Once upon a time, way back in 2006, sushi in Israel was strictly relegated to a fine dining experience. These days, there seems to be a virtual plethora of quick and relatively inexpensive sushi, not only in Tel Aviv, but all around the country. So how did sushi go from haute cuisine to working man's lunch? Well, you may be surprised to hear that one of the pioneers in offering reasonably priced sushi was the Koi sushi stand in the centre of the Raananim Mall in Raanana.
Koi, a charming rectangle of a sushi bar, opened just over 2 years ago as the very first mall sushi bar in Israel. Built from the ground up, this kosher stand brought sushi to the people…as well as the people to sushi.
At first a curiosity gazed down on in wonder from the mall's second floor, Koi soon acquired a loyal following. With 4 Asian chefs producing everything from the sushi rice and top quality miso soup to the homemade spicy mayo and teriyaki sauce, Koi offers fresh and healthy quick meal options to countless shoppers, area high tech workers and local families popping by for a take away.
It was a late on a Wednesday afternoon when my sushi craving hit. Faced with an hour long bus ride back to Tel Aviv, I decided that I must fortify before departing Raanana. Perusing the 2 page menu, I was impressed by the selection: all the classics (I was happy to see my favourite salmon avocado maki and wakame salad), inventive rolls (the Uzo roll features thinly sliced lemon in addition to standards like sea bass, cucumber, carrot, asparagus and tobiko) and extremely attractive sushi combos.
Scanning the combos, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that none of them contained any unwanted rolls (I mean, why would I want a sweet potato roll in a non-vegetarian combo!). I decided that I couldn't pass on the Koi combo which contains 18 pieces of sushi in total, including spicy tuna uramaki, salmon and avocado uramaki, uzo uramaki, salmon skin wrapped in avocado, and salmon and seabass nigiri. I also ordered the miso soup, having been told it's a house special.
True to their word, the miso was outstanding! The only curious thing about it (not that I'm complaining) was the enormous portion. The bowl of miso, cubed tofu, seaweed and fresh scallions was 2 if not 3 times standard size. Aromatic and not too salty, I drank enough soup to keep me hydrated for a week.
Next came the Koi combo on a traditional Japanese wood serving block – only it wasn't a block, it was a round. Aesthetically presented, as sushi should be, I noted that the rolls were perfectly sized; just large enough not to be small, but not so large as to result in a big mess when you try to take a bite.
I started with the simple and classic salmon avocado. The rice, often the downfall of cheaper sushi, was just right. Not too sweet, as it too often the case in Israel, and just the right amount of sticky. Now usually, I'm a strictly soy sauce, ginger and wasabi sort of girl…but I was told I must give the spicy mayo and teriyaki a go. And boy was I glad I did. Like the rice, the teriyaki didn't taste like dessert and had been nicely thickened, and the spicy mayo had an elusive nutty smokiness to it as the result of a secret ingredient which I am sworn not to reveal.
Working my way through my assortment of delicious rolls, I sadly had to call it quits with a few pieces still left on the dish. Once again my desire to taste a little bit of everything had gotten the better of me. Next time, I'll have to go for the slightly smaller Fish combo – or bring along a friend to share.
Koi Sushi Bar also offers event services including catering, party trays for delivery and active sushi parts for events of all sorts.