When Little Korea closed its location inside a former Taco Bell on Claiborne Avenue earlier this year, it was a sad moment for a city with scant Korean dining options. Fortuantely, the loss was short-lived, and Joyce Park — daughter of the owners of Little Korea — stepped in. She opened an expanded version of her parents' restaurant on Magazine Street in June.
The menu here is a familiar array of traditional Korean fare, including sizzling clay pots filled with bibimbap, spicy oxtail swimming in thick stew, and banchan, complimentary side dishes that include crunchy, sweet and sour pickled mirliton, chewy strips of fish cake and fiery kimchi.
There's a short selection of Korean snacks and small plates, including the excellent japchae, a steaming dome of stir-fried glass noodles with vegetables that is more than an appetizer and could easily suffice for a lunch or light dinner. Portion sizes are, in general, disproportionate. Order the tofu salad and you'll find yourself staring down a mountain of soft tofu surrounded by fresh mixed greens. It's a light and refreshing dish, but one that seems odd to tackle alone.
A fried kimchi pancake arrives swimming in oil on a sizzling cast-iron platter, continuing to cook at the table, getting crispier by the minute. There's a slight tang imbued by the fermented cabbage, but it's mostly egg and grease and crunch — a glorious combination that screams for a sip of cold beer. Plates of sweet, thick soybean paste provide a pleasing salty funk that pairs well with the pancake and helps cut the grease.
As the restaurant's name implies, tableside grilling is a main feature. Here, a theater of sorts takes place as the servers arrive, lighting the grills and filling basins with mushrooms, a mix of corn and shredded cheese and beaten eggs, which are poured from a tea kettle.
Platters of bulgogi — sweet, marinated strips of beef — arrive glistening in oil and showered with scallions. Servers help spread the meat on the grill and offer a quick tutorial, after which cooking is in diners' hands, although attentive wait staff check in from time to time to provide assistance if needed. A piece of pork fat is rubbed on the grill before a platter of garlicky pork belly is added, a more difficult item to cook, as the fat renders quickly and has a tendency to burn. Galbi, or marinated short ribs, are coated with a spicy and garlicky marinade before getting cut with scissors and placed on the grill, where they darken, acquiring a sweet, crispy, caramelized exterior.
Because of available space and ventilation constraints, only half of the tables are equipped with the inset grills and brass hoods, so for diners seated anywhere else, the kitchen prepares the grilled meats. Notably, sitting at one of the grill tables also carries a significant price hike. The restaurant requires a minimum order of two meats, which range from $21 to $29, and the portions aren't large, which easily can push a dinner for two over the $50 mark.
For dessert, a towering cup of Korean shaved ice arrives, and its name, the snowflower bingsu, is an apt description. Taking a bite is like eating a spoonful of milky snow. It's a refreshing and light end to a meal filled with the bold, funky flavors characteristic of Korean cuisine.