During a meal at Gogi Korean Restaurant, the first plates to arrive are banchan, a host of small dishes of pickled and fermented vegetables and other items. There was sukjunamul, the fermented mung bean salad with a touch of brine and lots of crunch. Stir-fried fish cakes, or eomuk bokkeum, arrived in starchy and chewy strips bathed in a garlicky red sheen. There was emerald green seaweed salad, lightly brined zucchini, a diced potato and apple slaw.
Of course, there also was the staple of the East Asian cuisine: kimchi, the spicy fermented vegetable medley, available here in myriad forms. The ubiquitous Napa cabbage was included, but also crunchy radishes and fat slices of cucumbers, which were almost sweet and had faint heat and the tang characteristic of the fermentation process.
The arrival of these dishes before a meal at Gogi, which opened earlier this year on Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie, might have implied that a classic set of Korean dishes would follow. And while tradition is the model, the kitchen colors outside of the lines with some dishes.
Gogi nachos feature tortilla chips blanketed in melted cheddar and American cheeses, diced green peppers, bulgogi (sweet strips of marinated and grilled beef) and soy and mayonnaise-heavy "special" sauce. The delicious dish blended the appeal of trashy movie nachos with some creative inspiration.
Then there is the mysteriously named "Gogi special," a sushilike appetizer of blended spicy tuna and snow crab that is deep-fried in spears and served with a spicy mayonnaiselike dipping sauce. Unfortunately, it was greasy and fell apart quickly.
The kitchen's playful, modern touches likely are the result of the restaurant's multi-generational staff. Owner Jae Kim runs the restaurant with his mother, Young Yoo, who ran Korean restaurants in California and Las Vegas for a decade before she moved to New Orleans.
More traditional dishes include stone pots of bibimbap, filled with steamed rice, vegetables, a fried egg and choice of meat. Yangnyeom tongdak, or Korean hot wings, were a crispy treat, with the drumsticks and wings coated in a sweet and garlicky sauce and dusted with sesame seeds. Hamul pajeon, a plump and oily seafood pancake, was downright decadent. The fried, soft dough was filled with chewy bits of squid, mussels and clams and green onions for contrast.
Korean cuisine has an affection for fiery spice, and heat was employed without restraint in some dishes. Thuk poki (also called tteokbokki) was one of my favorite dishes, with soft and chewy oblong rice cakes swimming in a thick, crimson gochujang pepper sauce. Equally good is the kimchi jigae, a piping hot, spicy stew bobbing with fiery bits of kimchi, tofu, onions, bell peppers and pork.
Though the number of Korean restaurants in New Orleans is increasing slowly, there still are scant options for the East Asian cuisine in the area. A meal at Gogi offers an array of traditional Korean dishes as well as some creative and modern touches.