Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Koreana (or Me Pretending to Keep Its Real!)
I'm Korean American but was adopted and raised by a pretty fantastic family. White, middle class and living in the 'burbs, they didn't know much about Korean culture, let alone food. The closest I ever got to "my roots" cuisine wise was the occasional meal of sweet and sour pork at the local Chinese restaurant with my family. At the time, these poor little places had to appeal to a very pedestrian palate and so dishes were often of the egg foo young genre. Even the sweet and sour pork came with canned pineapple on top. Don't get me wrong though, I ate it up and love it. I mean, really can anything that is pork and fried be so very wrong?
It wasn't really until college that I even had Korean food. The first time I ever tasted kimchi, it was like a little light bulb went up over my head. I always loved pickled foods and here was the ultimate in pickles, plus in Korean culture kimchi can appear at every meal if you want. Omg, I had found my people! Later I would slowly be introduced to other Korean dishes but the one thing I really adored, besides kimchi, was Korean BBQ.
Korean BBQ crossed into so many food cultures. Who doesn't understand beef or pork sizzling away on a grill? I mean, really now?! So Korean BBQ was my ticket to the familiar and the new. It reminded me of my Dad at home grilling Tbones that had been marinated overnight in terriyaki but the notion of grilling at the table was a new one for me. Even so, I find myself sometimes craving Korean style BBQ so badly and so deeply that I swear it's something that flows through my blood.
In order to get my fix in Boston, there are very few places to go. And even less great places. Even in my limited Korean BBQ experience, I know great BBQ when I see it. A couple of places in New York's tiny Korea town (aka street) fit the bill. Sadly, I don't know their names but I know them by sight and by location on the street. But here is Boston Korean BBQ hasn't really ever caught on. I don't understand why not. A lot of Koreans and Korean Americans come to Boston for school but eh, who am I to dissect the Boston restaurant scene.
So it was one these cravings that led me and my finacee (the spelling on that word looks odd to me, but oh well, I'll chock it up to being newly engaged.) to Koreana for a date after work. Of course we had a couple of friends in tow. Korean BBQ is better with others.
We arrived around 8pm on a Tuesday night and it was packed! We got handed a buzzer, much like the ones one gets at the Cheesecake Factory, and went to sit at the bar for a bit. That proved to be a comedy of errors.
At first glance, the bartender seemed to be in the weeds getting drink orders for the dining room. But actually he was pretty unresponsive in general. At one point, out of shear frustration, E said to the young man "look up, eyes up, hello?". It was pretty ridiculous. The bar was only big enough for 6 stools and there was only 1 other man sitting there besides ourselves. Um, a rule of thumb at any bar should be acknowledge people when they sit down there.
Finally, after a good 30 min wait, we were seated. We ordered three dishes for all four of us to share: galbi, spicy pork bulgogi and bibimbap. We thought if it was too much food, well the leftovers would be tasty the next day.
Our waitress was very sweet, patient and attentive (they should put her at the bar!!). Often when I go out for Korean food with others who aren't Korean, I am looked to as the guide for what to do. Seriously, being that I was raised by white folks, I haven't the foggiest idea. So it was kind of a relief when our sweet waitress just started cooking the meat for us. Maybe my pronunciation of our order was a dead give away.
Everything was very, very tasty! The short ribs were left on just long enough to get charred and sweet caramelized bits to them. And the stone pot for the bimbimbap produced the perfect crunchy rice crust. Yum! I really liked that they brought over a huge squeeze bottle of the chili pepper paste because I really like to go to town with that stuff. Heck, if I could squeeze it onto toast I would!
Some points during the meal, I tuned out everything going on around me and concentrated on getting my fillings into my red lettuce leaves. I think I went through three wicker baskets of the lettuce, pretty much on my own!
The traditional sides were very tasty and when requested, were quickly refilled. The one side that I noticed missing was potato salad. I was a little sad but I guess it isn't all the traditional. But I sure do like the excuse to indulge in mayo and potatoes.
We finished all of the food laid before us. I mean really, who can say no to freshly grilled yummy tidbits of meat? Surely, not me. Again, not an "I'm blown away meal" but definitely good enough to come back for when I need my Korean BBQ fix. I was very happy by the end of the meal. Craving satisfied! And once again, I got to pretend to be "down" with my bad Korean self. Um yeah.