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Thursday, April 4,2013

No furry blue puppets, just good Korean

By Clay Fong
Photo by Susan France

Exploring the basement food court on University Hill, I recently encountered an eatery with the unlikely moniker of Goody Monster. I was mildly disappointed to discover that the person behind the counter wasn’t a furry blue puppet with ping-pong ball eyes. But my dismay quickly receded when I discovered that this unassuming joint serves generous portions of affordable homestyle Korean food. And instead of having a Muppet-like server, it’s staffed by an extremely friendly and helpful woman who conscientiously checked in on friend Shirly and I during our lunch.

This spot’s sign explains that it features “American sweets” and “Korean eats.” Ice cream and other desserts abound, but we bypassed these, as we had other metaphorical fish to fry. Shirly had especially been pining for hearty homestyle Korean food, so we composed a meal out of three traditional dishes.

First out of the kitchen was a $7.99 bowl of the soon du bu special. Du bu is Korean for tofu, and silken bean curd is the centerpiece of this one-dish meal soup. Tofu critics often indict it for its blandness. However, in this case, the bean curd’s texture and flavor worked to good advantage, taking on a creamy, custardy quality when contrasted with the soup’s lively red pepper base. As a matter of fact, the balance of spice, mellow tofu and seafood made for a meal that was at once flavorful, clean-tasting and satisfying.

It’s worth noting that each entree came accompanied by a bowl of white steamed rice, which arrived slightly sticky and pleasantly fluffy. While it’s easy to take a bowl of rice for granted, Goody Monster’s expert preparation reminded me of just how good this staple grain can be when cooked correctly. It reminded me of the sort of cookery one would encounter at the home of an accomplished family chef.

Shirly’s $6.99 bowl of kimchi stew wasn’t quite as nuanced as the soon du bu, but I don’t fault the cooking here. For my money, kimchi is the blunt instrument of the pickled vegetable world, and it can overwhelm much of what it touches. In this dish, pork chunks tempered the flavor, and the kimchi was superior in taste and texture to jarred grocery versions — yet the cabbage was a touch dominant. That said, if you are a committed devotee of this pungent, peppery vegetable, you won’t be disappointed by this selection.

There was absolutely no disappointment associated with my selection, a $7.99 bulgogi platter. Bulgogi consists of marinated shreds of boneless beef — no knife necessary — perfumed with garlic and soy. Here, I received a generous pile of tender meat, accompanied by plenty of the above-mentioned steamed rice. On the side, there was a pile of fresh cucumber cut into matchstick slices and mixed with bean sprouts. These veggies provided a lighter contrast to the weight of the meat and recalled the Korean tradition of banchan side dishes.

Compared to other Asian cuisines, Korean food is harder to find locally, making Goody Monster a welcome addition. This humble venue dishes out traditional dishes that are as good as anyone else’s, at prices that are tough to beat. Perhaps more important, the service and preparations have a distinctly homespun quality to them, making it a surprisingly welcoming oasis in a food court setting.

Goody Monster is located at 1310 College Ave. #210, Boulder. Call 303-449-5897.

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