When I took a trip to Tokyo a few years ago, most of the highlights of my trip were food-related. What I now most associate with Japan is food.
From the abundance of super fresh and delicious sashimi to the amazing udon soup served at a concert I went to and the salad I boldly declared to be “the best Caesar salad in the world,” I was consistently impressed. Then again, it was also during that trip that I tried natto (slimy, pungent fermented soy beans) and basashi (raw horse meat).
But I digress. The point is I came back to the U.S. with a renewed appreciation of the freshness and refinement of Japanese cuisine. It's now my favorite.
One of the first Japanese restaurants I visited after that trip was Ko-Sho when it was still located downtown on Ninth Street. I don’t remember any reasons I chose to go there other than proximity.
I knew it existed only because I saw the sign and wondered what it was. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. CityBeat’s review of Ko-Sho from around that time begins with “Ko-Sho Japanese Restaurant has an awareness problem.”
Ko-Sho has remedied that awareness problem by relocating to the lively and highly visible business district of Northside. The newly painted facade and modest sign behind the big windows had locals eagerly awaiting the restaurant’s opening for months.
The space, which formerly held Madison’s satellite to their Findlay Market store, has been fully remodeled and features bamboo floors, dark glossy tables, good lighting and about 30 seats. Though the location makes for some of Northside’s best people-watching, I’d suggest you choose a table as far from the door as possible in the winter, because in the small dining room you’ll feel the chill every time a guest comes or goes.
I like that Ko-Sho’s menu is authentically Japanese. For $6.50 or less you get two pieces of any Nigiri. The standards are there, although I was disappointed not to find mackerel — one of my favorites — on the list. Most of the single-ingredient Maki rolls are less than $6, and only the Dragon and Rainbow rolls break the $10 mark. The prices are low because these aren't the over-the-top style rolls you’ll find at some of the trendier sushi bars around town.
Don’t get me wrong: I like a sushi roll filled with octopus fetus sprinkled with moon sand, dowsed in holy water, wrapped in flying-pig-belly bacon and set aflame at my table as much as the next guy. But it’s always nice to get back to the basics. Many vegan options are available along with box dinners, noodle dishes, pot dishes and sushi platters.
On my most recent visit to Ko-Sho with my girlfriend, we started with the Yakitori ($5.25): two small skewers of lightly seasoned chicken pieces with teriyaki sauce and scallions. They were pretty tasty, but I liked the Shrimp Gyoza ($5.95) I had on another visit better. Who orders chicken at a Japanese restaurant anyway?
My girlfriend ordered some of her favorite maki rolls for us to share: a Spider Roll ($9.50), a Shrimp Tempura Roll ($8.50) and a California Roll ($5). We took the option to make the rolls spicy for a 25-cent up charge. The Spider Roll (soft shell crab), our favorite at those other places, didn’t quite do it for us. The pieces were too big to eat in one bite (like all Spider rolls — what’s the deal with that?) and it could have used an embellishment or two. The Shrimp Tempura roll went quickly for some reason. It was probably delicious. The California roll was good, too.
Since I always order nigiri and maki at Japanese restaurants, I thought I’d try something new this time. I thought the Sukiyaki ($19.50) sounded like a good dish to warm up with after being out in the brisk winter weather. A miniscule salad and a nice little bowl of miso soup accompany this authentic Japanese soup of sorts that contains thin sliced beef simmered with vegetables in a soy-based sauce. It also contained noodles and shiitake mushrooms.
It’s served with all kinds of extraneous tools and a bowl of rice that are sure to confuse the casual diner. My advice? Use the spoon and the chopsticks to eat the stuff. The rest is optional. It was sweet, savory and rich all at the same time, and I’d recommend it for any time of year.
Ko-Sho has quickly become one of the best restaurants in Northside and surely won’t suffer from a lack of awareness any longer. It’s also the only restaurant on my block, and that’s fine with me.
Go: 4172 Hamilton Ave., Northside
Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; Dinner: 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5:30 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday and 5:30-9 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $14.50-$26.75
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty
Accessibility: Fully Accessible