Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Notes from Koreana in Cambridge, MA

For those of you who have read my blog before, you've probably figured out that I tend to gravitate toward Asian food. Let's take yesterday for example. I had to get my teeth cleaned at the dentist's office at noon. It was not the most pleasant of experiences. But I decided that one way to reward myself for enduring the dentist was to take myself to Koreana (, located in Cambridge, MA.

I have visited just about all the Korean restaurants in the Boston area -- from the stalls at the food court at the former Super 99 in Brighton, to Shilla, also located in Cambridge. I have to say that I think Koreana beats all of them.

Like most restaurants, Koreana has a lunch menu. I chose one of my favorite dishes, which is a spicy stew called yuk gae jang. A large clay bowl arrives of beef, egg, vegetables and thin cellophane noodles served in a chili-based broth. It was absolutely delicious. (If I could have licked the bowl, I would have; but I was trying to behave in a respectable manner.) For me, the highlight of the stew is the long think fungus, the name of which escapes me right now. The server told me that Korean monks are the ones who gather it from the mountains. I meant to ask how the fungus arrived at the restaurant, but I was too busy slurping, and smacking my lips. Plain, boiled rice was served on the side.

The main course was not outdone by the side dishes (known together as banchan). I asked the manager about the kimchi and she told me that there is an older Korean woman who makes it for the restaurant. I'm a kimchi lover and there are real differences between and among kimchi. How it tastes often depends on the personal tastes of its preparer. Some are heavy on the chili and a bit lighter on the vinegar.

At Koreana, the kimchi is very vinegary with just the right amount of salt garlic, and chili. The spiciness is definitely there, but it doesn't overwhelm the taste of the cabbage. The other side dishes included pressed fish, seaweed with red onion, bean sprouts and a spicy mixture of zucchini with carrots. The vegetables were super crisp. I could have made a meal from those side dishes. Each one stimulates the taste buds in different, yet rewarding ways. Crunchy, spicy, soft, and pungent all come together beautifully.

To clean the palate, Koreana serves a cinnamon tea with a touch of lemon. It was refreshing and elegant, as it was served in a small bowl.

If it weren't for the fact that I didn't want to look like an absolute glutton, I would have ordered another bowl with more banchan! Yes, it was that good.

I've had other dishes there that are equally as good. Mandoo Kook, the bento boxes, and the chigae are all winners.

So if you're ever in Cambridge, definitely check out Koreana.

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