My wife and I and three other couples had dinner last night at Koi to celebrate New Year's eve, and the experience was outstanding in all dimensions. We've lived in Santa Fe for four years and know all the top-ranked restaurants; Koi is right up there with the very best. The bill for all eight of us came to $471, tip included, and the wine and champagne flowed freely. For you out-of-towners, by Santa Fe standards that's a bargain for an upscale restaurant.
Koi is housed in space formerly occupied by a nightclub, yet presents a quiet, unhurried ambience. The decor is contemporary and sophisticated, with attractive lighting and spacious, uncrowded tables. The "feel" is more San Francisco than Santa Fe. Our server was attentive and helpful, yet unobtrusive. Despite a capacity New Year's eve crowd, the kitchen handled the orders efficiently, with no delays and no excuses. Our meals arrived at the same time, and water glasses were promptly refilled. From start to finish, the staff could not have been more pleasant and helpful.
The menu, as the restaurant name suggests, has a slight asian tilt (asian fusion would be more accurate), but with plenty of western options. Several of us started off with the Berkshire Kalua pork spring rolls, a dish that recently won a "Best of Santa Fe" award. The rolls were sliced and attractively arranged on a white, rectangular plate, with a nicely composed drizzle of banana curry providing visual contrast. The pork was tender and succulent, and the wrapper was crispy and uniform.
I followed up with "Shepherds lamb rib chops," which were accompanied by "aji amarillo gastrique" (a kind of yellow garlic reduction) and an edamame ragout. An interesting touch was a tiny side bowl of olive powder; a few sprinkles on the chops added a nice pungent accent to the garlic and lamb flavors. The chops were served on a curved and quite striking freeform white plate. In fact, every menu item appeared to have a unique serving dish. Clearly the chef places a high premium on creating an imaginative visual impact with his offerings.
Other members of our group ordered the pan-seared Atlantic diver scallops (accompanied by chorizo spaetzle, Marcona almonds, and piquillo sauce); the "two way" duck (a duck breast with red curry, and a duck confit with celery root hash); and the Wagyu flat iron steak, with preserved lemon carnaroli risotto and curry-caramel carrots. The table concensus was that each item met or exceeded all our expectations for taste, preparation, and creativity.
After dinner our group met for dessert at one of our homes, but before leaving the restaurant we did scrutinize the dessert menu. Typically, it was like nothing we'd encountered elsewhere: "dark chocolate mousse, fig jam, local goat cheese, with bacon power." Really, bacon powder. (On a previous visit, I tried this dish and recommend it highly.) Or how about "Yuzu sorbet, garam masal tuile, and olive oil?"
New Year's eve prices ranged from $9-$12 for appetizers, and $15-$21 for entrees. Wine was moderately priced, $7-$11 per glass, with reasonable bottle prices.
Santa Fe has an extremely competitive restaurant market (over 500 restaurants in a town of 70,000) with very high customer expectations. Koi is a newcomer to the scene, having arrived during an economic downturn that has placed all the local restaurants under great stress. Despite the inauspicious timing, Koi is rapidly gaining in popularity and reputation among locals and out-of-towners. Believe me, you won't go wrong if you give it a try.
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