Bi bim bab, kal bi, bul go gee, kim chi jigae, where on earth could I be? Or how about beef deckle (don't ask), sliced pork bevy, or a big helping of beef intestine casserole? Well, if you guessed a Korean restaurant you would be right, and if you guessed Koreana on East Tropicana you would have identified one of the newest and bet barbecue restaurants in town. Now don't confuse Korean BBQ restaurants with their American namesakes. You won't find rodeo garb or southern-fried frippery at these unassuming places. About the only distinguishing feature is the sunken (or sometimes raised) BBQ grill, which adorns every table and tells you this is a serious meat eatin' emporium.
Yes, Koreans are serious about their meat but don't think they give short shrift to seafood or veggies, because at Koreana, all are carefully prepared and aggressively seasoned to show off the best Korean food. A typical meal will begin with an assortment of bhan chan, which are small dishes of condiments containing everything from hot pickled cucumbers to crunchy rice noodles or maybe a healthy dose of garlic and pepper-laden Napa cabbage. All excite the palette as they cleanse the blood. I'm not kidding, I always feel as if the vibrant food of Korea has a healthful quality that improves both body and soul as you eat it. These condiments are also meant to provide texture and flavor contrasts to the main dishes which are not for the timid. So as a died in the kimchi veteran, I advise all newcomers to this fabulous food to keep three things as you dine at Koreana in mind, one, there is no order or protocol to a Korean meal, just eat what's in front of you as it arrives; two, everything is to be shared and finally; three, if the thought of pepper sends you diving for the Maalox bottle, I suggest eating elsewhere. Best of all, according to my friends Rob and Shana Kim, Korean food may just be the best hangover remedy ever, or so they've heard.
This is John Curtas.