Bulgogi Bliss: A Capsule Review of the Korea House Restaurant in Portland, Maine
May 5, 2012
I love bulgogi. For the uninitiated, bulgogi is a Korean dish consisting of thin strips of beef marinated in a spicy sauce, served with white rice, kimchee and assorted side vegetables.
I love it so much that whenever I go to a Korean restaurant, I almost always order bulgogi. The impact of that habit is that although I’ve been to scores and scores of Korean restaurants over the last forty or so years, I’ve only ordered something other than bulgogi a few times.
Like the time I ordered yuk gae jang, an ultra-spicy soup, and spent the meal saying “yum” and then sweating and wiping the tears from my eyes because it was so hot. Or the time a Korean “auntie” took me to a restaurant in Manhattan and then laughed as I struggled to navigate the bones in the whole fish that she had ordered for me to sample. I think she wondered how I could possibly be so ignorant. My private thoughts were very practical. A fillet was much less work.
Thus, my full disclosure is that I can’t adequately review all types of Korean food, and therefore my review of the Korea House restaurant is really just a review of one dish. This capsule review is for all the bulgogi lovers, wondering where they can go next to satisfy their mysterious craving for one of the most popular of all Korean foods.
As with any dish, there is bad bulgogi, good bulgogi and great bulgogi. I’ve sampled restaurants in Manhattan, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Korea, and many other places. The best bulgogi that I’ve eaten was at the Woo Lae Oak, in Pentagon City, Virginia. It’s cooked on grills at your table.
I much prefer the grilled style of bulgogi. When it’s not grilled at your table, it’s often served in a dish with a thin sauce. I call it the “liquidy” version, and I don’t think it’s quite as scrumptious as the grilled variety. However, the liquid is not that much of a negative, since the taste of the bulgogi, and the tenderness and freshness of the beef, is the main point.
The Korea House is a cleanly appointed restaurant in the center of Portland, half a block from Congress Square, across from the old Portland Public Library. It’s owned by the husband and wife team of Mr. Myung Ho You and Mrs. Kum Ok You, who are both very warm-hearted, in the best of Korean traditions. Mr. You was once a musician, so it seemed natural to my wife and I to encourage him to play again, since he had a free venue right there in his restaurant. He laughed, so we shall have to wait and see. The chef at the Korea House is Mrs. You, and is a very sweet lady indeed.
Kimmy Sophia and I arrived around 7:30 on a Friday night. The restaurant wasn’t large, but through the course of our meal, a steady stream of customers filled the room. After looking at the menu for about thirty seconds, we ordered bulgogi.
The menu looked very interesting, and we can vouch for the fact that at least one of the other dishes was extremely delicious and unusual. Two years before, we had taken three of our children to the Korea House, and our youngest son, who loves sweet and sour chicken, ordered it. Of course, it’s not a Korean dish, but it was on the menu. I sampled a bite, and was very pleased. The sauce was a deep red, and was very tasty, and the chicken was fresh. Our son cleaned his plate and went home satisfied.
On this recent Friday night, our bulgogi arrived, surrounded by small dishes of rice, kimchee, fish cake strips, seaweed and sweet potato stems. The kimchee was made in the restaurant and was excellent, and very hot. Kimchee consists of slices of Korean cabbage spiced with hot pepper. It is very memorable, to say the least. It's a staple side dish of just about any Korean meal. I didn’t gravitate toward the seaweed or sweet potato stems, which was not a reflection of their quality.
The bulgogi was tender, and had an excellent marinade. The size of the portion was very large. In fact, it was so much food that my wife couldn’t finish hers, so we brought it home, and I finished it for her the next day, eating it cold, for lunch. The left over kimchee compensated for the fact that I didn’t warm it up. It was just as tasty cold as it was hot, which I think is a very good sign.
Although the bulgogi was not grilled on the table, and was served with a thin liquid sauce, I would rate the dish quite highly. Because of my own preference for the grilled variety, I can’t quite give the bulgogi a personal five stars, or qualify it as “great”. I give it four stars.
Overall, my experience at the Korea House gives it a solid four stars.
I recommend it.
* * * * (4 Stars)
Photo by the owners.
Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”
Did you like what you read?If so, leave a Tip, below, and join the ranks of our Renaissance Patrons!
>> Read More about becoming a Renaissance Patron