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Thursday, December 17,2009

Take a ride on the Korean side

By Clay Fong

A Spartan dining space with cinder block walls and minimal artwork, Boulder’s Korea House is one of the few local spots where one can enjoy this seldom-seen Asian cuisine. While the décor hasn’t changed much over the years, the prices seem more reasonable than they have in the past. A special lunch menu, with options ranging from $7.95 to $8.95, represents fine value, offering a bowl of miso soup, a side of kimchi, rice and entrée. Colleague Jeff and I split an ample $9.95 appetizer of kimbap, which closely resembles a sushi roll with its nori seaweed wrapper and rice filling. But unlike sushi, this is Korean grab-and-go food intended for an al fresco concert or a hiking trip. Jeff was especially impressed with the sticky texture of the rice, and the weight of this roll’s sliced vegetables and beef easily made it a meal unto itself.

Jeff ’s main course was a lunch special, the $8.95 platter of barbecue ribs and mandoo, a cousin to Chinese pot stickers. Korean ribs, or kalbi, consist of short ribs marinated in soy sauce, seasoned with sugar and garlic. Jeff ’s quarter-inch thick ribs were reasonably tender, with a hearty beef flavor tempered by the marinade. Possessing a crisp panfried exterior, the mandoo was more flavorful than pot stickers or Japanese gyoza, aided by a whiff of garlic. 

Both of us received a side of kimchi, spicy pickled Napa cabbage. I’ll admit to being a kimchi snob, prone to making my own (consuming a tin of Altoids is mandatory afterwards, given my love of garlic), or buying homemade jars from Korean churches. My main knock against Korea House’s version is that it came to the table nearly ice cold. Had it been slightly warmer, the pungent flavors of pepper, garlic and ginger would have emerged to full advantage. My preference also runs to kimchi that retains some crispness, and the softness of these cabbage leaves closely resembled that of jarred supermarket versions.

My lunch choice was the $9.95 hot stone bi bim bab. Literally translated as “mixed rice,” this one-dish meal blends a little of everything in a heavy ceramic bowl — hence the hot stone moniker. Carrot strips, spinach, bean sprouts and tender bits of beef and onion were artfully arranged atop a bowl of rice. The centerpiece was a raw egg — traditionally the hot stone bowl is supposed to aid the cooking process, however the temperature wasn’t hot enough. I contented myself with mixing the egg in the hot rice along with everything else, and seasoned it all with a dash of ginger-scented red chili sauce. On balance, this dish was a more-than-satisfying mix of flavor and texture. Crisp-tender spinach and carrot played off the richness of the egg yolk sticking to the rice. The beef added heft and was savory, while the peppery sauce added just the right amount of heat for a chilly day.

Korea House won’t take a blue ribbon for upscale décor or taking adventurous flights of culinary fancy. But sometimes nothing sounds better than a big bowl of steamed rice with decently prepared vegetables and flavorful proteins, perhaps with some pungent kimchi on the side. In that case, this craving for flavor can be easily satisfied here, at a price competitive with other reasonably inexpensive lunch choices.

Clay’s Obscurity Corner: Catch Kogi if you can 

Korean tacos are currently the hottest fusion food trend in the United States. Popularizing this fare is Kogi, a Southern California operation consisting of a string of catering trucks. Diners follow Kogi’s Twitter feed to determine where the trucks will show up next, so they can feast on delicacies such as the signature Korean short rib taco. This selection comes topped with such garnishes as sesame-chili salsa, and lettuce and cabbage dressed with chili-soy vinaigrette. Kogi’s cuisine has become so popular that this business will occasionally borrow trucks and offer their menu in other locales, such as New York City.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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