Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gloria's Korean Kitchen

Shortly before I moved to North Carolina in March, Gloria's Korean Kitchen opened in Cool Springs (Franklin, TN).  I was sad that I didn't have a chance to try it before leaving.  So that was the first place we went when Louis finally made it back to Tennessee.  Yeah, I know I am a bit late on the timing of this post, I apologize.

I would love to tell you that I am well versed in Korean food, but I am not.  At all.  This was the first time I'd ever had it.  Well, not true... I had a really disgutsing kim chi once.  I will say that I have seen more than my fair share of Korean food specials on TV and I've been kind of fantasizing about the cuisine for a while.

The meal began with "sides".  I found that a bit odd.  There were two plates with little tastings of kim chi, soy cucumbers, seaweed salad, sweet daikon radish, and cole slaw.  The kim chi was fantastic: sweet, sour, spicy, not overly fermented, soft but not mushy with a slight bit of cabbage-y crunch left.  The soy cucumbers were my favorite.  They were lightly pickled in soy and rice vinegar with whole cloves of garlic.  The sweet daikon was also lightly pickled in rice vinegar, but they were still crisp and crunchy.  The flavor of the seaweed salad was good, the texture was a little like that of soggy nori, so I wasn't the biggest fan.  And the coleslaw was just regular old coleslaw, nothing special and not to my liking.

Our official appetizers were the yaki mandu (fried dumplings with beef) and ssam (lettuce wraps.)  The yaki mandu were really delicious, the meat was seasoned with coriander and Chinese five-spice.  Tender juicy filling in a crispy wonton skin, there are few things better.  But be careful, they were scorchingly hot!  We chose the chicken for ssam filling meat.  It came with sauteed mushrooms, soy dressed cabbage, cucumber garlic soy sauce (the liquid form the soy cucumbers I suspect...), and a spicy miso sauce to stuff inside the leaves of bib lettuce.  It was good but over salted (to an almost unacceptable level) and didn't come with enough lettuce leaves.  Also, we were not given plates so we were dripping sauces all over the table.

   For entrees, we ordered the glass noodles that had a soy glaze and beef, jjampong (seafood noodle soup), dolsot bipimbap with spicy pork (hot bowl with rice and an egg), and daeji bulgogi (spicy pork shoulder grill.)  The soy glaze on the the glass noodles was really tasty, sweet and a little spicy.  However, as the dish cooled down while eating the noodles became a slightly gummy which, for me, is always unappetizing.  The jjampong was... interesting.  It had an overwhelming odor of cooked shellfish.  And the broth was pretty strongly flavored of seafood.  I adore seafood, but this was even too much for me.  The noodles were delicious though.  Cooked in the broth they absorbed just enough of spicy seafoodiness.  The most disappointing thing was the seafood itself, unfortunately.  WAY too many chunks of krab  (yes.... krab with a k, not real crab) that were disgustingly mushy.  The shrimp, squid and mussels were, I assume, frozen and in extremely limited numbers inside my bowl.  This soup would have been better if the protein had been skipped altogether leaving only noodles and some veg.

The bipimbap and bulgogi were fantastic though!  One of the characteristics of the rice hot bowl is the crispy bits of rice on the bottom.  Steamed rice is placed into a baking hot stone bowl and topped with veggies, meat or tofu, and a sunny side up egg.  The egg yolk creates a gooey, yummy sauce for the dish.  As you eat and stir up your food, the hot bowl continues to cook the rice to crunchy, chewy goodness that is totally unique.  So you know, when they say "spicy pork" they mean it.  You have the option of ordering a less spicy version, but if you go for it all the way (like my dad), be prepared.  It is mouthwateringly delicious, but lip numbingly spicy.  Louis had the daeji bulgogi with the spicy pork shoulder; this cut is available only for the "grill".  He asked for medium heat and I think that is a great level.  Its warm and spicy, but not to the point where you can't finish the food.  The heat builds pleasantly and wont blow out your taste buds.  This pork is wonderful.  Ultra tender, flavorful, and served on a bed of soft, sweet onions with rice on the side

I realize that this may not have been the most authentic of first experiences with Korean food.  Yet, I don't think the menu has been "overly Americanized" as some people seem to think.  To me, it seems, Chef Gloria (who I met and is an incredibly sweet person), has taken the traditional classics that will appeal most to her largely suburban clientele. (Why should she up food costs by expanding a menu with items that won't sell to appease some jaded assholes?)  Overall, I really enjoyed the meal.  I know what is awesome, and what I should probably avoid.  The bipimbap is definitely on my "to eat" list for the next visit.  (I am still a little jealous that I didn't order it....)

9100-A Carothers Pkwy, Suite 108
Franklin, TN 37067

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