Perhaps you like onion rings with a side of kimchi. Maybe sushi rolls with a slice of meatloaf? If a bowl of miso soup, chicken wings, stir-fried vegetables and chocolate cake satisfies your cold-weather cravings, you'd be wise to check out Kogi Asian Buffet.
Kogi is located on Northway Drive in what was formerly the East Anchorage Royal Fork restaurant. Most recently it was home to Mei Garden Buffet. It's a quiet, easily accessible area that provides a welcome change of pace from the frantic downtown dining scene.
The restaurant is owned by the founders of Dish Sushi Bar and the new Silk Restaurant and Sushi Bar, both in Midtown, and that same modern sensibility is reflected the décor. A bold orange-and-black color scheme, muted lighting and a variety of textures -- including wood, metal, glass and slate -- set Kogi apart from your run-of-the-mill buffet restaurant. Given the Royal Fork's ruffled curtains and flowery wallpaper, it's hard to believe sleek, contemporary Kogi occupies the same space.
I asked a friend who works about a block away to lunch. She was excited to try Kogi as she mentioned the lack of options in the area.
The restaurant offers a lunch buffet for $12.99 and a dinner buffet for $15.99. Sunday's buffet costs $18.99 and includes all-you-can-eat snow crab legs. We popped in at 11:30 a.m. on a recent Friday, hoping to avoid the lunch-hour rush. We needn't have worried: The dining room is incredibly spacious, with less than a quarter of the tables full by 12:30 p.m.
Kogi's top selling point is the size of its buffet. The offerings are extensive and include standard Chinese fare such as fried rice, pot stickers and sesame chicken, plus Korean banchan and bulgogi, Japanese sushi, American favorites (primarily of the fried variety), several soups, a salad bar and desserts. The service, which is usually middling at best at most buffet restaurants, was friendly and attentive. Hot tea is included, and our server never let our mugs stay empty for long.
I loaded my plate with sushi, teriyaki chicken and steamed rice, shrimp and vegetables in lobster sauce, and cucumber kimchi. My friend opted for an eggroll, broccoli beef, meatloaf with boiled egg, butterfly shrimp and a cup of egg-drop soup.
The sushi was surprisingly tasty -- fresh and sturdily constructed, with creamy avocado and a mild-tasting crab meat filling. The cucumber kimchi was an interesting take on the more familiar cabbage kimchi. In addition to julienned cucumber, it contained green onions, carrots and what appeared to be octopus arms, with just the right amount of heat and briny flavor.
The rest of my food was fine -- not exceptional, not terrible. The lobster sauce tasted mostly of corn starch, though the vegetables were nice and crispy. The teriyaki chicken was a tad on the sweet side and the dish had stayed only lukewarm under the heat lamp.
My friend's broccoli beef took top honors. The beef was juicy and tender, and the broccoli had been stir-fried enough to lock the flavor in but not overcooked to the point of limpness. The sauce struck a good balance of sweet and savory flavors, with just a hint of garlic.
Often a hallmark of buffet restaurants is that the food tastes rather uniform. Perhaps the chicken is marinated in the same sauce as the beef, or the fish is fried in the same oil as the potatoes. Kogi was no exception. For example, the hot and sour soup tasted a lot like the egg-drop soup, albeit with a bit of heat and a few vegetables thrown in. Instead of several distinct dishes, my friend and I felt like we were eating the same things over and over again.
Kogi has a lot going for it: an upscale atmosphere, excellent service and a variety of dishes. The food itself is decent, with a few standout dishes. If Kogi perhaps focused less on variety and more on quality, I could see adding this east-side eatery to the regular rotation.
By Carly Horton Stuart
Daily News correspondent