Koryo Korean BBQ opened quietly in a Glendale strip mall about three months ago in a space previously occupied by two other Korean joints. From the outside you won't expect to find the modern design of the restaurant's interior -- but we have a feeling owners Billy and Christine Cho wouldn't have it any other way.
Last night the couple hosted a Korean BBQ feast for a small party of guests who experienced many of the offerings from the restaurant's menu. From banchan (side dishes like kimchi and marinated spinach) to sikhye (a traditional sweet rice beverage) the evening appealed to Korean cuisine experts and amateurs alike.
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Billy, a southern California native who's getting into the restaurant biz after a career in real estate, explained that the name "Koryo" used to refer to a Korean dynasty and was a proposed name for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. In addition to welcoming guests in the same fashion as he would invite them into his home, Cho took time to explain every course and offer seemingly endless glasses of Korean soju, a distilled beverage similar to vodka.
The feast began with a selection of traditional appetizers and side dishes, called banchan, the most recognizable of which was the fiery red kimchi. Spicy enough to be interesting but not enough to turn off the unfamiliar, Koryo's kimchi is a great experience for those just entering the Korean food world. Tamer options for the less adventurous included the marinated bean sprouts and spinach, which were tangy but mild and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
After the banchan came platters piled with japchae, a dish made with sweet potato noodles stir fried with sesame oil and vegetables -- in this case spinach, bean sprouts, carrots and beef. For those who've never experienced it, the noodle's squishy texture can be a surprise. But Koryo's glass noodles were a crowd favorite, both flavorful and filling.
To complete the atmosphere and create a unique social experience, Koryo offers grills set into the family-style tables on which guests can cook their own meats. For last night's barbeque party, servers presented piles of uncooked bulgogi, or marinated beef as well as pork belly and short ribs, accompanied with a selection of sauces and accoutrements. The in-seat barbeque is the perfect sort of thing for a night out with friends, though you'll have to endure hot steam in the face and a beef-scent that will definitely follow to the car and home. In last night's case, the stench and heat were worth it.
As the piles of meats sizzled on the barbeque, servers brought out mixing bowl sized portions of bibimbap, a dish of rice mixed with vegetables and beef and topped with a fried egg. The process is simple: break the yolk, mix it all up and let the egg cook as you eat. Yet another approachable and authentic dish that promises to please the masses. At least it did for us.
Of all the grilled meats the kalbi beef may have been the most irresistible, though the pork belly dipped in the salty oil sauce certainly wasn't bad. And after all that food we barely had room for the shallow bowls of sikhye, a sweet rice beverage typically served as dessert. The fermented rice floating in the drink makes for a texture adventure, but the flavor is sweet and slightly musky in a completely pleasing way.
To wash all that iron down, Cho suggested a bottle of (or two) of Chum-Churum soju. The vodka-like liquor is sneakily smooth and best enjoyed with food, and lots of it. For a safer alcoholic drink, there's the refreshing, milky white rice wine -- with a much lower alcohol content and just as much flavor. They also offer wine and a selection of Asian beers.
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In the hospitality category, Koryo really shined -- in fact it might be the one thing they did best. From in-depth explanations of the ethnic dishes, to Billy's willingness to enjoy a shot of soju with his guests, it was clear both owners really meant it when they said they want guests to feel at home. Though it might not offer the hole-in-the-wall charm of other Korean joints, Koryo would make a great place to introduce to fickle food lovers to Korean cuisine.