Serving Sake to a Serb: Kimchi Bistro

Introducing the first installment of a new weekly Voracious column: Serving Sake to a Serb.

My boyfriend Slavko pronounced his love for Asian cuisine soon after we started dating. His favorites: Teriyaki, Pad Thai, and several Panda Express-style dishes served at an overpriced Chinese restaurant in Kirkland.

I was surprised. I like teriyaki just as much as the next person, but there are so many other options in a city with such a large Asian immigrant population. I grew up in Japan, so authentic Asian cuisine was the first thing (other than an apartment) that I sought out when I moved to Seattle.

But Slavko didn't know it could get better than the Costco sushi platter. He was born in Serbia and his family relocated to Washington when he was in high school. I proposed that we begin going to lunch together once a week, at various Asian restaurants both obscure and established, so he could experience all the greats he was missing out on. He said yes.

This week, he tried bulgogi.

Kimchi Bistro (219 Broadway E.) is the only Korean restaurant on Capitol Hill. Blink and you'll miss it. The tiny space is tucked inside a strip mall. It's charmingly modest, with just a couple wooden tables, cute posters advertising Korean skincare products, and a soft rock soundtrack provided courtesy of Warm 106.9 FM.

Once we were seated, Slavko observed with relief that the menu was accompanied by photos of the food. "I'm not even going to try to pronounce this," he told the server, pointing at the bulgogi. She beamed. "BUL-GO-GI," she said in exaggerated syllables. "Good!" We also ordered the fried squid - a safety net of sorts for in case he didn't like his food.


It turned out to be an unnecessary precaution. His eyes lit up when his lunch arrived: marinated slices of rib eye on a sizzling hot plate, accompanied by several tiny bowls of various picked vegetables. He shoved a piece of semi-spicy beef in his mouth. "This is really good," he said. "It tastes like fajitas."

I suggested he try the smaller dishes, but he wasn't as impressed by them. The kimchi was "too cold" and the picked radishes "useless." But the bean sprouts were met with approval - "they should just give you a big bowl of those."

Ten minutes into the meal, he traded his chopsticks in for a spoon so he could devour the small remnants of his food. "It's not heavy or greasy," he noted with delight - probably comparing it to the Americanized Chinese food he's accustomed to. "I'm just full enough."

He liked the calamari, too. Kimchi Bistro doesn't skimp on the ingredients. These were big chunks of squid, fried tempura-style in a light batter. "You would pay so much more for something like this at Anthony's... and it wouldn't be half as good," he said. He quickly polished off the rest of it.

Slavko was in an upbeat mood when we ducked out of Kimchi Bistro moments later. "I love Korean food," he announced. "The Serb approves."

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