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Sep 6, 2007 03:13 PM

Just Koi (Dublin) -- Form Over Function

Two visits to Just Koi in the Ulfert's Center in Dublin had very different results. On the first visit, we shared a number of dishes and all were very good to excellent. On a return visit I was underwhelmed. And almost unseated.

Just Koi is a BBQ and noodle place. Roast/BBQ duck, chicken, and pork are available in a couple of different preparations. The small menu also has appetizer and jook sections. The meats are available "on rice" or regular. The server explained that "on rice" includes a couple pieces of meat, rice, and a cup of soup. It's essentially a rice plate for one, although it doesn't say it. The regular is only meat, costs more, but has more meat she said. We ordered a two meat combo of chicken and pork. Both had great flavor. The appetizer section has a lot of small plates at very good prices. The potstickers ("Dumpling Duet") were excellent. So were the calamari, Chinese broccoli, and the other dishes we tried. We were very pleased.

On the second visit, the spring rolls had nothing but carrot and cabbage for filling and lacked flavor. The noodle soup had wonderful dumplings, but the broth was flavorless. The dumplings are like a pork and shrimp har gow, not like traditional won tons. Very meaty, lots of flavor, with a thin wrapper -- just perfect. But they couldn't make up for a watery, flavorless broth. And I didn't like the egg-based thin vermicelli noodles. Two pieces of Chinese broccoli were the only other things in the soup. I realize that they're not trying to make your grandmother's won ton noodle soup, but this was not successful for me.

And then there's the interior. The tables are crowded too closely together. Only one of them seats more than four comfortably, so this is not the place for a large group or family. And since the tables are round, they can't be pushed together.

Others have posted about the chairs. I've never seen anything like them in my life. The fact that they've even been discussed is a major clue. The tables and chairs are real works of art. They're made with beautiful inlaid woods. The round table has a covered well in the center for condiments, so nicely disguised that the unobservant may not even realize it's there. Elegant as that may be, it's totally impractical. With the table covered with dishes, nobody is going to have access to the soy or chili oil sauces. And the small size of the tables makes it hard to leave the condiments out.

Here's the unbelievable part. The chairs are _triangular_! That's right, the horizontal part of the chair where you park your butt is wide at the back and tapers to a narrow front, so there's no thigh support. The back of the chair only comes up about a foot, so there's little back support. The only thing I can figure is that some great artist who has never been in a restaurant in his life designed these chairs. (Not likely.) So, remembering that I had been there once before and sat in them, on my second visit as I sat down I nearly slid off the narrow seat of the unstable triangular chair, knocking the porcelain soup spoon off the table onto the floor in the process (and breaking it). Yeah, graceful. Talk about an E.F. Hutton moment. Then irony occurred. Several minutes later as I sat there feeling foolish, a single diner came in and was seated. He looked at the chair in disbelief (understandable). He sat down and (unsuccessfully) tried to find a comfortable position. Then he got up and announced that he was leaving.

And that's the story about the restaurant that's better known for its tables and chairs than for its noodle soups. But the roast meats and appetizers are great.

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  1. Yeah, I couldn't believe it when I saw those chairs, either. They SUCK. I've been there twice and I like the food, so for now I'll put up with the chairs and I will return, but it would be great if they got rid of them. I had my first ever congee there (preserved egg and pork), and it was great, like Chinese soul food. Also have had 3 different appetizers that I enjoyed (including those twin dumplings). There's lots more I want to try, inculding the BBQ stuff. I have two theories as to why they are using the worst chairs ever:

    1. They anticipated such huge crowds that they are using these chairs as crowd control; only the committed will get served.


    2. They figure that by making your butt numb, you will be able to focus more on the flavors of the food, since you will have no feeling down there to distract you.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Ozumo

      Thanks for the updates. What are the price points like? It sounds a lot more casual than the original Koi, hopefully that means cheaper. I'm praying that the second visit was more a symptom of the recent opening than a reflection of the chef.

      1. re: prettypithy

        They finally got some paper takeout menus, so I have some price information. I went here for lunch earlier this week and it was great like our first visit, not disappointing like the second. I had #203 beef flank ho fun soup ($6.50). This time the beef broth was flavorful. The meat was mostly (about 2/3rds) tendon, not much "beef" (as most people define it). I can see that this might throw some people off. But it was cooked perfectly, soft as butter, great flavor. A couple of pieces of Chinese broccoli in it, nice. The only issue was that the wide noodles had been overcooked and were fall apart soft. In terms of flavor I couldn't have asked for more. I also had the #409 appetizer, crispy fried tofu with spicy peppers ($3.80). It was a generous amount of small cubes of crispy fried tofu. The "spicy peppers" were nothing but green onions. I asked about that and they said next time to order it "hot". You make your own dipping sauce from the condiments "hidden" in the covered well in the center of the table. I liked this dish a lot.

        Prices for other things:
        roast meats: what they call On Rice (other places might call it a rice plate), some meat, rice, and a cup of soup $7.75. Choice of oven roasted chicken, steamed chicken, soy sauce chicken, roasted duck, BBQ pork (char siu), roast pork. The "Regular" for those meats (just meat but more of it), minus the rice and soup is $6.75.

        On Rice suckling pig $10.00. Regular $15.00.

        Wonton Noodle Soup ($6.50) with choice of seafood, BBQ pork, beef flank, steamed chicken, beef ball, fish ball, squid ball. Combo is +$1.50. The footnote says "choice of thick, thin, ho fun, or rice thin noodle". Now I'm confused about what I got on my second visit. I just said "won ton noodle soup" and pointed at this entry on the menu. The server didn't say anything about choice of meats or noodles, and I'm guessing the kitchen just made a decision and sent what they wanted to. So be sure to say what you want.

        Congee is mostly $5.50 or $6.50, with a few specialties at $8.80 (scallop). The long list of appetizers are mostly $3.80 or $4.80.

        When I was there this week at lunch, the place was full. On the way out I noticed that Osaka Ramen (next door) was almost full. Thai Basil Express was mostly full. The Korean BBQ, Malaysian and dim sum places are still under construction. Vin Pearl Vietnamese had only 1 table occupied. They're not going to make it with $9 pho. Abba Gourmet Cal-Ital had only 2 tables. Abba? Cal-Ital? I thought Abba was Swedish. They're not going to make it. The newly opened Halu Shabu Shabu had 3 tables. Expensive hot pot with no BBQ meats. I'm doubtful if they are going to make it. Singapore Old Town Cafe was busy, naturally. This is the best food in the tri-valley area. Kee Wah Bakery had several people in there. Zoie Cafe (coffee and sandwiches) had only 1 table. House of Sake (world's worst Japanese food) had only a few tables. I guess people are catching on.

        1. re: chow_eb

          Thanks for the prices! Yummy and cheap, I can't wait!

          1. re: chow_eb

            I thought Zoie Cafe had okay food but with Kee Wah there and Quickly under construction, I'm afraid they'll go under. Zoie Cafe's owner told us that her food is organic? She also said that when people came by they mostly asked for either 1) banh mi or 2) boba. She carried neither at the time, not sure about now.

            I was at Thai Basil a couple of weeks ago, standard mediocre bay area thai food for cheap prices. at least it was filling.

            well sad to hear that Just Koi isn't all that. Waiting for the one upstairs to be finished.

            I'm going to try the lunches first.

            1. re: choctastic

              > sad to hear that Just Koi isn't all that.

              I did't say that. Two good visits, one bad. That's not unlike most restaurants. Unfortunately, it's pretty much par for the course. The fact that there's a wait at lunch time on weekdays is a sign that they're doing something right.

              1. re: chow_eb

                Sorry i meant to change that after rereading your posts, but then forgot. Still, I think I'll try them for lunch first. the lunch options sound really good.

              2. re: choctastic

                About Zoie Cafe, I just do not understand the thinking in having a shop like that in an Asian shopping center with panini instead of banh mi. If they sold banh mi, they'd be the only game in town, and they'd have a line out the door once word got out. I'd be there weekly. Who goes to Ulferts for panini?!

                I checked out Abba's menu, it looked sooo boring, I couldn't believe it. I agree with the previous poster, they won't last long. As far as Vin Pearl, a couple months back I took the plunge to see what I would get for $9 pho (plus tax and tip makes for $12 pho). It was pretty good, the meat was the most flavorful I've ever had in pho (tasted like it was cooked by some other means than boiling in broth), but the fact that I have not been back since means that it certainly is not worth that insane price. Unless Gordon Ramsey comes in and convinces the owners to make reasonably priced food and give up their high-end dreams, that'll be a vacant store front soon.

                Osaka Ramen sucks to me, but they're full, so I guess they're doing something right. I like Thai Basil Express because while it's all pretty standard stuff, it tastes better than the competition in the area, and at least they'll make it pretty spicy for me, which no other Thai place will.

                Kee Wah and Just Koi are also both winners in my book, as well as Old Town.

                1. re: Ozumo

                  lol. i said the same thing about Zoie Cafe, but the lady is so nice that I kind of felt bad thinking it. If she doesn't want to offer Asianified food, then why did she open in Ulferts of all places? Why is she surprised that people want bubble tea? *sigh*

                  1. re: choctastic

                    But ... but ... what if these are the greatest places in the world being rejected because they are ... different?

                    Abba ... boring? They have kabobs in addition to Italian food. And what's with the chips for dipping with the Italian capres salad ... with avocado.

                    Zoie been getting some very enthusiastic thumbs up on Yelp for its desserts.

                    What did you try at Zoie that was just ok?

                    1. re: rworange

                      I never saw the kabob stuff before. When Abba first opened, I had asked for a menu to see if it would be worth it to try, and what they handed me just had the salads and sandwhiches, none of which looked interesting to me. And besides, I'm only in the area during work Mon-Fri, so the weekend special does me no good.

                      Also, Caprese salads are something I like to make at home with farmer's market tomatoes; and I don't get the vibe that their produce would be as good as what I would buy for my home. The stuff you're seeing as interesting on the menu just seems to me like the owners are confused as to what kind of food they want to be serving, IMO.

                      1. re: rworange

                        Maybe instead of "okay food" I should have said decent food. I'm not saying it's a bad place. I like it and I feel bad for the owner because she was really nice. I'm saying that people are coming to that particular mall for a particular reason and because of that, her business may suffer. She even said that people walked out of her place after realizing she didn't serve bubble tea/banh mi.

                        A little over a month ago, I had the tiramisu and the mango mousse slice at Zoie. Owner said mango mousse was the most popular and I liked it, more to my taste than the tiramisu. I had the tea she recommended and no I don't recall any cheese in it. It was just an interesting, fruity iced tea. I think the food she serves is organic; she seemed really into that but I can't recall more since I wasn't paying much attention. I haven't tried the paninis yet. It's a nice space.

          2. Link

            Just Koi
            4288 Dublin Blvd, Dublin, CA 94568

            1 Reply
            1. re: rworange

              the impending "Korean BBQ" place mentioned above is occupying the space left by Ulfert Plaza's first casualty, "My Grill". boy that was quick! but when I visited there during their first month of business, it was pretty clear they weren't gonna be around very long. the place just didn't have any *point* to it...pretty random menu to go along with a nondescript space and name.

              the other impending opening there is "Macau Cafe", not sure what type of 'theme' that implies....does Macau (the original one) have its own distinct cuisine/dishes??

            2. After all the hype connected with Koi Palace and the forthcoming Koi Garden, I had high expectations for Just Koi, but I was underwhelmed on my first visit. The wonton soup was uninspired (there were lots of wontons, and they were huge, but they lacked flavor).The pan-fried dumplings were pretty good, but nothing special. One of the specialties -- crispy suckling pig -- was, oddly, served at room temperature, and a skimpy dim-sum-sized portion was $10, and not nearly as good as at most places in SF or Oakland. Only the fried calamari was really up to par.

              Obviously I'll be back to try some different things, but I have to admit I was disappointed. By the way, if you want a table, go on a Tuesday evening -- there were only 3 parties dining, so no waiting. And I'm not even going to start in on the tables & chairs.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mcb

                Just as a followup, I returned a few nights ago and the food was somewhat better. The BBQ combo plate was better than the suckling pig plate (but still served at tepid room temperature). The shrimp dumpling noodle soup was quite good, worth re-ordering, but the spring rolls were pretty much buffet/steam-table quality. And the one dish I wanted to try specially (since the picture in the menu looked very cool) was spareribs, and they were out of them.