I like a place with character. I like taverns with old, scarred wooden bars, ancient jukeboxes, no microbrews on tap and fabulous burgers. I enjoy little barbecue shacks located in seedy parts of town, the kind where you have to cross the railroad tracks under the interstate to get to them. I love finding a new pizza joint with a brassy staff straight from Chicago or New York, unafraid of hawking their wares as the finest in town. I'd love even more to find a nice little Greek pizzeria here in town, where your pizza and your salad come with crumbled feta cheese and sharp, salty Calamata olives.
I live to venture down new culinary highways, byways and backroads. But sometimes, inevitably, I take a wrong turn. And it can happen that the road less traveled is less traveled for very good reason.
Take Korean Village. Please.
I was so excited at the thought of a new Korean restaurant in town. I love Korean food, even though I'm not particularly crazy about the staple kimchi. (For the uninitiated, kimchi is a very spicy and pungent pickled cabbage, freckled with hot red peppers, garlic and ginger.) Korean Village has good kimchi, I'm told by those I trust and dine with, but good kimchi doth not a good restaurant make.
The lunch menu is quite limited, although tasty. Your choices are barbequed ribs, pork, beef or chicken, or fried rice. The pork and chicken were flavorful, with a zesty but not too spicy sauce, sprinkled with sesame seeds and served with heaps of rice. The traditional Korean side dishes might as well have been absent. We got three dishes with maybe a scant tablespoonful in each. The kimchi was pronounced good, the lightly dressed spinach was smoky, tasty and gone in two seconds, and the beans sprouts came and went the way of the spinach, too few and too fast.
We ate lunch in an empty restaurant. Not another customer came in while we were there, and an Asian soap opera blared loudly on the large television behind us. At one point, the background music on the soap opera was "Love Me Tender" by Elvis Presley. Although the tablecloth on our table was pock-marked and scarred, service was quick and friendly. We decided another visit was warranted.
When we returned on a Saturday evening, accompanied by some friends, we were again the only diners in the restaurant, and the bar was empty, too. This time, however, the table went beyond looking a little road-weary. The cloth displayed an equal profusion of crumbs and holes. Our go-go-booted waitress actually took a personal phone call, on her cell phone, in the middle of taking our order. Our silverware was unceremoniously dumped on the empty end of the table, a jumble of napkins, forks and chopsticks.
The plates for the dumplings were similarly sort of tossed onto the end of the table. Two of our dinner orders came out several minutes before the others. One of our party, who ordered soup, had to wait a good 10 minutes before getting a spoon, and the meal was halfway done before the waitress came by with a knife for another dish. The waitress made a point of telling me she gave me a bowl of rice I wasn't supposed to have, because it wasn't supposed to come with my soup. And, to cap off the evening, about halfway through our meal the bar turned the sound system on, blaring loud disco music, despite the fact that there were still no customers in the bar.
All this said, the food was good. Not fabulous, but good. The "coercion" in the soup turned out to be a whole fish, head, eyeballs and all. The soup itself was fiery and delicious. The teriyaki chicken was quite tasty, with a sauce that wasn't too sweet. The barbecued ribs were boneless, meaty and satisfying. And I had a soup that contained an entire Cornish game hen, which had been stuffed with sticky rice wrapped around a variety of treasures. (Word to the wise: Don't bite into a chunk of ginseng root.)
And I have to give our waitress bonus points for being extra considerate of the three-year-old in our party. But the highchair she was given to sit in was filthy. The straps were the color of rich, worn leather, but they were plastic, and had at one time been white. I didn't want to touch them, much less let them touch my child.
I'll continue to be an optimist about restaurants, to try odd little out of the way places and funky dives. I'll still expect my husband to remember which restaurants serve duck that I like. I'll keep dragging my friends out to try new places they wouldn't have visited otherwise, but I won't be going back to Korean Village any time soon.