Honestly, I think it’s the banchan that does it for me. Not only do you get your main dish, but you get at least ten additional tiny plates of delicious, savory, morsel-y goodness de rigueur!
I mean, come on. What other national cuisine does that? Oh, and then there’s gohcujang. I think I could write an entire post about the ubiquitous Korean red pepper paste that makes everything taste like happy.
My favorite Korean restaurant is Jong Ga House near Lake Merritt in Oakland. They have great ambience and service, and their entrees never disappoint me. Also, they play K-pop, which only adds to the fun.
Instead of the usual seaweed soup in a light broth that most Korean restaurants serve at the beginning of the meal, Jong Ga House brings diners a cold kimchi soup. The soup is refreshing and peppery without being overwhelming.
The restaurant is generous with the banchan, usually bringing thirteen or fourteen of the little side dishes. They’re delicious, but a little sweeter than I’m used to.
I usually order the bulgogi, which is almost always moist and juicy. It’s grilled to perfection, mixed with flecks of charred and grilled onions.
At the end of the meal, as is the case in all Korean restaurants, a tiny chilled cup of sikhye is served as a non-alcoholic digestive. Made of cooked rice, this sweet beverage helps cleanse the palate too.
Oakland is home to a lot of good Korean restaurants, but even in a city with strong competition, Jong Ga House easily stands out.