This post was guest blogged by Caitlin Quarrington. Check out her food blog The Mindful Bite.
If I was a trendier, more get-with-the-times type of girl, I would have discovered Café Koi (a.k.a.
koi) ages ago. It’s been open for at least a couple years now, tucked away on 1st Street SW a
couple doors down from Vicious Circle. In fact, I have walked past koi many times on my way to
enjoy Vicious Circle’s infamous martini list, and admired the Zen-like, modern Asian fusion vibe
that koi gives off. It is small, dimly-lit, with funky black-and-white photo murals and angular
furniture. A flat-screen television sometimes plays old movies. And best of all, koi embraces
culture. There is a regular calendar of events that includes DJ’s, open mic nights, comedy, and
literature. In fact, the first time I went to koi, it was for a book launch, and I only ate the
complimentary yam fries on the counter (which I think may have been intended for the author
and her agent, but hey, they were getting cold!).
At any rate, last night my brother and I were out on the town and hungry, but strapped for time.
I thought of koi as it was close, and the “alternative takeout” tagline on the board out front didn’t
hurt, either. We were warmly greeted and promptly given menus and water with cranberries.
What is it about fancied-up water that charms me so much? Throw cucumber slices, berries, or
citrus wedges into a plain-old glass of tap water, and I’m putty in your hands.
The two of us selected the Buddha Bowl and the Lotus Bowl – two selections off of the vegetarian
portion of their menu (and there are plenty of options there; this should please the many healthconscious
individuals, vegans or otherwise, who often despair at Calgary’s beef-loving culture).
The Buddha Bowl is essentially a coconut-curry broth with a bevy of fresh veggie chunks thrown
in and topped with five-spice seared tofu slices. The Lotus Bowl (an award-winning dish, thanks
to FFWD magazine voters) is a mixture of maple chili greens with the same five-spice seared
tofu. As take-out dishes, both came with sides of rice topped with black sesame seeds – neither of
us elected to mix the rice in with our dishes, but it perhaps would have helped to absorb some of
the liquidy broth that the veggies were swimming in.
Both bowls, even after being toted several blocks through -20 degree weather, remained hot and
tasted fresh. The vegetables were cooked well, retaining just the right amount of crunch and not
getting dominated by the broths they were in. I sometimes find when restaurants attempt stirfries
that the sauces become the focal point of the dish. Thankfully, koi understands the balance
between spices, sauces, veggies, and proteins (in this case, our tofu). Everything had its own
flavour, yet melded together as a cohesive unit. My only regret is not putting some of that rice in
to enjoy with the bowl – I think it would have helped, as the coconut curry broth of the Buddha
bowl was just a little more liquid in nature than I’ve sometimes had, and the rice on its own does
not pack much of a flavour punch.
Clocking in at under $30 for the two bowls, it was an inexpensive way to enjoy some fresh,
healthy food; koi is far superior to any other take-out food I’ve had in terms of service, nutrition,
and even price (nothing bothers me more than forking out a premium just to get some veggies
that have seen better days). As we dug in with chopsticks and enjoyed an indie film screening at
Cantos, I couldn’t ask for a better food or entertainment experience. I promise to return to koi to
eat-in and savour the ambience along with the delicious food, especially if they’ve got some live