The Kimchi Chronicles

This new Korean restaurant is fantastic—but make sure you don't burn yourself on the hot food

One of the most memorable meals I've ever had took place at a Korean restaurant in New York City.

One day, we wandered into a restaurant next door to our hotel, which happened to be in the middle of Koreatown. Now, this was a Korean restaurant, with a Korean staff and mostly Korean customers, and the server was visibly concerned when we ordered a large plate of, well, pig parts. He politely tried to explain that this was not a dish for two West Coast white boys, but we insisted. The food was splendid—the sausages, the tripe, the pig ear and so on—except for the slices of something akin to pig-leg salami, which was simply a cross-section of a pig leg, save the bone.

I thought a lot about this meal at Kimchi Time, a new Korean restaurant in the same Broadway Boulevard shopping center as Laffs Comedy Caffe. While the restaurant, sadly, doesn't have a large plate of pig parts on its menu, the menu does offer a lot of dishes that will delight both people who are familiar with Korean food, and people who are just adventurous diners. (If you're not adventurous, never fear; there are familiar dishes like chicken wings, katsu and bulgogi, too.)

The square Kimchi Time dining room is home to about a dozen tables, a couple of TVs (showing college football on our dinner visit), a beverage cooler and some spare but colorful wall art. (I thought the shelf with four bottles—with a different-colored flower sticking out of each bottle—was particularly charming.) The service won't win any awards—we had empty water glasses a time or two, and one server didn't seem to understand that some people like copies of their credit-card receipts—but it's friendly and basically competent. If you're in the mood for an alcoholic beverage with your meal, you're in luck: Kimchi Time serves beer, wine, sake and a small variety of hard liquors like Jack Daniel's and Bacardi 151 (!).

If you like your food served hot, then you will love Kimchi Time. The "steam fried" mandu ($4.50)—six pot-sticker-like dumplings with pork and vegetables, and served with a soy-based sauce—came semi-molten, but they were tasty when they cooled.

My gal bi—marinated beef ribs ($15.95)—arrived sizzling. They were delicious: meaty, slightly sweet and fatty without being too fatty. However, since bones and gnawing were involved, we had to wait a while for them to cool down before picking them up.

However, the World Champion Holy-Cow-That's-Freaking-Hot! honor goes to the dolsot bibim bap ($11.95). This famous Korean dish was Garrett's dinner selection, and the mixture of rice, marinated beef slices, vegetables and egg offered an amazing variety of splendid flavors and textures. It was all served in a hot stone bowl, on which Garrett burned himself a time or two while chopsticking through his food. Because the bowl was so hot, the rice and other ingredients—which must be stirred nearly constantly—took on a variety of mouth feels and flavors. But, boy, does that bowl stay hot: After about 15 to 20 minutes, no exaggeration, Garrett poured a bit of water into the bowl to moisten up the remaining rice, and the water started boiling on contact.

Also hot and delicious: my lunch-visit entrée, the kimchi chigae ($7.95), a soup/stew with kimchi, pork, green onion and tofu; it came with purple-tinged rice on the side. The soup arrived at the table boiling, and the spiciness, the tartness from the kimchi and the temperature cleared out my sinuses in no time. While I wish there would have been more pork in the soup, make no mistake: This would be a perfect dish to combat winter sniffles.

I also recommend the kimchi jeon, the kimchi pancake ($7.95). The savory, vinegary pancake was enjoyable, but it called out for a sauce or two to enhance the flavors a bit more.

Garrett's lunch dish, the beef bulgogi ($11.95), was quite good. It wasn't as heavily sauced as some bulgogi dishes we've had before, but the marinated beef was tender and tasty.

The only dish we tried that was subpar, at least to my palate, was the bi bim nang myun (separately $9.95; available as a combo with the marinated beef ribs for $15.95). This is a cold dish with buckwheat noodles, sliced meat, vegetables (largely cucumbers), half of a hard-boiled egg and a red hot sauce. While the noodles were nice, the sauce was not all that spicy and offered only a single flavor note; imagine sriracha, and then take the flavor down a notch. Unfortunately, that sauce dominated the dish, and the gray-colored meat slices didn't help matters.

The only thing that salvaged the dish somewhat was the fact that I could add various bits of the five complimentary kimchi offerings that come with every meal. On one visit, we got a standard kimchi; a sweet-and-sour variety with carrots and zucchini; pickled sprouts; a tofu-and-vegetable kimchi; and pickled white Korean radish. On the second visit, the tofu-and-vegetable kimchi was replaced by a

broccoli-and-onion concoction. These kimchi dishes were nice to snack on separately, and were fun to throw into the entrées for an extra kick of flavor.

Kimchi Time is an exciting addition to Tucson's Asian-restaurant scene. I strongly recommend it—but be careful not to burn yourself. Seriously.

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