Korean Food 101
Banchan, bulgogi, kalbi, gochuchang, bibimbap, namul. These are words that most St. Louisans don't know. Kimchi strikes fear into locals, as I learned during a kimchi tasting at my office. Perhaps these big, scary words stopped you from taking me up on my recommendation and going to JooJoo. To help, I've created a syllabus for you.
1.Get on Olive Boulevard in Creve Coeur
2.Go to Kim Cheese.
3.Realize that Korean food isn't scary, but is in fact incredibly delicious!
4.Go down Olive further and eat at JooJoo.
Kim Cheese is Korean-lite. It's eating Korean food on easy mode. It's a way to introduce you to the flavors of Korea: the sweetly marinated beef bulgogi; the tender but spicy BBQ pork; the tang of freshly made kimchi. Your whole world is about to change!
While Kim Cheese is about to open a second location near Creve Coeur Theater, their original location is located just off 141 and Olive in an old Dairy Queen. The inside has been updated to an extent, you can still tell you're in a fast food shop of the 90's. It just adds to the charm.
The menu hits all the American favorites. You can get Koreanized version of tacos, burritos, quesadillas, burgers, and salads, plus actual Korean dishes like bibimbap or jap chae. We decided to start with the [symple_highlight color="blue"]homemade pot stickers[/symple_highlight], filled with pork, noodles, and green onions. Man, do I love dumplings. I think at one point in Asia my diet was 50% dumplings. Livin' the dream. These were pretty standard for Korean pot stickers, which is to say that they're good but not exceptional. Size wise, they're pretty big. They also come out hot enough that you'll burn the hell out of your tongue.
Before getting into what we have below, some background is needed. Bulgogi (bull-go-gee) is the name of Korean grilled beef. Before being grilled, the beef is marinated in a mix of soy, garlic, sesame oil, pepper, sugar and onion. Some add pineapple juice or a lemon-lime soda like Sprite. Everyone's got their own special marinade, and somehow they all come out amazing. The beef is thinly sliced and cooked fast, keeping it tender. The soy, sugar and soda mix gives the beef a sweetness that you don't find in other cultures (except from Japanese yakiniku). If you're an American who loves beef-and since you're more than likely a Midwestern reading this, you are-you need to try bulgogi.
Here we have the [symple_highlight color="blue"]Kim Cheese Burger[/symple_highlight]. If you're a meat lover, start with this. In between this toasted bun is your normal lettuce, tomato, ketchup and cheddar, but it's paired with a pile of crispy, sweet beef bulgogi. They've also hidden some finely chopped homemade kimchi in there. It's so good. Because it's not a solid piece of beef in there, the gooey cheese gets to spread into all the nooks and crannies, meaning ultimate cheesiness. The connection my brain instantly made was that the burger tasted like a Koreanized version of Carl's Drive In.
I loved it.Our other order was their [symple_highlight color="blue"]tacos[/symple_highlight]. Wanting to try each of their taco options, I went with one spicy pork, one steak and one chicken. There was a clear winner here: the [symple_highlight color="red"]spicy pork[/symple_highlight]. The base of the pork's marinade is likely not too different than the bulgogi's marinate, it just has the addition of Korean chili paste, gochujang (go-chu-jaang). You're getting the best of both worlds with the sweetness counteracting the spiciness. One of my lunch standards at the Singapore food courts was the spicy beef/pork/chicken plate and this took me right back. I miss that.
The beef in the taco was the same bulgogi as the sandwich, so you already know how I felt about it. It's just as good wrapped in a tortilla as it is in a bun.
Compared to the other two meats, the chicken just couldn't hold up. It was seriously lacking flavor. My gut tells me that this is because they need something plain for the unadventurous and uninitiated and my brain tells me that those people shouldn't be catered to. This is a Korean place! Bring on the heat! Don't cater to people who don't want to be eating there anyway. My hope is that opening the new location will mean either an expanded menu or a slightly updated menu, allowing them to offer a plain grilled chicken as well as a spicy grilled chicken.
There you have it. Now you're a Korean food pro. After a couple trips, you'll be prepared to go further down the road and hit up JooJoo. Head on down to Kim Cheese and give it a go.
13435 Olive Blvd
Chesterfield, MO 63017