Recommended to me by my pastor in Walnut Creek, my friends and I went over to Berkeley to try Korean/Japanese fusion restaurant Koja Kitchen. It was a very crowded restaurant, right in the heart of Berkeley, with quite a few people going in and out. There was a line to order and then a little bit of a wait for a table to open up. I ordered the Koja Burger with KBBQ Style Short Ribs as well as Umami Fries. The burger is Korean BBQ short ribs (kalbi), sesame vinaigrette lettuce, katsu aioli and sesame seeds, sandwiched in between fried garlic rice buns. The Umami Fries were waffle fries that came with coconut-miso braised pork, red sauce (sriracha), garlio aioli, fried onions, masago (tobiko) and chopped green onions.
The burger was done very well. The rice buns immediately reminded me of Japanese fast food chain, MOS Burger, that is known for their rice buns as well. The difference being, the Koja Rice Bun's were pan fried, thus not only providing a drastic textural difference in terms of the crunch and the soft beef, but also it allowed for the bun to retain its shape and not fall apart during the eating process. Often times, the rice bun tends to fall apart as a result of the refrigeration process in shaping the buns tends to dry out the rice thereby reducing it's stickiness. The beef was classic KBBQ marinade with a delicate balance being achieved in being both sweet and savory. I was also able to taste the sesame in the vinaigrette lettuce along with the additional sesame seeds on top, which helped add some variety in each bite. The burger was very juicy and actually produced quite a bit of grease. My only suggestion would be to add some heat, some spice. Whether in the form of jalapenos or kimchi, something to once again, contrast the sweetness and the savory. Otherwise, a very well done product.
The other flip side, the Umami Fries was very disappointing. There was just too much going on with the product. The savory masago and garlic aioli along with the spiciness from the sriracha just wasn't combining well. The biggest issue was the coconut-miso braised pork. The pork had an overwhelming sweetness to it, that was very broad but still powerful. It overpowered the other flavors and didn't mix very well with the other sauces. Coconut is a hard ingredient to work with, as the flavor tends to seem very elongated with a subtlety to it, but still very noticeable. In this case, the pork never ceased to be center stage, even though it wasn't good. I wasn't very pleased with this product. My suggestion is to remove the coconut-miso concoction. With two sauces already, providing complimenting flavors of spicy and savory, there's no need to add a radical sweetness to it that may overpower it.
They have 4+ locations scattered across the Bay Area. Check them out for some interesting Korean-Japanese fusion.