The problem with food these days is that there is just no danger. In days of yore, going out to eat meant risking the tusks of a mastodon. These days, dining danger is pretty much limited to a steak knife falling into your lap.
But that’s not the case with Korean food. Entering a Korean restaurant is like playing a real life game of hot potato. From the barbecue pit right in the middle of your table to magma-hot bowls of food, you should feel more nervous than a hog-tied steer on branding day.
Now that’s what I call an entertaining meal.
Which brings me to Jin Ju in Andersonville. Korean food is a favorite of mine, and I was surprised that my wife had never eaten there. It seems like one of the few places in our neighborhood where she hasn’t been.
My favorite Korean dish is dol sot bi bim bap, a mixture of rice, beef, beans sprouts, spinach, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, shredded radish, green leaf lettuce, fried egg and a spicy red pepper paste sauce, served in a sizzling bowl.
It’s plopped down in front of you, you mix it up with your chopsticks, and everything cooks together. The hot bowl brings it all to a tasty state of golden, brown and delicious. My favorite part is the slightly charred rice that’s spent too much time at the bottom. It’s hard and crunchy, almost a fried taste, unlike any rice I’ve found elsewhere.
Less sizzle, more taste
Before I forget, let me get to the non-sizzling part of the meal. We started with the kim chee pajun, which is a fried scallion pancake with kim chee in it. Holy crap. So good. Would have been happy if the meal ended right then and there.
Our meals came with traditional Korean sides, including kim chee, which is another reason I love Korean cuisine. I don’t know what all these little dishes are called, but I find them all so tasty. Most of them feature a sharp, fresh taste from the vegetables, with a hotness to balance out the flavor.
Jin Ju is spare and dark, making for a strange empty dance-club-like atmosphere on a Monday evening. But whatever, the service was great and the food was good, so I don’t mind. Plus, they have Korean beers! I tried an OB and a Hite, both firsts for me. Granted, they tasted a lot like a Miller Lite.
I’m so excited that this place is in our hoody. And the extra fried egg on top is that there’s one place in the neighborhood that I can claim to have introduced my wife to.
A hog-tied steer, eh? Oddly, when I’m looking for a good dining experience, I usually don’t think about danger. Ambience? Yep. Delicious menu? For sure. Danger? Not so much, although sometimes I get it anyway (see purse fire / Otom post).
For years, I’ve associated Korean food with heavy meat eating (which is kinda dangerous, right?) and have, therefore, shied away from it. What a crying shame. As it turns out, if Jin Ju is an accurate representation (and it very well may not be), there’s a whole lot I can eat. Unlike my husband, I’m somewhat unfamiliar with Korean cuisine. Here’s what I know to be true:
- There are usually a lot of sides.
- The most popular dish is bi bim bop, which is fun to eat and even more fun to say. I like to wiggle my hips as I do so (as I say it, not as I eat it).
- A lot of the food, especially veggies, are fermented so they taste tangy and pickley and spicy all at once.
About the whole fermentation thing. I disagree that fermented veggies taste fresh. Sharp, yes. Fresh, no. The truth is, I don’t really like kim chee, which I know is downright sinful according to most Korean-food lovers, but I think fermented things taste, well, like they’ve been fermented. And that’s the opposite of fresh.
- No matter. My san chae bi bim bop (which you can say with hip motion or while playing a set of air drums), featured the same ingredients he listed above, minus the beef, and was incredible. The fried pancake appetizer was one of the most flavorful dishes I’ve ever had. For serious.
I enjoyed the hip (used as an adjective this time) minimalism and low-light. I also enjoyed our waiter, who inexplicably placed his hand on my shoulder each time he addressed me.
Oh, and Jin Ju serves lychee martinis, which I loooove. The flesh of a lychee fruit, in case you don’t know, is translucent and white and oh-so-sweet. I couldn’t taste a trace of alcohol in my tini, which could be dangerous, but the sweetness was a wonderful counterbalance to my spicy dish and the booze (there must have been some in there, after all) helped make the shoulder touching a little less awkward.
Jin Ju will probably become a regular spot for us and I guarantee that each time we go, a certain somebody will remind me that he discovered it, which could get dangerous.