Koi Kokoro looks pared down, streamlined, minimalist. The food isn't.
The modest storefront spot prepares fine, traditional sushi. Then, the kitchen goes in for a bright, stretch-the-definition spin on tapas.
Before you envision tempura of Ibérico ham or patatas bravas finished with soy sauce, be assured that Koi Kokoro also is a careful, focused restaurant.
All the dining room's blond wood acts as a frame for colorful, flavorful fare. That starts with a special of fried Blue Point oysters, returned to the shell atop lightly garlicky oyster sauce. The Blue Points also are recommended uncooked, with a splash of the house's tart yuzu sauce.
The lively appetizers include glistening, fatty tuna tartare, with chopped toro, scallion and roe, plus sour cream and avocado mousse; and bigeye tuna tataki, seared, then capped with apple, scallion and ginger.
Kokoro "bon bomb" refers to a trio of pleasing mouthfuls, each about the size of, yes, a bonbon, with well-seasoned, uncooked seafood on rice. Try the spicy tuna number; and yellowtail, with scallion, jalapeño and citrusy ponzu sauce.
Move on to the specialty sushi rolls, which show flair. Miru mountain translates into a shaggy, whimsical concoction made with tuna, avocado and seafood salad, served with mango aioli, lemon sauce and a zesty cream sauce. The maguro trio brings together spicy tuna, white tuna and pristine maguro, with some crunch and a shot of teriyaki sauce.
The kokoro slider means a savory, steamed bun with vibrant fillings that you might find elsewhere on an expanded dim-sum wagon. The thinly sliced beef teriyaki bulgogi gets a boost from jalapeño pepper and greens; marinated pork, from ginger and scallion; barbecued pork belly, from greens; and crisp cod, from a salsa-style spin on kimchee that hints of Korea and Osaka.
Trailing these are standard-issue tempuras and noodle soups; routine fried jalapeño peppers and fried gyoza; the chewy and greasy short-rib galbi; and a lobster-and-ahi-tuna wrap, undone in equal parts by wasabi sauce in particular and the concept in general.
Koi Kokoro revives with excellent sashimi and nigirizushi, which also would be ideal at the beginning, before all the sauces and seasonings distract your palate. Sample fatty tuna, yellowtail, sweet shrimp.
Desserts may include jasmine rice pudding with coconut, and green-tea gelato, each preferable to fried ice cream and cheesecake.
After all, this is billed as a Japanese tapas restaurant.