Category Archives: Korean

Kaya Asian BBQ & Grill

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 2

Atmosphere is usually not a significant part of the dining experience when you eat Korean. But for every adventurous diner who relishes the cheap thrills of eating in grungy surroundings, there are others who eschew dinginess and insist on the total package. With Shoreline’s Kaya (20109 Aurora N, #102, 546-2840), there’s finally a place where these two types can sit down at the same table.

If I were the owners of Everett’s Kawon, I’d throw some significant change into remodeling, because Kaya offers seriously good food in a seriously fine atmosphere. The dark wood and sleek lighting feel like something out of a Vegas bar, except that over every table there’s a massive venting hood. On a recent Sunday night at 5:30pm, the entire cavernous space was filled to bursting with beautiful young things who were not only paying attention to the food but to each other as well.

Kaya is the Seattle outpost of a notable LA chef, who has brought a refined touch to certain classics like thinly sliced beef. Here, there are three dipping sauces to choose from instead of just the traditional sesame seed oil-salt mix. The marinaded meats are perfectly flavored, and all grill options come with the requisite assortment of banchan, salad, and soup. Maybe the assortment isn’t as generously varied as it is at Kawon, but it’s certainly as tasty.

Kaya also serves a mean naengmyun, the cold buckwheat noodle soup that is, for many Koreans of a certain age, de rigeur slurping after every golf game. The broth–a gorgeously clear beef consomme–is served partly frozen, so that the noodles are suspended in something that resembles in texture a melting Slurpy. Add vinegar and hot mustard to taste, and you have an absolutely brilliant hot weather lunch.

Soups, such as yukhwejahng, the spicy shredded beef soup, daengjang, spicy miso, are all hearty, made to order, and extremely tasty.

Closer to Seattle by half the distance, Kaya will definitely start pulling away some of Kawon’s regulars. The menu is more expansive, and the prices extremely reasonable. Throw in the grown-up atmosphere, and you have an actual contender for a Korean restaurant that can also be considered a fine dining destination.

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Filed under BBQ, Korean, Lunch

Bluefin

Repeatable: Yes Visits: 6+

Bluefin's banchan bar

Bluefin's banchan bar

All-you-can-eat buffets are definitely not for the faint of heart. And in the case of Northgate Mall’s Bluefin, definitely not for the uninitiated either.

 

To fully appreciate this Japanese-Chinese-Korean smorgasbord ($15.99-17.99 lunch; $25.99-27.99 dinner), one needs more than a passing familiarity with these cuisines—which may explain why Bluefin’s devoted clientele is mostly Asian. Depending on what kind of eater you are, Bluefin’s dizzying array of options will either provide a fascinating playground of colorful tastes to explore, or it will simply turn you off.

 

Fussy gourmets who cannot bear eating anything but the most pristine and impeccable of ingredients, cooked to order just for them, should stop reading now. This post is for the fearless culinary explorer–the ones who understand the romance of corn dogs at state fairs and fried dough from street stalls in faraway countries.

 

If you’re a true gourmand, the only problem you’ll encounter at Bluefin is deciding exactly where to start loading up your plate. Most people start at the colorful sushi bar, where the goods are attractively displayed on large platters set atop ice. All the usual suspects are here–California, shrimp, tuna, cucumber, tobiko, etc.–and often of a quality that surpasses what goes around most local sushi conveyor belts. Exercise restraint, because there is much, much more to discover.

 

As you journey counter-clockwise from the sushi, you’ll pass a display of seafood–steamed crab, lobster, chilled shrimp, oysters, and clams, along with various vegetable mixes, like seaweed salad, cucumber and crab, maybe even a Caesar platter. Ebi is always piled high in a bowl next to a heaping tray of soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles) and jap chae (Korean sweet potato “glass” noodles). Congee (rice porridge) is kept in a steaming bowl with a ladle. If you aren’t already pacing yourself, you’ll never make it to the end of the line.

 

Moving away from the large central buffet and towards the perimeter, you’ll find a lineup of tried-and-true Chinese classics: crab in black bean sauce, kung pao chicken, Mongolian beef, wok-fried noodles, fried rice, and more. Sometimes there’s duck or sizzling scallops. These dishes are often as good as or better than their counterparts in many local Chinese restaurants.

 

Then there are the Korean options. This is where Bluefin reveals the ace up its sleeve: A grill that constantly turns out freshly cooked strips of kalbi, teriyaki chicken, and salmon. Next to these wildly popular options are the very pleasant fried gyoza and addictive miniature bin dae duc pancakes—fat savory rounds of crunchy vegetables with little bits of meat, held together by a deliciously savory batter. There’s even a little banchan bar, with four different types of kimchee or pickled vegetable. Help yourself from the huge vat of steamed rice or ladle out a bowl of spicy Korean beef soup.

 

Unbelieveably, there’s more. But I’ll cut the food description short and get to the heart of the matter: How to get the best out of a buffet. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

 

Go early, when the food is fresh. Buffet-diving is best done when the restaurant opens; you’ll often see lines outside Bluefin at 5pm.

 

Pay attention to what’s running out. Empty platters usually mean the dish is good. It also means that it will be replenished soon, so watch and wait for a fresh serving instead of taking the dregs.

 

Get a seat near the action. You won’t be able to notice when the grill tender is taking freshly cooked kalbi off the flames if you’re sitting in no-man’s land. The best seats go early.

 

Keep exploratory portions small. Don’t heap your plate with that mystery meat until you’ve tasted it first. Avoid waste.

 

Bring your children or grandchildren. All kids adore Bluefin. For parents,  Bluefin is a godsend–instant gratification and something for everyone. Just be warned that there is a soft-serve ice cream machine and a very tempting dessert kiosk. You may have to bargain two bites of broccoli for a chocolate cream puff. Fortunately, the desserts are all cut into diminutive, nibble-friendly portions.

 

One last suggestion: Dig out your fat pants. You will definitely end up overindulging. (If you’ve heard horror stories about people getting sick after a buffet, overeating is most likely the cause. I’ve eaten at Bluefin–and for that matter, buffets on cruise ships and in Vegas–many, many times with my extremely delicate stomach and never had a problem. Just remember to exercise some self-control, and you’ll be fine.)

 

Bluefin on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Casual, Chinese, Japanese, Kid Friendly, Korean

Making Kimchee: A New Year’s Resolution

Classic whole-head cabbage kimchee

Classic whole-head cabbage kimchee

In 2009, I resolve to make a batch of kimchee by myself, without my mother hovering over me. Here’s the recipe I will use, formulated from watching six church ladies make kimchee and published in www.edibleseattle.net as part of an article I wrote for the Jan/Feb 2009 issue. (I have another article in there on wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets. Look for the magazine in high-end grocery stores; both articles will be online at the end of February.)

Spicy Cabbage Kimchee
Makes One Gallon
Set aside a day to make kimchee, although much of that day is spent waiting. Expect your kimchee to last about 2 weeks before going sour, at which point you can stir-fry it or turn it into kimchee stew. You’ll need a pair of plastic gloves and a one-gallon tub for brining.

Brine the Vegetables
Brining times are variable. The objective is to produce a uniformly salted and wilted cabbage head.
Dissolve 1 cup kosher salt into 1 gallon lukewarm water in a non-reactive plastic, glass, or stainless steel tub. Set aside.
1 large Korean radish (about a pound), julienned, tossed with 1 tablespoon salt and set in a colander to wilt. Set aside for use in seasoning blend.
2-3 fresh, firm whole heads of Napa cabbage (about 6 pounds worth).
Trim chunky excess off stems and discard any discolored outer leaves. Cut in half lengthwise. Hold the cabbage half stem side down over the brine. Using your hand, pour brine over the cut side, making sure the brine gets between each layer of leaves. Repeat, until all cabbage halves are brined.
Place the cabbage halves in the tub of brine, arranging the cabbages so the stems are in the solution and the cabbage halves are leaning down, touching as much solution as possible. After 2 or 3 hours, check the cabbage for any unwilted sections, especially near the stem. Sprinkle salt on these areas and then rearrange the cabbage halves, turning them over so another side is exposed to brine. Let stand another 2 or so hours.
Rinse the brined cabbage under cold running water. Taste after the first rinse. If the cabbage is too salty, rinse again. Repeat up to 3 times, but do not rinse more than four times.
Shake off excess water and place the rinsed cabbage in a colander, cut side down, for draining. Make sure all excess water drains away.

Make the Seasoning Blend
While the cabbages are brining, make the seasoning blend.
Rice Flour Slurry: Dissolve 1 tablespoon of rice flour in 3/4 cup water. Mix well with a fork to remove any clumps. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring to a hard simmer, then immediately lower to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly until it turns shiny and smooth. Set aside to cool while you make the seasoning paste.

Seasoning Paste
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 medium red bell pepper, quartered
1/2 to 2 Jalapeno peppers (adjust according to your preference)
Rice flour slurry, cooled (see above)
1/2 cup Korean fish sauce (Sand Lance Sauce; do not use Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce)
3/4 cup Korean chili powder (make sure the label says “Made in Korea”)
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and crushed or grated
1 pound julienned, wilted radish
1 cup julienned carrot
1 bunch scallions, roots cut off and sliced into 2-inch pieces
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Optional but recommended:
Pinch or two MSG
Half-packet artificial sweetener

First, make the slurry. While it cools, prep the ingredients for the paste.  In a food processor, combine the onion, red bell pepper, and jalapeno, scraping down the sides, until thoroughly blended and soupy, about 1 minute. Place the mixture in a large, non-reactive bowl. Add the completely cooled rice flour slurry and combine well. Wearing rubber gloves, add the following ingredients in order, combining gently but thoroughly with your gloved hands after each addition: fish sauce, chili powder, garlic, ginger, wilted radish, carrots, scallions, sesame seeds.

If you are after authenticity, use both MSG and the sweetener. Add a pinch or two of MSG to your spice mixture now and combine. Sugar can throw off the fermentation process, so use artificial sweetener. Only half a packet is needed, but the difference it makes is significant.

Assemble the Kimchee
1-gallon pickling jar, washed in hot soapy water and air dried.
Again using plastic gloves, slather each leaf layer of the wilted cabbage halves with the seasoning paste, making sure to put a little more down near the stem. Keep an eye on proportions so that the paste is evenly distributed between every cabbage head. Fold the seasoned cabbage in half and place it into the jar. Pack the rest of the seasoned, folded cabbage halves on top.

The jar should be tightly packed, with as few air pockets as possible. Leave an inch or two of space at the top and cover the opening of the jar with a layer of plastic wrap that is large enough to be screwed in place by the lid.

Let the jar ferment in a cool shady spot for 1 to 2 days, then refrigerate. Slice before serving.

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Filed under Korean, Recipe

Kawon

Repeatable: Yes! Visits: 6+

Where’s the best Korean food OUTSIDE Korea? If you grew up second-generation Korean-American, the most likely answer would be, “At my mom’s house.” (Except for a friend of mine who hated Korean food when he was growing up. It wasn’t until he visited Korea that he realized he loved Korean food and that his mother was a terrible cook. But I digress.)

Typical banchan assortment

Typical banchan assortment

 
The second best place for Korean food outside Korea is Los Angeles. After that, most people would guess New York. But having eaten at all the top Korean restaurants in New York, I would have to insist that Kawon, a humble dive in Everett, Washington, kicks the pants off any Korean restaurant in the Big Apple (or Flushing).

A 40-minute drive north of Seattle’s city center, Kawon is hidden in a little strip mall behind an oil-change outlet.  Once you actually find the restaurant, those very same barriers to entry will help you find it again with ease. And, believe me, you’ll be going there again. My two NYC-based sisters make it a point to stop at Kawon every time they visit Seattle. Utter Manhattan snobs, even they concede that the food there is better than anything in New York.  In fact, Kawon is so much better than all the other Korean restaurants in the Puget Sound region that there’s no reason to eat anywhere else.

Here’s why Kawon is so repeatable:

Banchan Assortment: Kawon’s kitchen finesse is readily apparent in the astonishing array of top-notch side dishes  that freely accompany any order of grilled meat. The kimchee is pungent, well-balanced, and superb. The dressed spicy cucumber slices are always fresh and perfectly seasoned, as are the mung bean sprouts, wilted spinach mix, and grated daikon. In addition to these, there might also be a little bowl of daikon cubes in salty brine broth (known as “water kimchee”), crunchy cubes of spicy daikon, brown fish cake slivers sauteed with peppers and onions, and quivering slices of beige acorn jelly, dressed with a spicy soy-sauce mix. If you order kalbi, you’ll also get a free side of spicy, stinky Korean miso stew–recommended only to advanced eaters and served to non-Koreans by request only. All of these dishes are wonderful, but the crowing glory of the banchan selection at Kawon is the fresh Romaine salad platter–torn leaves of Romaine and slivers of green onion tossed with a sweet and savory dressing of soy sauce, sesame, and chili paste. Don’t be alarmed by the heaping size of this salad, because you will finish it.

Grilled Meats: For most people, Korean food means barbecue–and Kawon scores sky-high on this measure. The yang-nyum kalbi here is presented in long strips attached to the bone for table-top grilling. The seasoning is finger-lickingly balanced–not too sweet, not too salty, not too garlicky. A great alternative to beef is the hyuk daeji saeng-gyup sal–or black pig pork belly. These chunky slices of bacon grill up meltingly tender-chewy and are addictive when dipped in the accompanying chili-miso paste. Children love eating “bacon” this way, along with a bowl of kelp soup and strands of sprout and spinach salad.

Kawon has many other dishes of note, including their famous savory pancake (haemul pae-jun), hot pot mixed rice (dolsut bibimbop), and in summer only, the best cold water noodle-soup I’ve ever had (mul naeng myun). There are also hauntingly delicious grilled whole fish dishes, mouth-watering stews, and spicy soups–all worth trying if you have a Korean friend who can help translate some of the specials that are posted on the walls in Korean.

If you don’t have a friend like that, send me an email. I just might be having a craving.

Ka Won on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Casual, Kid Friendly, Korean, Puget Sound Restaurants