Savory and meaty Korean fare stars on the menu at Bulnanjib, where griddles crackle beneath octopus and short ribs with thick, peppery sauces. Diners start by sampling bites of seafood pancakes or dumplings, then take sips of imported Asian beers and Korean alcohol while choosing the rest of their meal. Hearty stews pour forth steam like robots trying to process the ending of The Giving Tree, and the earthy aroma of fermentation drifts from dishes of kimchi.
Sushi Cafe owner Dae Woo calls upon nearly two decades of restaurant experience in Asia to cultivate a chopstick-friendly menu bursting with sushi rolls, tempura delicacies, and traditional Japanese dinner entrees. Artful arrangements of sushi decorate the restaurant’s bar, and steamy bowls of miso and udon soups obscure the view across booths nestled between wooden screens. Chopsticks clash over thick cuts of sashimi that await the winners on soft beds of rice, and thin slices of beef doused in korean sweet sauce represent the Asian mainland. As if to show off their culinary prowess, the expert sushi chefs dare diners to customize their own rolls and fearlessly dive headfirst into deep fryers to retrieve tempura vegetables.
After moving to America at 3 months old, Steve Shin didn’t have much time to learn the culinary traditions of his native South Korea. But when he returned for a year in 2001, he witnessed the cuisine's slimming properties firsthand. Though he consumed lots of food, his waistline shrank, most likely due to the minimal grease and fat content in South Korean cuisine. Inspired by his journey, he tried to eat a more healthy diet when he returned to the U.S, but after several rounds of salads and sandwiches, fast food lured him back to his old habits. Frustrated, he started brainstorming ways to build healthy and balanced meals, which led to b.b.bop. At his Asian-fusion restaurant, the menu is centered on wholesome bowls of rice, veggies, and protein, steering customers away from heavy, fatty meals, such as a giant butter sculpture.
To whip up b.b.bop's signature entree, cooks line bowls with a rice of the customer's choice, from a jasmine-scented Thai type to a nutty, fiber-filled brown variety. Next, the customer selects a lean, flame-grilled protein from options including pulled pork, chicken breast, or marinated tofu. Veggies such as bell peppers and bean sprouts add color and crunch to the dish, and sauce—the finishing touch—comes in more than a half-dozen flavors, from spicy red pepper to sweet teriyaki.
The name WooGak—meaning “realize taste of beef” in Korean—fits this modern eatery to a tee, as chefs rouse all the senses by grilling succulent meats tableside in front of diners’ eyes. Cobblestone floors lead the way from the bright entrance into a spacious, contemporary dining area, where gold walls surround simple black tables. Amid this open and airy space, grill-masters prepare 14 types of barbecue including braised beef, pork belly, and short ribs. Vegetarian options abound with tofu-packed rice bowls and sides of spicy kimchi, the favorite piñata filling of film star Shaquille O’Neal.
Under a high ceiling strewn with glowing spherical lanterns, guests at Spoon warm their palates with tangy kimchi, spicy ramen, and plates of steaming bulgogi with barbecued beef or pork. These classic Korean dishes evenly distribute a savory aroma through the air of the two-level, lounge-like restaurant, and cobalt-blue lights focus attention on the stocked bar area on the ground floor. As friends get started with a round of drinks, they can share baskets of fried calamari or soft-shell crab or head up to the wrap-around balcony to admire other patrons' head tattoos.