- John Taylor
Those of us who make a hobby of going out to eat tend to forget that the food on our plate is the product of a monumental group effort and easy to take for granted. It's not often that we get a chance to peek behind the curtain to see what makes our favorite restaurant tick. I was lucky enough to witness such a moment during my first visit to The Angry Korean (11587 S. District Main Drive, Ste. 300, 801-307-8300, facebook.com/theangrykorean) shortly after Chef Peter Kim and his team opened their brick-and-mortar store.
My wife, daughter and I decided to stop there for dinner since I had been stalking them on social media ahead of the grand opening. We ordered some plates of beef bulgogi ($12.99) that we shared with our daughter—she's become quite the fan of the Korean noodles known as japchae, I'm proud to announce. The bulgogi was exactly what we were hoping for. Thin slices of marinated steak cooked over an open flame and tossed into a bowl of rice, cabbage, japchae and a sunny-side-up egg. As we dove into our bulgogi, we couldn't help but overhear a man sitting at a nearby table start to complain to his server that the meal didn't meet his apparently astronomic standards. Scraping the last bites of our food from their sleek metal dishes, we were perplexed. How could someone who just had the same food as we did be that upset? When Chef Kim came out to address the customer's concern, he was genuinely apologetic and offered to comp the meal. This wasn't a stunt to save face or get a good Yelp review—it was a genuine moment of vulnerability from a chef whose restaurant wasn't even a month old.
Moments like this reveal the soul of a restaurant, and the way the chef and his staff handled this hiccup spoke volumes. After the offended customer left, my wife and I introduced ourselves to Chef Kim and told him how much we all enjoyed our meals and that we hoped he'd have more positive customers than negative ones. I've checked in a few times since, and now that the restaurant is nearing its one-year anniversary, it seems like that has definitely been the case.
During our most recent visit, the place was packed to the point where we had to wait a few minutes for a table. They've made a few welcome adjustments to the menu and the service has tightened up since that first visit. Between that first plate of bulgogi and this visit, I had since popped in for lunch to try their Korean cheesesteak sandwich ($12.99, pictured). This is perhaps the dish that best exemplifies Chef Kim's Korean fusion concept. He's a fan of combining traditional Korean recipes and techniques with contemporary American cuisine. The Korean cheesesteak blends the bulgogi beef that has been marinating in a secret brew of spices with gooey American cheese and caramelized onions, and it's a concentrated umami bomb. It's drunk—almost too drunk—with its own richness. I like to ask for a bit of housemade kimchi with this beast so it can cut through that unctuous inebriation with its spicy, vinegary attitude.
Most recently, I ventured to try the Korean Junkyard Fries ($11.99) and the braised pork belly steamed buns ($8.99). The Junkyard Fries are another example of Kim's culinary intuition. He's got all that lovely bulgogi beef, so why not whip up a batch of housemade beer cheese and slather it on top of a golden pile of steak fries? This dish comes with its own acidic support system of pickled jalapeños and green onions, making it a bit more balanced than the cheesesteak. It's hard to not look at this heap of cultural unity without shedding a tear or two. Here, you have the depth of Korean-style grilled meat with the universality of the golden French fry, consecrated with a thick lather of beer cheese. I'm also a fan of the steamed buns—I have a soft spot in my heart for the process of steaming dough instead of baking it. The marshmallow-y texture lends itself nicely to the velvety and slightly crisp pork belly and sweet pickles.
It's been satisfying to pop in and out of The Angry Korean over the past year and see that the only direction it's going is forward. There are plenty of places that have successfully bridged the gap between Korean and American food, but none of them do it with the amount of savvy that Chef Kim brings to the table. It just goes to show that kindly working with the pissy customers that come in and out of our lives tends to pay off in the end.