April 2016 Bar Bulletin
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April 2016 Bar Bulletin

Food Trends: A Korean Adventure


One food trend apparent throughout the country — at least in the urban centers — is the mainstream influx of Korean restaurants, from food trucks to fine dining. Americans are fully accustomed to Chinese and Japanese fare (the Americanized versions of these cuisines, that is), and in some places, like Seattle, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants seem to dot every corner as well. The incursion of Korean offerings is only a recent phenomenon, however.

Matt Rodbard of Food Republic attributes the trend to Korean immigrants’ initial reluctance to assimilate their food into the mainstream. Korean restaurants in the United States typically targeted Korean patrons. Rodbard suggests this insular focus did not lead Korean restaurants to market a signature dish friendly to the American palate like other sectors did with General Tso’s chicken, pad Thai or California roll. The result is that Korean cuisine has been slower to catch on, but it is relatively “untainted” within the American experience. Over the last 10 years, chefs such as David Chang of Momofuku have brought Korean food into the spotlight.

The Korean food trend is alive and well in the Puget Sound area. Seif Chirchi and Rachel Yang have received wide acclaim for their trio of Joule and Revel (both in Fremont) and the newly opened Trove on Capitol Hill. Other, less-ambitious establishments have cropped up in Ballard, the International District and the University District. We have no doubt the trend will stick, complementing an already diverse Seattle food scene.

Chili & Sesame Korean Kitchen

2421 Second Ave., Seattle
443-2013; www.chilisesame.com

This warm, hole-in-the-wall Korean eatery is located on Second Avenue between Battery and Wall in Belltown. It is a great place for takeout either at lunchtime or on your way home from work. A small dining room accommodates some dine-in customers as well. Chili & Sesame’s website facilitates easy online ordering.

We started this dining experience with the green onion pancake (pajeon) appetizer, which is starred on the menu for its regular popularity. (We also wanted to see how this dish compared to traditional “green onion pancake” starters available at most Chinese restaurants.) The pancake is quite large and liberally filled with young green onions, then pan fried.

The most noticeable difference between pajeon and the Chinese green onion pancakes we are accustomed to is that pajeon includes a wider array of vegetables, such as sliced carrots, in addition to green onions. It was nicely fried and not too greasy. Be sure to enjoy the fabulous dipping sauce that is available tableside or in the take-home accoutrements. In addition to the standard pajeon, Chili & Sesame also offers kimchi pancake (kimchi jeon), seafood and green onion pancake (haemool pajeon), and a spicy rice cake (tteokbokki).

For entrées, we tried the Korean ramen, beef bulgogi and a chicken curry dish in lieu of the fried chicken. The fried chicken is typically available after 2 p.m. until it’s gone, so get there early to enjoy this tasty treat. The ramen — a traditional Japanese noodle soup — is delightfully spicy and flavorful with broccoli, cabbage, onion, green onion and a soft-poached egg. You can add bulgogi, chicken or pork for only a dollar more. It was not noticeably different from Japanese ramen available around the city, though it certainly inspired us to take on a future article dedicated solely to ramen.

Bulgogi is a uniquely Korean creation of marinated grilled meat, most often beef. The word literally means “fire meat” in Korean. It is made from thin slices of sirloin or other prime choice cuts, which are marinated in soy sauce, sugar and a host of aromatics such as garlic and ginger. Chili & Sesame’s bulgogi beef is tender, and the juices from the marinated meat soak up white rice so that no additional soy or teriyaki-type sauce is necessary. It is cooked with onion, carrots and broccoli, and topped with sesame seeds.

Since we missed the fried chicken, having arrived around 8 p.m., our gracious hosts instead recommended a curry chicken dish that was not on the menu. The dish (a dry curry) was perfectly fine, but not quite the fried chicken we were hoping for. If it’s curry you are after, we would stick to the wide selection of Thai and Indian restaurants in the area. Each main entrée comes with steamed rice and a small serving of kimchi.

Grill King Korean Cuisine and Barbeque

15740 Aurora Ave. N., Shoreline

A common social and business dining tradition in Korea is Korean barbecue. The tables at this type of restaurant have a special gas or electric barbecue recessed into their surface. This encourages a leisurely meal as everyone sits around the grill nibbling on condiments, chatting, sipping beverages, and slowly eating while meat sizzles and browns in front of them.

We visited the Grill King Korean Cuisine and Barbeque in Shoreline to experience authentic Korean barbecue. Grill King also offers Korean plated meals, which looked excellent, for those who want to opt out of the barbecue options.

Grill King offers three all-you-can-eat choices. Option 2 (our choice) included thinly sliced beef brisket, pork belly, marinated beef, marinated chicken and a spicy marinated pork (some add-ons, such as mushrooms or lettuce, are extra). Additional side nibbles included a tasty fermented soy paste, cucumber, pickled bean sprouts, cured potatoes, macaroni salad and, of course, kimchi. However, the bulk of the meal is meat. Options for vegetarians are very limited.

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