Go fish

Release Date: 2003-04-17

Go Hyang Jib, more familiarly known as Korean B-B-Q House, has recently moved across the street to new quarters - not necessarily news in itself, but the Casey family has taken the occasion to ratchet the operation up a notch. Make that two or three notches. Not only is the new place three times as large as the old, but the furniture all matches, there is now a prominent sushi bar, and dim, atmospheric lighting.

The old location was almost painfully bright in comparison, but at least you felt it was sincere. Dim lighting, on the other hand, has an air of pretentiousness about it that seemed inappropriate. Once my eyes (and my attitude) adjusted, it was clear that fundamentally, nothing had changed. Young, Tom, Kevin, and crew were as friendly and helpful as ever, the reorganized menu didn't seem to have taken on expensive airs (though you might have to have a fair amount of terminology explained to you). And the sushi bar - well, there was a surprise.

The addition of sushi initially seemed to me a kind of capitulation to tastes that don't get Korean. But if the piece we sampled is any indication (and credible spies tell me it is), this bar is a destination all its own. James' Special Roll is one of those over-the-top creations that really works. Raw squid plays with fried, pale green avocado contrasts with coral-colored imitation crab, sesame appears in seed and oil form, and, of course, there's a "special" sauce. The composition is both striking visually and stunning gustatorially (talk about pretentiousness). We will return for sushi alone.

It's rare to say that you wouldn't change a thing about a meal, but frankly, now that Young is back in the kitchen after suffering a severe burn on her hand, all is right with the world. We were hooked immediately with the yaki mandu, Korea's answer to pot stickers. The sweet-tart dipping sauce (an air of sweetness seems to pervade much of Korean cooking) would have made even cardboard taste good, but fortunately, the tender dumplings, plump with pork-based stuffing, needed no such crutch. Nor did the fabulously crunchy-tender oyster pancake; without claiming which came first, its closest cousin might be the more-familiar frittata - although a combination of rice and wheat flours, not egg, is the principal binder for the scallion, shredded potato (or so it seemed) and oysters.

There are shrimp, seafood, and kimchee versions of this luxurious creation, and I'm especially intrigued by the notion of the hot-sour kimchee in this context.

Kimchee, especially in its daikon, or white radish version, is utterly addicting all alone, and it's but one (actually two) of the tiny plates that constitute the pan chan pantheon. Each entrée brings you an array of about a dozen small bowls of intensely flavored palate perkers, and the combination of various marinated vegetables, bean sprouts, salted squid, and slivered fish cake could easily serve as a light dinner for most rational people. Irrational as always, we plowed ahead with the likes of pork bulgogi. Bulgogi accounts for the barbecue in Go Hyang Jib's more casual name, and the thinly sliced pork version is especially appealing in its dark, rich sauce with the characteristic undertone of sweetness. A hoppy Beck's beer from the store across the street was a willing accomplice - although by the time you read this, the house should finally have its beer and wine license.

Stir-fried squid, listed as "hot" on the menu, employs jalapeños and ginger as a kind of gentle cattle prod to the other ingredients - you notice a tingling sensation, but aren't stunned by the heat. Tree ear, carrot, onion, the list of other ingredients goes on, but the whole is amazingly integrated. Yes, you can tell you're eating squid- and fairly large squid at that, given the size of the tentacles - but a certain al dente quality is the only textural clue.

Noodles are a large part of the Korean pantry, and it's not uncommon, at least in summertime, to be presented with a dish of sturdy buckwheat pasta lounging in an ice cube bath. And if it's topped with sliced, raw stingray, its only remaining bite a dab of fiery chili paste, all the better. Yes, you can get such a dish at Go Hyang Jib, and I recommend it. Honest. Any time of the year any of the chop chae platters would do nicely. The delicate noodles here are made with sweet potato starch, and an entire squadron of other ingredients, from chiles to zucchini, supports the titular star - grilled, slivered chicken breast. In contrast to the squid dish, which was fists-up feisty, the chop chae exudes a more mellow, almost smoky-hot quality - even cold, since there was no way we could finish all that had been ordered. Pork bulgogi is pretty good the next day, too. Try it with just a dab of Dijon on a slice of French (yes, French, not freedom) bread.

An entire arsenal of soups remains to be explored at GHJ, including a fish roe/seafood model and the "Fancy Kim Chee Soup Special (HOT)." At $19.95, this kitchen-sink soup is one of the menu's most expensive items, so clearly another expedition is in order - not the same one that will take on the sushi bar. Next time, I'm going to concentrate. •

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