Ko-Sho Japanese Restaurant has an awareness problem. From the street, it looks unvisited, and it's hard to tell it's open, let alone that it's a restaurant. Many people I polled, including colleagues who sally forth for lunch every day downtown, either don't know about it or just don't think of it as a place to go (it's been open since 1996). For my part, I've walked past Ko-Sho literally hundreds of times over the past five years (it's on the well-worn trudge from my apartment to the office), without stopping once. And I'm a restaurant hound. Not good.
Unfortunately, Ko-Sho's low profile translates into a paucity of patrons. Each time I've poked my head in (Friday night, Tuesday lunch, several weeknights), there have been more empty tables than full. I found myself wondering how they pay the electric bill.
It's a shame that more people aren't finding their way here, because Ko-Sho has a lot to offer, dishing up authentic food at reasonable prices in a relaxed, no-frills environment.
The food I had on two visits was mostly good and tasted fresh; service was friendly and professional.
Is having other diners around really that important? Typically I would say yes. If a place is empty, I question the quality and freshness of the food. The presence (or absence) of other diners constitutes a big part of ambiance and buzz. However, you can't eat ambiance. I go to restaurants principally to eat and enjoy food. If my meal is good, buzz be hanged, I'll be going back, and this is certainly the case with Ko-Sho.
Being a glass-half-full kind of guy, I think I've found a silver lining at Ko-Sho: If there are not a lot of other diners, you'll get way more attention than usual. The likeable owner came to our table and stuck around for a while to talk and make jokes, providing an amusing and memorable dining experience.
If a dearth of fellow diners really bothers you, there is a simple solution: Bring lively friends. With free dinner as bait, I enticed two fashionable, twenty- (maybe thirty-) somethings — think Mary-Kate and Ashley with a bit more mileage — to join me as dining companions. They showed up twinster chic in hip huggers, lighting up the place with their high energy and high-octane smiles. Empty restaurant? I hardly even noticed.
For starters, we enjoyed the Gyoza ($4.75), tasty shrimp dumplings pan-fried until crispy. The Edamame ($3.50) unfortunately weren't good; these boiled, salted soybeans were dark and tasted freezer-burned. We sent them back, but replacements were only slightly better. Vegetable Tempura ($4.95) was light and crispy.
For the main course, we ordered Shabu-Shabu ($18.95), thin slices of raw beef cooked tableside on a burner in a furiously bubbling broth. This was tasty and fun to eat. We also enjoyed the Ko-Sho Premium Combination ($32.25), a large wooden boat arrayed with good-quality sushi, sashimi, tempura and salmon teriyaki.
Dessert was a misstep. The House-Made Chocolate Cake ($4.75) looked mummified; I think it had been hiding in a refrigerator for a long, long time. The Green Tea Ice Cream ($2.95) was just OK.
I had a hunch that Ko-Sho would be busier during the day, so I returned for a weekday lunch. There were significantly more people — mostly lawyers and business types, and even some real Japanese people. Lunch specials were outstanding and a great value. From several Don-Buri choices (this means big bowl, a dish with rice, meat and/or vegetables and sauce), my companion selected Vegetable Curry ($7.25); it was filling, warm and tasty. I had the Bento Box with Yellowtail Fish Teriyaki ($9.75). This had a delicious assortment of items including noodles, seaweed salad, squash chunks and pickled cabbage. Both came with salad and miso soup.
So, Ko-Sho, unless you're happy with the current trickle of diners, you better rev up the marketing — a bigger sign, some Japanese lanterns hanging outside, brighter lights to attract more attention are just a few things that leap to mind. With all the condos popping up in the city center, and the many weekday lunchers (70,000 to 80,000 commuters stream downtown every day), there are plenty of hungry people who would enjoy your food. Please do a better job of letting the world know you're there. ©
Ko-Sho Japanese Restaurant
Go: 215 East Ninth St., Downtown
Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday. Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday
Prices: Reasonable to Expensive
Payment: Visa, MasterCard and American Express
Red Meat Alternatives: Fish, chicken and vegetables galore
Accessibility: Very small step up at front door. On-street parking. Bathrooms are accessible.