Tuesday, March 9, 1999

Precious and few

Posted on Tue, Mar 9, 1999 at 4:00 AM

Korea House dates back to 1982, and while that's hardly early history in terms of the city's evolution, the restaurant was nonetheless a pioneer on the dining scene. For many years, it was the only local eatery offering a taste of the Land of the Morning Sun, and now it's among the few.

Even today, the phone book lists just two other sources for Korean food: Korea Garden, which is down the street from Korea House; and Korea House Oriental Super Market on Edgewater Drive, which is completely unrelated to the restaurant. Oddly enough, there are more Korean churches than restaurants: six in all. There's never been the mainstream acceptance of Korean food as there has been for other Asian cuisines.

Korea House offers a tour of classic Korean flavors: garlic, ginger, soy and hot pepper. The atmosphere is at once genteel and bohemian. There's a Spartan quality to the dining area, with just 10 tables, a few paper lanterns and rice-paper partitions. At night the overhead lighting is far too harsh. But there is a quiet throughout the room, even as servers deliver tray after tray of delicacies to the customers.

Korea House rivals the average Chinese restaurant in terms of price and value. For the cost of a $32 dinner for two, we received an overly abundant amount of food. We tried: yaki mandoo, pan-fried dumplings stuffed with beef and vegetables and crimped into crescents ($4.25), sushi-esque kim bap, seaweed rolls filled with beef and vegetables ($3.95), a bowl of tofu soup with miso and spinach ($1.95), and a generous platter of bulgogi beef, which is kind of like Korean barbecue, marinated in a sweet garlic sauce ($9.95). The pizza-sized pajuen, a fried potato pancake laced with scallions, oysters, clams, peppers and rice, was delicious, but unwieldy and difficult to slice.

There was much variety among the side items, with 11 offerings included with the meal, gratis, including cucumbers in sweet vinegar sauce, marinated bean sprouts, pickled turnips and pan-seared tofu. We sampled several varieties of kimchi, the pickled cabbage dish that is the cornerstone of the Korean diet. We had a traditional version, which had been fermented with hot peppers and caught us off-guard with its spiciness. A dish of house soy sauce added a mild, sweet dimension to different dinner items, and it wasn't salty in the least.

For a culinary adventure at Korea House, you won't need a lot of money, just a hearty appetite and an open mind.


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