Koto is so-so 

Japanese bistro is hit-or-miss.


There’s fusion, and then there’s con-fusion. As soon as we walked into the new Koto Bistro-Teppanyaki-Sushi restaurant on a recent Friday evening, we were forced to make a decision: in which of those three areas did we want to sit? You can’t order from the teppanyaki hibachi menu if you sit in the bistro section, and vice versa. If you want sushi, it’s better to sit at the sushi bar.

Having had our share of sushi and hibachi at places like Shogun and Benihana, we decided to try the more interesting bistro selections.

So instead of heading toward the sushi bar or the new hibachi grills installed near the impressive bar, we were directed toward the main seating area, where the decor hasn’t changed much from its previous incarnation as the Vermillion Bistro. It’s not particularly Asian, unless you count the goldfish pond that greets you upon entering.

But the menu isn’t particularly Asian, either. In addition to standard Japanese fare like edamame (steamed soybeans) and a variety of tofu and tempura dishes, entrees include surf and turf, filet mignon and bacon-wrapped scallops.

Fortunately, one appetizer, the wasabi shumai ($5.99), gets the fusion equation right by adding a Japanese flair to a Chinese-style meat dumpling. Perhaps that’s because Koto is the brainchild of Lulu Chi, who founded the eponymous Chinese restaurant in West Little Rock.

However, the spinach tofu napoleon appetizer ($5.99), while it sounds terrific in concept, was a disappointment, as it merely consisted of a stack of thick, bland tofu interspersed with spinach leaves.

The con-fusion extends to the more intriguing entree selections. A halibut ($14.99) was said to be poached in “special court-bouillon and sake,” but the fish was not fresh or particularly flavorful. The rice accompaniment was plain and stiff, and the steamed vegetables, while perfectly fine, seemed out of place.

Also, a lemongrass grilled rack of lamb ($19.95) caught our attention because of its interesting fusion potential. The meat was prepared very well, although the choice of mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables as side items again struck us as uncreative.

Koto has a nice wine list and an excellent selection of sakes, which compensated for our disappointment with the bistro. The teppanyaki hibachi and sushi bar, which offer more standard Japanese fare, are safer bets for a reliable culinary experience.

2 1/2 stars
17200 Chenal Parkway, Suite  100

Quick bite
A wide range of cuisine includes traditional teppanyaki hibachi and sushi, as well as more unconventional fusion dishes available in the bistro section of the restaurant.

Lunch available Mon.-Fri. from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner available Mon.-Sat. from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sun. from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. A Sunday brunch is available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Other info
Moderate to expensive prices. Full bar. Credit cards accepted.



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