A not-so-coy crowd at Koi in West Hollywood

December 29, 2012

Picture of La Cienega Boulevard courtesy of Californian Em on Flickr Creative Commons

WEST HOLLYWOOD, USA – At first glance, Koi appears to be the ideal zen retreat. With candlelight, bamboo gardens, Buddha heads, and trickling fountains galore, it would seem as if the Japanese fusion restaurant was a gateway to enlightened meditation. Thing is, you’d be hard pressed to encounter any bodhisattvas here. Forget the “Middle Way”–this is a place for Hollywood scenestering in absolute excess.

Though it isn’t quite as scene-y as it used to be when first opened in 2002, it’s still a fixture on the industry circuit. Super starlets and their Young Hollywood paramours are known to hold court on the spacious back patio while baying packs of paparazzi create a ruckus at the entry. Actor-in-waiting servers turn from chill to chilly once they determine you don’t have any juicy parts to cast for, but in-crowd wannabes suffer it gladly for a chance to dine with the stars. As the glam crowd indulges in cocktails, fusion bites, and shameless preening, it’s clear that they’re blissfully unaware of the Buddhist concept of samsara (in which giving into the craving for earthly pleasure leads to suffering).

I have to admit, there’s a certain guilty thrill to being smack in the middle of such an unapologetically superficial scene. The celeb-heavy people-watching can be quite fun, and it’s a kick to have an excuse to dress the part in a sexy skirt, a trendy top, and heels or hip flats. And though hot young things dominate, it’s not all industry, all the time. A less high-profile albeit ever well-heeled group of hip 30- and 40-somethings also packs in.

All of this and I haven’t even gotten to the food! There’s a reason for that. Food is really beside the point in this setting, but it’s a bonus that the fusion fare can really hit some high notes, like the crispy rice with spicy tuna or the miso-bronzed black cod. The sushi can be hit or miss, though. More relevant to the scene are the bar offerings. In addition to a great selection of sake, creative Asian-kissed cocktails like the lychee martini and ginger sidecar fuel the revelry.

Just because the zen vibes are lost on the energetic crowd doesn’t mean they have to be lost on you, of course. The floor plan follows the principles of feng shui, so you may unconsciously receive some positive qi. There is peace to be had when you retreat from the power patio and into one of the many appealing indoor spaces with soothing natural woods, glowing fireplaces, and soft green accents. Some of the romantic nooks are ideal for intimate conversation, so it’s not surprising that this is a popular date spot.

Whether you choose to be chill or hype really depends on what you want out of the Koi experience. It may not help manifest your inner Bhudda, but what the restaurant lacks in dharma and karma it more than makes up for with celeb-sighting and cocktailing nirvana.

Read more about Koi in our Los Angeles Guide.

730 N. La Cienega Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA
(1) 310-659-9449
Koi on Urbanspoon

Click here for our full-form mobile travel guide, The Purple Passport to Los Angeles.

Rachel Levin contributed to this post.

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