Take a ride on the Korean side

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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.