I don't know why my friends bother to ask me if I'm going to post about our eating experiences! They asked me this as we sat down at Jong Kak, one of the several Korean restaurants near "lower Charles Village" and North Avenue. Alan and Eric wanted to try one of the Korean restaurants in the area. They knew I had gone to Nam Kang about a year ago (it made me sick, but again I think I know exactly what I ate that did it). They saw a few of the Korean places that were raved about in the City Paper's recent Eat Guide. There were two specifically mentioned restaurants: Jong Kak, which has excellent bulgogi (Korean barbecue), and Nak Won, which apparently has equally excellent pajeon (Korean pancakes). The Nak Won we will visit some other time - we wanted bulgogi, dammit.
We all went with a friend who wasn't too sure about Korean food. The place smelled absolutely wonderful from the outside. Inside were more of those delicious smells, and the sight of two different rooms, one with barbecue tables and one without. This place serves the authentic stuff, as do many of the Korean joints in this area. I saw too much to choose from on the menu. Luckily my friends find it easier to make these choices. We deliberated between the beef-pork-chicken barbecue for four to five people ($82 total, about $20.50 per person) and the all-beef barbecue for four to five ($75 total, about $18.75 each). We went for the former, and ordered nothing else but drinks. Half of us got Hite (pronounced "hai-tay") beer, and the rest got iced tea. I asked about getting some soju but I would've been the only one drinking it. An entire bottle of soju ($13) for me would not be good. It's not beer we're talking about - it will f*%k you up. I did at least get the promise that the next time we did this they would consent to splitting a bottle of soju, even if I drink most of it.
We had two women serving us, one of whom I think was the maitre'd; her English was much better than the other waitress - though really, still better than my Korean. All I know is yes, no, hello, goodbye and "I would like to drink some soju"). The first thing the maitre'd brought us was several bowls of banchan. I liked most of them, but only a few did I really like a lot. The bowl of raw garlic and chilies did take me by surprise, though they were interesting with the bean sauce they gave us. Other banchan that I liked a lot included the buckwheat noodles, cucumber salad and of course the kim chi. The bean sprouts were alright, as were many others that I just cannot remember. I didn't care much for the reconstituted dried fish.
Lots - and I mean lots - more food came out, enough that it could have easily fed five people:
- A hot pot of seafood soup, with fish cake slices, mussel, clam and half a blue crab. Tasty stuff.
- Two stone bowls of freshly scrambled eggs, enough to share amongst the four of us.
- A plate of (not enough) lettuce leaves in which to wrap all the meat we were about to get.
- And then there's the meat: two or three different kinds of beef barbecue, marinated pork, marinated chicken, and thick raw onions all cooked right in front of us. It all smelled great, even though the smoke kept wafting in my face. And it all tasted wonderful. I was worried that the tongs being used to handle both the raw and cooked meat might make me a little sick, and y'all know my system is especially prone to getting a little sick. But here I am, almost 24 hours later and all I feel is a few pounds heavier. It was great stuff.