One of Rolla’s best options for sushi, noodles, and entertainment is Koi restaurant. Koi is a teppanyaki grill (also called hibachi grill) first and foremost, and the four grills dominate the area of the restaurant. The openness of the restaurant means that it is impossible to miss the blasts of flame and cheering from the other guests enjoying the spectacle of the food preparation.
I visited the restaurant on a Sunday evening when most other nicer restaurants in Rolla were closed. Other people clearly also had the same idea, and the restaurant was pretty crowded. I was seated at one of the grills, where they combine smaller groups in order to fill the seats. It is typically nice to have polite conversation with the other people seated with you, but can also make the meal feel less private.
It did not take long for our order to be taken, and before long the chef came out with a cart full of ingredients. The cooking process begins with the chef performing flashy tricks and tapping out a rhythm with his spatulas. Most of the chefs are very skilled and confident in their abilities, however it is not uncommon for them to make a few small mistakes. Often this happens at the very beginning, resulting in a couple dropped spatulas, but the chefs are adept at working the mistakes into the performance without hesitation.
After the flashy beginning, the chef began to do tricks with the eggs before cracking them onto the heat with a flourish. The sizzling of the egg heralded the beginning of the breakneck cooking process. Oil and sauces sprayed as vegetables, rice, and noodles splashed onto the hot surface of the grill like paint on a canvas. The artist of the meal, the chef, complimented the sizzle of the food with the metal tapping of his spatula.
I’m often so mesmerized by the show at Koi that I have to remind myself to eat the brothy soup and meager bowl of salad which they bring out to accompany the performance. The soup was warm and tasty, but a bit plain. Likewise, the salad was fairly ordinary, consisting mainly of iceberg lettuce with a rich dressing poured over the top.
The chef continued his flourishes as he built a small volcano out of sliced onion and oil. A blast of flame was a flashy accompaniment to the performance, and came just before the audience participation portion of the show. With impeccable aim, the chef flicked chopped bamboo shoots towards the waiting mouths of the hungry guests. Each successful catch resulted in a cheer from the others, while each failed catch prompted a second or sometimes third try.
Finally, the chef put the meat on the grill, cooking steak, chicken, and shrimp. The meats were seasoned with a teriyaki type sauce. After cooking the meat, the chef distributes the final product to the guests. I had ordered rice and steak cooked medium rare, and I was pleasantly surprised by the texture of the meat: soft and tender with red in the middle. The sauce was also delicious, a perfect blend of salty and sweet flavors, which was applied liberally to the meat and vegetables. I also ordered a side of crab rangoon which was easily the best in Rolla, outshining the inferior ‘goons from Lucky House.
After finishing the distribution of the food, the chef turned to cleaning, pouring water over the grill and creating a column of steam. One rough scrubbing later and the grill was ready for the next performance.
Overall I enjoyed my trip to Koi. Despite relatively ordinary food, the performance makes the meal seem extraordinary. I recommend visiting the restaurant for celebrations or whenever you have a craving for good food delivered with flair.