With the exception of the Idaho State Legislature, nobody has as much fun being dictatorial as North Korea's Kim Jung Il. Just last week, he grew tired of his Edward Scissorhands look and ordered all men in the country to cut their hair. Kim enjoys playing with real nuclear weapons, but avoids being labeled another Sadaam Hussein, in part because he's so cute, but also because he keeps his inner despot in check. He's not invading South Korea, the reason being: he eats well. His private chef escaped and published a book detailing Kim's love for great food. If the fare at Korea House is any indication of what Kim eats, I can see why he's a dictator with a softer side.
Upon entering Korea House, we were embraced by the unexpected melody of two musicians playing drums and a traditional Korean string instrument. Their delightful performance was the first of many pleasant surprises from our appreciative hosts.
Korean food can be complex, if solely because of the heavy reliance on many different spices. The seasoning only begins to define the symphonic depth of Korea House's fare, which is prepared with precision by the chef alone-that's every meal, every time. Their rice alone is a mixture of seven different short grain varieties, washed gently until the water is clear, then soaked for about an hour prior to cooking. Their kimchi-a Korean staple served with almost every meal, and popularly made of cabbage laced with garlic, chili peppers, and ginger-was offered in three varieties with our dinner. Our favorite of the three was the potato based "Idaho kimchi," which was exuberantly spiced and dominated by a stab of vinegar that dissipated from awareness with heat lightning celerity.
We started our dinner with the Mandu-Korean pot stickers that you'll find selling quickly at the Saturday farmers market. I regretted having to break down the linen origami that held a pair of glittering steel chopsticks, but the crispy, lightly toasted pork wraps made me soon forget the stylish place settings.
For entrees, we deferred to the discretion of our waiter, and he obliged us with a collection of ribs, chicken, and noodles. The beef short ribs, called Kalbi, were thinly sliced, cooked table side, and accompanied by a blended soy sauce that, while great on the rice, was unnecessary next to the garlic spangled shards of meat. Our noodle dish, Chop Chae, reminded me of the delight to be had in exploring a tidal pool. Each bite possessed a different array of ingredients-some scary or looking not quite edible, and others familiar and irresistible. My friend deftly captured shitake mushrooms, fried egg, pine nuts, vegetables and elusive noodles, with graceful clenches of her chopsticks, while giving nodding approval to the mélange with each bite. Surprisingly, the highlight of the evening was a very simple chicken stew called Sam-gae Tang. A whole chicken stuffed with sweet rice, dates and chestnuts, is slow cooked for 12 hours, and served with seven-year-old ginseng root. The chicken caved willingly into a moat of rice under the gentle persuasion of our spoons, and provided a welcome, almost bland repose from the rowdier entrees.
Write your House and Senate representatives, and tell them to walk over to the little restaurant by the escalator on 8th Street for a bite to eat. The dining experience might just make them prioritize education and the environment, and even rethink those totalitarian-styled closed legislative sessions. The food and service at Korea House is that good.
-Waj Nasser considers food critique his civic duty.