|By Mark Nixon|
A fine additionLet me apologize in advance to millions of Koreans on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone. Your national dish, kimchi ... How do I put this delicately?
Spicy, fermented cabbage with after-notes of briny fishiness that linger in the mouth for what seems a fortnight. A gustatory buzzkill there ever was one.
Fortunately for me, Korean cuisine does not subsist on kimchi alone. I found plenty to savor and devour at Bulgogi, a Korean restaurant in downtown East Lansing.
Let’s start with the restaurant’s namesake. Bulgogi is, roughly translated, grilled steak. In this case, it’s thinly sliced rib eye steak that you grill yourself. The infrared grill, which is actually built into the table, cooks the beef quickly and to the degree of doneness you prefer.
Our order of Bulgogi came with corn on the cob, rice, translucent “glass noodles” lightly marinated in rice vinegar, Japanese-style daikon pickled radishes and thin medallions of carrot. The noodles and radishes in particular were appropriately tart accompaniments to the lightly seasoned meat.
On separate visits we feasted on Yaki Udon noodles, Pork Katsu, Dolsot Bibimbap, Seafood Pajun and Wasabi Shumai. I’ll translate those in a moment, but it’s fair to say each entree, along with several side dishes that come with each entree, can probably feed two people. It’s also noteworthy that while Bulgogi highlights Korean cuisine, its menu is a hybrid of Japanese, Chinese and Korean cooking.
Now to translate the aforementioned dishes: Yaki Udon is Japanese for fried noodles. This great dish had long, thick noodles with chicken and fresh, pan-fried vegetables. For a finishing touch, the kitchen ladles in a fine, smoky sauce.
Pork Katsu is pork loin pounded thin, encrusted with panko breadcrumbs and quickly fried. It comes with a tangy, salty sauce with a hint of cloves. Delicious.
Dolsot Bibimbap was my personal favorite. It starts with a fried egg crowning layers of thinly sliced zucchini, mushrooms, minced beef and caramelized onion, which in turn topped a mound of rice. Most intriguing was what it came in — a hot stone bowl. The bowl is a marvel, keeping the entrée very warm throughout the meal.
The runner-up was Wasabi Shumai. Basically, it’s shrimp dumplings infused with wasabi and wrapped in delicate noodles. If you’re a fan of wasabi, the Japanese version of horseradish, this dish is for you.
Seafood Pajun is a crepe-like pancake with slices of green onion and carrot, mingled with assorted bits of seafood, including octopus. It was served with one of the many tasty and distinctive sauces that seem to be a Bulgogi’s specialty.
Bulgogi’s décor is spare; dark wood set against several roomy booths with those built-in grills. The restaurant’s background music is, appropriately, Korean.
Or so I was told. Think “Barry Manilow sings Seoul music.”
The service is friendly and prompt. And here’s an extra kudo for one server. On our first visit, I left Bulgogi with my debit card still sitting on the table. My server came running out the door and spotted me as I was driving off. He handed me my card. I handed him the little cash I had on me, and thanked him profusely. Now, that’s service.
There are many savory surprises on Bulgogi’s menu. Open since January, it’s a fine addition to a growing list of area restaurants showcasing international cuisine. won’t pass up a return visit to Bulgogi.
But I will pass on the kimchi.