Once upon a time, I went a birthday dinner of a friend at Grand Sichuan in New York City. There were about ten people in attendance and the meal consisted of a giant pot of simmering broth over a table side propane burner into which we dipped all manner of delicacies both familiar (raw vegetables, beef, pork) and unfamiliar (fish balls, tripe, dried bean curd, unidentifiable sea food). We devoured our meal, sweating and coughing at the intense heat generated by hundreds of hot peppers floating in the broth. The service was terrible and there wasn’t enough water to cool our burning mouths, but it was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had.
I always seem to start my blog posts these days with some sort of comparison of my old life in New York City versus my current life in St. Louis. The reason this happens, I suppose, is that things really are different in a my two cities and I’m constantly amazed as I discover new things here in St. Louis that I had no idea could exist. For example, independent restaurants that happen to be located in strip malls.
I’m not talking about Olive Pit, Deep Fried Lobster and TGIFUs. I’m talking about independent restaurants that I would never know existed if it wasn’t for the magazine assignments that have been taking me far and wide all over St. Louis City and County.
One great example of unexpectedly good strip mall cuisine is Korea House (otherwise known as Hangook Kwan) in Creve Coeur. In a strip mall? Check. Zero ambiance? Check. Amazingly delicious and relatively inexpensive Korean food? Check.
Korea House has some amazing beef bulgolgi, which is a personal favorite of mine. After I photographed the assignment for the magazine, I dragged Dr. Fiance and some of our friends out there for dinner. Each meal begins with a wide selection of banchan (appetizers) like fish cakes and kimchi (which I love).
For our main course we tried several of the Korean barbecue options (although we decided not to barbecue our meat ourselves at the table-side barbecue pits). The barbecue is served sizzling hot in cast iron dishes shaped like the animal you’re about to consume. And just to be clear? This isn’t some sort of jazzy fajita nightmare that you’d find at a chain strip mall restaurant; this is thinly sliced, intensely favored and incredibly tender barbecue.
If you like Korean food, Korea House should definitely be on your list. As a final note: I had a client over at the studio for a photo session yesterday, and while we were reviewing some of the images in my office, her boyfriend noticed a print of the bibimbap photograph (above) hanging on my review board. He recognized the photo from the series in the Sauce review and told me that my photographs were the main reason he and his girlfriend decided to drive out to give Korea House a try. Always nice to hear good feedback, no?