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by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

It was at the quiet, unassuming pan-Asian Evanston restaurant Koi ( Article Link Here ; 624 Davis St.) where I've had one of my more unusual experiences—and I don't mean that in a bad way.

First, the staff is extremely friendly, and General Manager Dennis Sotos typifies that attitude. Sotos rolls with the punches, even regaling some patrons with stories about his life. (He told my dining companion and me one story that was a doozy.)

The menu itself is quite expansive, covering Chinese, Thai and Japanese cuisines. One example is the page describing "8 Distinct Regional Cuisines of China," which spotlights everything from Peking sweet and sour crispy pork chops (Cantonese region) to cumin lamb (Shandong region).

Sotos—who says the restaurant is "authentic but approachable"—started things off by sending off a very refreshing strawberry fruit-ini. (Cocktails include blood orange Cosmos, Asian mojitos and pomegranate-lychee bellinis, among other items.)

My friend and I then went about selecting items—and here's when things became a bit intriguing: The dining companion is a strict vegan and I asked if he could challenge the staff a bit.

He took to the word "challenge" like a duck to water, ordering dishes I probably wouldn't ask for in a thousand years: Seaweed salad, stir-fry pea sprouts, baby bok choi and Northern spicy gelatin were among the dishes he requested—for starters. (Sotos, to his credit, admitted that Koi is probably not on top of vegan dishes like it should, but it's "improving.") Overall, my friend liked the dishes, stating that the vegetables were "crunchy" and that the variety of textures generally worked.

My friend then asked our server, David (who probably deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor for his patience with my friend's questions and requests), if he could ask the chef to make a sampler combo of several other dishes, including soong, the Thai basil plate, pad thai and avocado maki. However—either out of generosity or as a form of retaliation (and I'm chalking it up to the former)—our table was covered in vegan dishes. He especially liked the maki and stir-fried vegetable tofu, although he found the pad thai "too sweet."

On my end, I ordered the edamame (serviceable) and pork belly bao (rather tasty). For the entree, I also got a smoked tea duck that was good (even though it was slightly dry), although the portion was more than generous.

We concluded with dessert, which we both took home. The cheesecake was fluffy and tasty—although some may take issue with the $7 price tag, considering the size of the slice. (Overall, the restaurant is very reasonably priced, it has to be said.) My friend ordered salted caramel cake for his companion; he later told me that she really enjoyed it.

So if you're in the area, check out Koi. You will leave satisfied—no matter how demanding a patron you are.

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