I'm sure everyone who lives within 5 minutes of the new Hamilton Ave., Northside location of Ko-Sho had the same fantasies we did as it took weeks upon months to open its doors, then finally did a while back: a great sushi and Japanese soup place with reasonable prices. A place to grab take out on the way home for an easy meal, or to sludge up to in the snow for a belly warming. It even has a rhyming catch phrase - fo sho - built right in. Unfortunately, the reality isn't as rosy as the ideal so far from what we can tell.
We started off with a few appetizers and one bit of sushi - a spicy tuna roll. The hiya-yakko came first. It is exactly what it says on the menu - tofu with scallions and ginger (they say there is fresh Japanese basil, but we didn't see/taste any). Unfortunately, it is exactly what it says on the menu. The tofu is literally an uncooked block of tofu that was pretty bland on its own. There wasn't ginger or scallions to go around. Next up was oshinko - pickled veggies. There were some mushrooms (which the server said were radishes, but they definitely were not), Japanese cucumber, and daikon. I thought the cucumber were pretty good, but the texture plus flavor of the both the others were off. Veggie gyoza were our last app, and they were nothing to write home about. We've made these at home several times and they're not particularly complicated. The sauce was particularly disappointing because the balance was so off - way too much vinegar. You'd think this would be an easy staple they'd have a boatload of in the back (they serve it with other things too).
Best thing on the table at this point? The miso soup, which had good seaweed, and nice seasoning, and comes with pot dishes and noodles although the menu doesn't tell you. We also enjoyed the ginger salad dressing that came with a small salad, which was also with the entrees and not on the menu.
We were kinda bummed by this point already, and then the entrees came. The first was the shabu shabu, which we got with tofu (since we didn't know what the beef was or where it came from, but was probably a mistake because they didn't marinade or do anything to the tofu). The broth has no flavor - it might have been water. Sesame sauce on the side was tasty, but the ponzu sauce was the vinegary gyoza sauce and ruined anything you put it on. Unfortunately, when they brought me 6 things I assumed I should put them together, so I had too much vinegar from the start. We asked for more of the sesame to try to save the day, but it was too little too late. Sadly, this was the worst $19.50 we've spent on a meal in a long time.
Our second entree was udon noodles which came with yummy tempura vegetables and a rice lump with toasted sesame and salt. The noodles were slurpily good, and the broth was satisfying. This dish was clearly the best part of our meal, but even it wasn't anything special. We make a far better Asian soup at home. And even in the best dish, a big reconstituted mushroom had a dehydrated chemical taste (they were in the shabu shabu too).
In it's defense, 5chw47z did think the sushi was fantastic (though, he admits, pricey). Some of our neighbors and friends haven't been so kindly to the rolls, but we clearly didn't focus on the sushi on this visit. If and when we are feeling lazy, and in the mood for sushi, and willing to pay a premium, I'll post about that experience. I'm sure that'll happen, probably not any time soon.
The Ingredients: We asked about where the beef came from for the shabu shabu and they didn't know. The server was brand new and didn't have many answers for us, but neither did the kitchen. Other than that, no notes about local, seasonal, organic, etc. I will say, they have a sizable vegan menu (over half the appetizers, for instance), if you're into that sort of thing.
The Story, Setting, & Service: Unfortunately, we'd heard mixed reviews at best before we ever walked in the door. We were waiting to go, partly in hopes they'd work out some kinks. I guess they haven't yet. On the service, darn near every review I've read (to go along with every person I've talked to) has expressed disappointment. The guy was really nice, so I feel a bit bad, but to beat a dead horse, at this price point he needs to know more before he's put on the floor.
The decor is weak, and the ambiance is nearly non-existent. Even with very few people the small space echoes, and the loud other people and blenders were a distraction. Finally - and I swear I don't have a grudge against these people, in fact we'd REALLY like them to do well (for us) - our table was musty, they need to wash their rags before they clean the tables.
Honey (which, incidentally, may have the slowest loading web page left on the world wide web :) ). One of the great things about the strip of restaurants in Northside is that if you aren't happy at one place - go somewhere else! He said best cake ever, bartender laughed, almond inside, frangipan, butter cream, peach inside, salty caramel,
To wrap up, at the price point we paid at Ko-Sho, we would prefer to go down the street to Honey every single time (and that just if we want to walk somewhere). As we were sauntering, albeit saltily, home we discussed how maybe we should write them a letter (that's our less public way of telling a restaurant what we think if we want to give them a second chance). We decided they were already open downtown, so its probably a done deal. Bummer.