I have long wanted to become better acquainted with Korean food. That's a fact that cannot be disputed. When I live in Chicago I always meant to check out one of its bbq places, but had always been told that it was best to go to such places with a Korean person, or at least someone who could speak Korean. While I'm not afraid of new things or experiences, the fact that this was the repeated suggestion made me hesitant to try without such an interpreter. Lame, I know. This means that I have yet to actually grill my own meat, but in the last year or two I have been making slight progress with at least getting to know a little more about Korean cuisine. So when I read about Sammy Chon's K-Town opening a location in Chinatown, I figured that I could at least get a little bbq on, even if I didn't do it with my own two hands. I asked J. if she'd like to join me, which she did, so we met up on a Thursday. I arrived first and was quickly seated at one of the booth-tables along the restaurant's right side. At the time there were perhaps two other tables, so not busy at all. J. arrived and the banchan came out. I do love banchan! Tiny treats!
Included in the banchan were little black beans in a kind of sweet sauce, steamed broccoli with a sriracha kind of sauce, green beans, macaroni salad, spicy but still also sweet cucumbers, funny ham cubes, and it wouldn't be a Korean meal if it didn't feature kim chi.
There were some tough decisions to make about my meal...soup? Noodles? Meat? All? I struggled not to just order the entire menu. In the end I ordered four of their Korean fried chicken wings with the soy garlic sauce. The outsides of the chicken were nice and crispy, but the sauce wasn't particularly memorable. I ended up only eating one of these and letting J. take the rest.
I decided to have the best of both worlds when it came to my main course and chose a combination meal - the kalbi with soon dubu. Kalbi = marinated and then grilled short ribs. Soon dubu = tofu soup. You can specialize your soup by adding everything from meat to mushrooms. I chose to stick with tofu and kim chi, and then was reminded to crack an egg into it once it arrived at the table. The soup came out so hot and bubbling, that the broth did the work of cooking the egg. This soup was so great. Rich and spicy. It also came with rice but I used it sparingly, wanting to make sure I had room in my belly for the beef as well.
The beef didn't look like much, but it tasted leaps and bounds beyond ordinary. Between the slight char and marinade, it was pretty much totally addictive. I didn't finish either dish, which was a boon for my lunches for a few days afterwards.
While it had seemed like the space was too big for the number of customers, by the time we left the entire place had filled up. Servers were pushing their carts bearing banchan and sizzling meats and soups all over the place. J. had the chicken bulgogi dulsot (or I think that's right), which she was helpfully instructed to stir up a bit so that the rice at the bottom of the hot hot hot bowl didn't get overly crispy. She said it was spicy but also very, very good. I had heard mixed reviews about the place, and that had almost pushed it off of my resolution list...but in the end I figured I should determine for myself whether it was lacking. And I'm glad, because it certainly satiated my hunger and pleased my palate. Can I say that it is the most authentic and best Korean restaurant in Philadelphia? No, I can't. But that's because as of right now, I'm not an expert...but I'll definitely be coming back for more.