800 Northway Dr.
$13 per plate
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week
Whenever I hear about a new restaurant in town, my curiosity is inevitably piqued -- but then I visit only to discover that the place is inaccessible for a month due to its sudden popularity. One recent opening I stopped by, however, was far more low-key.
Kogi Asian Buffet sits in a quiet industrial area near the Northway Mall, just northwest of the sprawling Anchorage Daily News campus. Its black building with orange trim used to house a Royal Fork buffet restaurant; it isn’t all that ostentatious, and a grand-opening banner hanging near the road helped point it out from the street more easily. There’s not a lot of parking for a buffet restaurant, but it was fairly easy to find a space on the sunny Friday when I visited.
The black-and-orange décor scheme continues inside, with muted lighting and classical music lending a relaxed air to the dining area. Several well-lit tables present the buffet offerings, which include a variety of Asian entrees, soups, sushi and side dishes, as well as a small selection of Western items and desserts. There isn’t a proper salad bar, but a generous selection of finger-food fruits and veggies goes a long way to scratch the produce itch. Kogi has been open for about a week with a grand opening scheduled for June 8, and I was able to purchase a lunch buffet ($12.99, available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday) from the cashier immediately after walking in.
The entrees I sampled were uniformly tasty and well prepared, but my favorites were the two types of bulgogi Korean barbecue on hand. The beef bulgogi included deeply flavored, juicy cuts of meat, which practically melted on my tongue. A few pieces of daeji (spicy) pork bulgogi got warm fast when I tried them, but the heat level never reached that of the dish I tried at Korean Garden in South Anchorage -- which made it easier to consider going back for seconds. After those two winners, a solid Mongolian beef that was caramelized but not overly sweet left me wanting more bulgogi, while strips of chicken katsu (a breaded chicken cutlet) reminded me of the chicken Parmigiana I’d had for dinner last night.
I was a big fan of the vegetable egg roll I picked up from one of the side-dish tables, which was crunchy and flavorful without feeling overly heavy. A gyoza potsticker was almost as good, its thin and crispy exterior contrasting with the soft and chewy meat within. While I usually opt for steamed rice as an Asian starch, the sample of chicken fried rice I picked up was surprisingly light and tasty, easily eaten without weighing down the rest of the meal. Just about the only miss on my entire plate was a solitary slice of potato tempura, which seemed like eating an unadorned French fry: crisp and filling, yet needing something to liven up its inherent blandness.
The trimmings of the buffet include four types of soup (miso, sweet and sour, seaweed and egg drop), and I took half a cup of the miso back to my table on a second trip. It didn’t include the chunks of tofu or green onions with which I’ve seen the dish garnished elsewhere, but the essential salty-savory blend that characterizes it comes through loud and clear. Dessert consists of Jell-O dishes and small pieces of Costco cake, which I recognized from long experience with newsroom birthday parties...and promptly made a beeline for, since long experience teaches that Costco cake is simply delicious.
Kogi faces widespread competition at lunchtime, with Oriental Express in South Anchorage and Kobe Teppayaki House in Midtown both offering decent Asian buffets. The new place stacks up well against them with a surprisingly varied selection of items, especially for a new restaurant, and my only strike against it is that it’s relatively far away from Midtown. There are certainly more restaurants near the station than near the Daily News, but this is one case in which I envy the competition.