As for Kawawa... I still can't shake the memory. It was that bad...

holly said...

It's been eons since I've been to Koko. I remember that I always enjoyed my dining experiences here. It's just that the area has become a bit run down and I'm not that comfortable coming to this area anymore.

Glad to hear they're still serving good quality sushi and japanese food.

Sherman said...

Holly, I vaguely remember that I was at Koko when I was younger; but then again, I'm not sure. Whatever the case, it's definitely not in the best of areas; but the food was good.

KimHo said...

Koko has been a place that I have been curious about. Somehow I thought it was the Brave Bull's of sushi (because, as Holly mentioned, it looks run down). But, after the guys from Foodosophy wrote about it, my curiosity peaked. It is good to know that your opinion was good as well. As for hole-in-the-walls with good sushi, can I suggest you try Shima-Ya in Victoria Drive, near 41st?

Sherman said...

Honestly Kim, looking at the outside, Koko looks very unappealing. Inside, it's not really that fancy either. It's more functional than anything. Thanks for the tip, I'm always on the lookout for more Japanese places to go since I love Japanese food.

Chris said...

To me there can be a lot of charm in a joint that doesn't look good, but serves up quality goods.

Even though you are feeling the ills of that horrible experience still, it must be nice to head out with the family and enjoy a (seemingly) great meal.

Rachel said...

Wow it's not always that you find box-pressed Hako zushi on the menu of Japanese restaurants. The food certainly looks authentic. I agree with you how there are too little real Japanese restaurants around. I would love to make a visit if only it's not so far away on Commercial Drive. Anyway, good post, I enjoyed reading it :)

Sherman said...

You're right Chris, usually the best places are the ones without the flash and glam, it's all about the food.

Yes Rachel, I was surprised to find pressed sushi. I rarely see it offered, which is also an indication of how sad the Japanese food scene has become here.

KimHo said...

I think Miku has box-pressed sushi. And, if memory serves me right, Shima-Ya has it as well. So, there you go, there is your excuse! :D

Mijune said...

mmmm that pressed ebi roll looks good.

Glad to hear this place is good, but heading to North Van is uber far for me. So many restaurants out there I have yet to try.

Sherman said...

Hi Mijune, actually Koko is in Vancouver. Hachi Hana is in North Van.

LotusRapper said...

I recently drove by Koko and reminisced what was likely my very first sushi experience in Vancouver (actually in life) there, circa late ’70s. I’m quite sure of the decade because I hadn’t started high school yet (1980). Amazing to see them still around. In fact I think I will take my own family there one of these days.

Sherman said...

@LR You should go! Traditional, no fancy rolls there!