Sunday, November 6, 2011
6410 Charlotte Pike
We spend much of our time on this blog scouting out the new restaurants in Nashville. Every now and then we try and add some joints that have been turning out great food for years. This week we add Korea House to that list, an addition that has been a long-time coming.
The small West Side restaurant is popular. Arrive on a Friday evening and you may find folks waiting on the sidewalk for a table. It’s for good reason: the Choi family takes great pride in their food. Start with the classic sizzling platter of bulgogi. Tender beef is in a savory marinade and then cooked up with onions. The banchan (small side dishes to accompany the entree) provide eight different ways to dress that beef up, piling the likes of kimchi (spicy and sour fermented veggies), egg custard or dried fish onto a big piece of leaf lettuce with the beef. It’s a crunchy, multi-flavored treat that can taste different with each banchan. You can vary your spice levels and create texture and flavor variations however you like. The banchan at Korea House are straight forward, flavorful and seem to be of quality ingredients.
Another visit brings Kimchi Samgyoupsal. It’s pork belly with kimchi and tofu; a sour, spicy and savory dish that brings out many of the best Korean flavors. Like some other Asian dishes you may find bits of cartilage here and there. It’s part of the cooking process and easily eaten around. This time the more savory of the banchan go well with the dish. We find ourselves also piling banchan varieties onto the rice for a side dish of sorts (not necessarily how you’re supposed to eat the stuff).
Kimbap is a Korean take on sushi and the seaweed roll at Korea House is worth trying. The snappy, salty seaweed wraps up rice, hot dog slices and best of all pickled radish.
The soups and stews at Korea House are standouts. The Yookgaejang is a spicy bowl of rich red broth. Ordered medium it has real heat and great depth of flavor. Chewy potato noodles, bean sprouts and shredded beef wait in a tangle at the bottom of the bowl. Scallions are sprinkled on top for bite. Banchan supplement the flavors and surprisingly the oily, dried fish does best in competition with the spicy broth.
The wait staff is happy to help with explanations and advice on the menu when it’s slower (an early lunch or dinner is recommended). This was particularly helpful for the Veggie Eater.
Veggie Eater: The first thing that stands out is the service. On my visit, our waitress immediately sized up that I was vegetarian, then steered me around the menu to avoid stealth animal products and items that would stand up to having the meat ingredients omitted. Our collaboration resulted in the Japchaebap, substituting tofu for the traditional beef bits. This was a medley of broccoli, zucchini, onions, dried mushrooms, carrots, and tofu served with sweet potato noodles. The pepper flakes were visible, but the result was a mildly spicy, slightly greasy (from sesame oil) dish. At first glance, the menu has limited veggie items, which is not uncommon for Korean restaurants. However, it appears that this Korean restaurant is attuned to veggie eaters and is willing to accommodate. I felt more confident here that my veggie preference was understood and food cooked accordingly. Got to love a place where the take out menus have all been altered one at a time by hand to update the “Voted Best Korean Restaurant four years in a row”—the four has been struck out and replaced with a five.
Meat Eater: Korea House is an example of a mom and pop restaurant success story. It shows that great food can create a following in any economic climate.
We paid $34 with tax and tip on one visit. I paid $17 on one solo excursion and $22 on another.