I made a mental note to check it out and then completely forgot about it — the mental note lost in an avalanche of holiday planning. By the time I remembered the restaurant, the cook-owner had sold the business. I decided to wait until the new owner had taken over, and hit his or her stride.
His name is Lee and he’s also the cook. Lee is Korean and his wife, Lisa, is a Newfoundlander. Lisa lived in South Korea for 17 years. It’s where she and Lee met. When they purchased Kimchi & Sushi, a window poster introduced them as the new owners. It included a charming photo of Lee and Lisa with their child, Dain. All three were wearing traditional Korean clothing.
In the poster’s mission statement, it said, “we will do our best to provide delicious and healthy food to all that come to our restaurant, and at reasonable prices.” You can’t ask for fairer than that.
Rental space on Water Street used to cost an arm and a leg. I suspect, even in this economy, it still costs an arm and maybe half a leg. A small, family business like Kimchi & Sushi did well to acquire enough space to seat approximately 25 customers in TD Place.
Kimchi & Sushi, with its tinted windows and location next to a bank, indeed, in the bank’s building, feels like a restaurant in the witness protection program. It’s small, heavy on the practical — cooking appliances, a water cooler and refrigeration equipment are near or on the main counter — and light on the decorative, with one eye-catching exception. Gold lamé tablecloths — or a reasonable facsimile — demand to be noticed.
Yes, its mix-and-match chairs and tables are highlighted by the cloths that reminded me of the gold lamé suit Elvis Presley wore. He only put the suit on a few times, but the captured image is burned into the collective memory.
Yooja cha is Korean citrus tea. While many Koreans drink it as a cold remedy or preventative, it doesn’t taste medicinal. Thinly sliced lemon, honey and hot water are its only ingredients. Kimchi & Sushi’s yooja cha tasted profoundly citrusy, sweet and hot.
I’ve never met a dumpling I didn’t like, including Kimchi & Sushi’s pork and chicken gyoja appetizer. These crispy Asian dumplings are the ultimate nuggets. You can feel the fat on your teeth as soon as you bite into them. In addition to the wonderful fattiness of the crispy exterior there’s the juicy umami of the tender chicken or pork filling. Don’t forget to dip them in the accompanying gyoja sauce — basically soy sauce with green onions and sesame seeds.
Spicy heat is available in six of Kimchi & Sushi’s 16 Korean dishes. Spicy codfish soup is chowder without the dairy. (In fact, Kimchi & Sushi is pretty much a non-dairy restaurant. So, if you have a problem with dairy, this is the place for you.) What this soup has is red, peppery broth, along with silken tofu, cod and onions. How spicy is it? I think spouse thought we could scale the inside of our kitchen pipes with it. It will, without doubt, make you feel like you’re starting to melt, but not so much that you won’t appreciate the flavours of the cod and other ingredients.
Bibimbap is presented in a prescribed manner. A round vessel, often a heated stone bowl, is arranged so that the bap — rice — is placed on the bottom, then each ingredient is placed neatly, next to the other, until the circle of vegetables and meat is completed. Finally, an egg, cooked sunny side up, is placed on top.
I thought the egg was cooked a tad too much. It should have been softer, so that the yoke ran like a river and the white disintegrated easily. Once you pour bibimbap sauce — a garlicky, fruity, semi-sweet, red peppery concoction — over the dish, you mix everything together. If the egg isn’t soft and very runny it won’t be well distributed throughout the rest of the mixture.
No balance bibimbap
Most of the taste in Kimchi & Sushi’s bibimbap came from the bibimbap sauce. Wan flavoured fresh ingredients caused an imbalance that made the bibimbap less enjoyable than others I’ve had.
Another heated stone bowl arrived containing sizzling marinated beef, with a few vegetables — sweet peppers, celery and green pepper — for colour and contrasting texture. I liked the beef with its sweet, caramel edge. Beef and plain white rice would be enough for a simple, quick lunch.
Another of Kimchi & Sushi’s spicy hot offerings was Korean spicy noodles. The ramen noodles in a light-tasting spiced broth, with bits of peppers, celery, onions and seeds, made for excellent slurping. A pasta dish is all about the pasta, at least it should be. No other pasta is as much fun to eat as ramen noodles.
Finally, we tried the Korean vegetable pancake. The savoury cake reminded me of an omelette with its springy texture; but it wasn’t just the texture. It tasted quite eggy. I asked Lee about it. He told me he used only one small egg. It was a nice surprise to discover that something I assumed to be cholesterol-laden, wasn’t. By the way, it was also very oniony, the result of chopped green onions being added to the batter. As with most of the dishes, a soy-based sauce gave the pancake extra zip.
And so, another enterprising couple has launched an international restaurant in St. John’s. Let’s hope the growing number of these small international eateries in St. John’s can attract a following that will allow them to flourish.
Price: Lunch for two with tea, tip and tax costs approximately $60.
Service: Warm and friendly.
Sound level: Low to moderate.
Open: Daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Reservations: Walk-ins are welcome.
Credit cards: All major.
Beverages: House wines, sake, beers, soft drinks, juices, water, tea and coffee.
Best bets: Spicy codfish soup, marinated beef, Korean spicy noodles, Korean pancake.
Wheelchair access: Yes, via the building’s main entrance. The restaurant is off the lobby. Restrooms are on the building’s third floor.
* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional
Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Contact him through his website: www.karlwells.com
Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells