Katie’s First Korean Food Foray
After considerable coaxing, daughter Katie agrees to experience Ko Ga Nae, a tight 36-seat Korean restaurant in the Esoteric Plaza on Folsom near Bradshaw.
This is Katie’s first Korean food foray. I’m not exactly a crafty, grizzled veteran.
We are the only diners of non-Korean extraction. Corrections on the menu are made with White-Out and re-written solely in Korean. The only English word on the placemats is “Fresh.” There’s no English writing at all on the plastic liter jug of ice tea. The woman’s face on the jug’s label is replicated on numerous posters, the primary wall decoration. The flat screen TV is tuned to KBS America – the Korean Broadcasting System. Beneath the TV is a stack of Korean newspapers with photos of the two Super Bowl quarterbacks on the cover. Very good omens.
The matriarch, who serves us, does not speak much English. We speak no Korean although that is being remedied both out of politeness and a desire to delve deeper into the world of Korean cuisine.
Spicy food is Katie’s kryptonite. Just a drop of liquid smoke in homemade tomato-vegetable soup prompts a horrified gasp followed by extensive outrage expression.
We convey this phobia to the matriarch. Quite successfully, it turns out.
This being a maiden voyage, we don’t venture far from shore. There is no Nakji pokkum in our future this evening. At $13.95 or 39 cents, pan-browned octopus and veggies in hot sauce is not a destination. Nor does the compass point to spicy bibim bub, red-chili-containing ma-pa tofu, fried flounder or black goat casserole, which, at $29.95, seems more than two persons could consume, should they wish to.
Chicken bulkoki, with the spiciness caveat, is Katie’s $12.95 call. I’m considerably less bold, clinging to familiar Kal-Bee, $14.95 worth of marinated beef ribs with a “special sauce.”
KBS broadcasts a well-attended outdoor concert. Given some of the singing performances, we debate whether it’s a variety show or Korea’s version of American Idol. I avail myself of a Hite — clear, crisp, fresh Korean beer. Orion, from Okinawa, still scores higher but Hite enters the Hit Parade with a bullet.
Moments before the bulkoki and the Kal-Bee make the scene, its banchan time. The matriarch brings rice bowls and seven small plates laden with what appears to us exotic but is fairly standard Korean fare.
“I’m scared,” Katie remarks scrutinizing the content of the plates. There’s the ubiquitous Napa cabbage kimchi, which is flavorful but not fiery.
I point at the crispy myulchi bokkeum to inquire as to its origins and the matriarch brings a second dish of stir-fried dried anchovy. Katie takes a pass.
The least off-putting plate for her is tofu. Bean sprouts in red sauce rock.
But the main event is the chicken and the beef, both spread out on skillets that would feel equally at home with fajitas atop them.
Katie takes a tentative taste of the bulkoki. It’s a major hit.
“This is way better than teriyaki chicken,” she says. “Epic.”
It’s the sugar, of course. Bulkoki recipes – chicken, pork, beef – use several tablespoons worth, giving the dish a lip-smacking, honey-like taste. High praise indeed: Katie clears the platter, a rare occurrence at the Lucas table.
The beef, marshaled on a lawn of cabbage, fulfills the expectations of well-cooked Korean beef ribs. They are slightly sweet, crisped but not shriveled.
These are generous portions. Combined with the banchan and rice, a substantial meal. There may be no octopus in our future but there is some waddling.
Whilst we’re in mid-shovel, an older Korean diner approaches the table and asks if we want to know what the various banchan are. I ask the gentleman what the myulchi bokkeum is comprised of. Sardines? I venture. Whilst trying to remember the fish’s name, he is bum-rushed out the door, presumably by his wife. We return to shoveling.
In at least one diner’s opinion, Ko Ga Nae produces epic bulkoki. More importantly, it opens a new culinary vista and that’s very appealing indeed.
Filed under: Restaurant Raconteur
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