A chowish local from the Monterey Peninsula told me that there was a great Korean restaurant in Marina. “Oh, the one on Reservation Road. Yeh, I’ve seen that,” I replied. “No,” he said and then told me that the one he was thinking about was on Carmel Ave. I was puzzled. Carmel Ave has always looked to me like a small residential street, so insignificant as not even to merit a stoplight at its intersection with Del Monte.
But he was right. At the first major intersection (Seacrest) on Carmel up off of Del Monte, in an area boasting Korean churches and Korean markets, sits a small restaurant in a corner stripmall whose sign reads “Korean Restaurant.” One doesn’t learn the name, Shin Ra, until one is given the menu inside.
I met Jack and Sarah there for a weekday lunch, and we were immediately given warm grain tea. Not long after we placed our orders, 9 small dishes of ban chan appeared. No that is not a misprint: 9. Some items were the usual - bean sprouts, spinach, spicy radish chunks – some were unusual – potato slices & green chilies, zucchini in hot sauce – and some I had never had before – baby shrimp in sweet chili oil, spicy dried squid & veggies. One item, the fluffy rolled omelet strips, was especially superb. Not to imply that any of the ban chan was not good.
My next visit with Lance and Alex (I just had to return) showed me more wonderful ban chan, again totaling 9 dishes. Special items this time included dried fish in sweet chili oil, baby bok choy kim chee, and battered zucchini slices in sauce. Again, the ban chan was exceptional in quality and generous in quantity.
Our main courses have ranged from good to excellent. The most unusual, the fish egg casserole, was very well prepared, the numerous pieces of pollack roe accompanied in a light spicy broth by sliced daikon, tofu etc – though this is not my favorite Korean dish. The pork bul go gi was the best I’ve ever had – tender, well marinated, and perfectly spiced. And we were amazed by the short rib and cabbage soup. This was a masterpiece of taste with the beefy, spicy, veggie flavors all balanced against each other in a bowl of deeply savory broth. Other dishes, Kim Chee Jigae and cold noodle soup were also done well. Even the galbi, the pieces of which were cross-cut and a bit disappointing to me (Buga in San Diego has turned me into a galbi snob), was flavorful and adequate.
The restaurant is small and has no table top grills, but most of the main courses are very good and the ban chan is truly outstanding. Lunch specials are available during the week. This is Korean food worth driving for.
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