I left Korea House last night feeling like a common criminal.
Make that a blotto, bloated henchman to mastermind Joe Nguyen of Asia Xpress.
It was he who’d cased the joint enough to know we could get away with it: splitting a combo platter meant for 3 2 ways right under the noses on their innocent, smiling faces
Close enough, anyway. Get a load of our stash: in addition to the above-pictured fresh bacon, chadol (brisket) & kalbi (marinated short ribs) for the table grill, accompanied by slices of onion, garlic, potato, mushroom & jalapeño,
in this case spicy beef, chock full of greens, sprouts, potatoes & chunks of meat both on the bone & off, all in an addictively smooth, chile-reddened broth bubbling with oil in its stone pot—
plus 9 pan chan,
plus 2 dipping sauces—bean paste & a salted sesame oil—
plus a (not pictured) dessert of sugarcane juice mixed with brown rice (which actually reminded me a lot of Chilean mote con huesillo ).
Plus, drum roll, the pièce de résistance: a half-bottle of soju. (Not, by the by, to be confused with sake—it’s a common misconception that soju is rice wine when in fact it’s distilled rice liquor.) Pouring our 1st shots almost to the rim, Joe told me about this Asian custom—whether Japanese or Korean, he couldn’t recall—whereby one’s host makes one’s cup literally spilleth over as a supposed sign of generosity. It sounded like a waste of liquor to us. (Screw that cultural sensitivity stuff if it comes between me & my drink.)
Of course, it’s not hard to put out a lot of food. What’s hard is to put out a lot of good food, each bite distinctive. What impressed me about Korea House was not only the quality of the raw meat but of the attention paid to every last morsel, especially in the pan chan. There were garlicky half-moons of zucchini & buttery, meaty slivers of yellow squash. Fresh daikon & firm bean sprouts with just a little zing. Kimchi, of course, & smoky slices of tofu as well as tofu skin. Broccoli in a teriyaki-like sauce. A couple of things I couldn’t even identify. And best of all: my dear ddeokbokki mixed with carrots, cabbage & a bit of pork in a thickish, gently sweet gravy. Only the potato salad struck me as off, mixed with a little too much sugar.
If I said Joe & I ate all of it over the course of 2-1/2 hours I’d be lying. I think we left a couple of bean sprouts. I should mention that Joe is a several-time champ of the Labor Day ice-cream eating contest at A Taste of Colorado. Dear reader, I do believe I’ve finally met my match. (Heading to the restroom through the rather pretty main dining room with its central wooden platform between rock walls covered with ivy & waterfalls [okay, the rocks, vines & falls are fake, but they do the trick], I stole glances at other tables, empty but not yet cleared, to see how normal people ate. To a plate, there were leftovers galore: untouched pan chan here, chunks of pork stuck to a grill there, a good 5 or 6 kalbi over there. Silly, silly normal people.)
And there’s still so much loot to return for. The sight of naeng myun on the menu—a refreshingly sour cold noodle soup—made my eyes cross with anticipation, as did promises of raw skate, “codfish spawn stew” (could this actually be the elusive shirako, as it’s known in Japan?) & “entrails casserole,” all preceded by the key adjective “spicy.”