Started out Vietnamese, then became sushi, currently this place is crankin' out Korean. Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of fellow hounds AllisonL, her friend Jennifer, and rudeboy's company for an impromptu hound dinner.
The first good sign came when I called to hold a table and got the response: "You know this is a Korean restaurant, right ?" I sure do.
The menu is written in Korean characters with English transliterations which are somewhat non-descript, but you can figure out what most are, and if not, the waitstaff are very helpful. After tipping off our kettle of soju, we debated our ordering strategy, ultimately settling on what we thought was a good representation of the kitchen's offerings.
Banchan were few, but not bad. There was the standard napa cabbage kimchi, sauteed mushrooms, sweet Asian black beans, and some salty & crispy dried fried mini-shrimp. I was kind of hoping for a better banchan selection (with high hopes for the raw crab), but what was there was okay, kinda like a bowl of bar-nuts are. They go well with drink.
Haemul pajun (seafood pancake) came out looking flimsy and soggy, but that must've just been the soju, because they were right smack in between firm and fluffy, with good crisp spots on the exterior. Chockfull of baby squid and scallions, it was a pretty good version.
Next came a stir-fry of pork w/ napa cabbage kimchi & scallions and big triangles of soft tofu holding down the perimeter. Bright red is the color of Korean food, and it usually looks scary-spicy, but I find most Korean food to strike a nice balance with spice, salt and tang. This was a decent example of that.
Soon-dae (blood sausage stuffed with rice) was stir-fried with vegetables (of which I only recall zucchini & jalapenos) on a bed of cellophane/glass noodles. I was expecting a funkier, sour and more fermented taste, but it was fairly mild as far as blood sausages go. Nothing bad about this dish at all, though I may forego it on the next visit.
What should not be passed by is the gamja-tang (pork bone soup), which is the house specialty. I wrote about another gamja-tang at Manna Korean (link: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/474787 ) , which is where I thought fellow hound ktown378 had pointed me to, but I was wrong, he was actually pointing me to 888. While I enjoyed Manna's version, this one was even better. Huge honkin' pork spine in a bubbling deep red broth with greens (watercress? sesame leaves? cabbage?), potatoes and perilla seeds. Unlike Manna, they serve it without additional sides of jalapenos and red chili paste (gochu-jang), but it has no need -- it is perfectly spiced and rich from the bones and bits of meat on them. Delicious. And today when I opened up my leftovers I realized why -- pure pork gelatin, after a night in the fridge. A deep red terrine with an entombed vertebra, it looked gorgeous.
I was kind of hoping to order the entire menu (the waiter had to talk us out of getting an additional entree), but they don't offer kiddie portions. The plates are huge, so don't have the misconception of it being overpriced (prices for most dishes were from $13-16 -- interestingly, the "small" size of gamja-tang was $16, with the large being something like $35). And definitely do not make the mistake of judging this Korean restaurant by its bbq, because it's not a bbq joint. While we didn't try the bulgogi, and it may very well be good, all signs point to this being Korean home-cooking so I would probably stick with that (though am happy to be proven wrong on this point).
Company was terrific; conversation lively and fueled on by rounds of soju and makkoli. Rudeboy is actually not as rude as I thought, and I very much enjoyed the engaging company of AllisonL and Jennifer. Thanks.
911 W Anderson
Austin, TX 78757