By Kayla McCormack
Sounds of people chatting and smells of exotic spices filled the dining area of Ko Ko Korean Restaurant. Waiters moved fluidly from table to table carrying bowls of noodles and plates full of food that incited hunger with a mere glance. Not only did the food look amazingly appetizing, the place was packed—always a good sign. After traveling to South Korea over spring break, I had been eagerly searching for some of the delicious cuisine I tasted while in Seoul. The crowd of people had my hopes up.
While waiting for our table, I looked through the room and took in the hanging lights and Korean alphabet wallpaper as the two friends I had come with talked quietly by the door. “Is that a cotton candy machine?” one asked, puzzled. Yes. It was a cotton candy machine, offering a complimentary make-your-own sugary treat experience to diners. We eagerly scooped up the opportunity to make our own little carnival before we were seated.
After 20 minutes and three trips to the cotton candy machine, we were seated and eagerly perused the numerous descriptions for a huge variety of appetizers and entrees. The appetizers, which were offered in both small and large portions, included items such as mandoo, or handmade dumplings, and oh jing uh tweegim, or deep fried squid. The entrees were equally varied, including seafood, vegetarian and meat dishes. We ordered mandoo ($4.99) and kimchi jun ($4.99) a lightly pan-fried wheat batter with kimchi, as appetizers. We went with traditional staples of dol sot bibim bap ($12.99), bool go gi ($13.99), and jae yuk bokeum ($13.99).
Before the appetizers arrived, the waiter brought cabbage kimchi, cucumber kimchi and a steamed egg dish to the table. I first encountered kimchi on my trip to South Korea and was glad to see it served as a complimentary part of the meal—my tour guide continually asserted, “It’s not real Korean if they do not have kimchi!” Although I am not a fan of the vinegary spice that is the defining feature of the fermented vegetables, I found the cucumber kimchi a bit more palatable because the cucumber flavor helped cut the acidity of the dish. The steamed egg was the perfect complement to the biting tang of the kimchi.
Although the dumplings were nothing spectacular, the dipping sauce served alongside them was amazing. What appeared to be a basic soy sauce was enhanced by an assortment of spices that created a dynamic and delicious flavor. The sauce was so scrumptious that we couldn’t help but dip the kimchi jun in it. The appetizer was yummy alone but even better in the sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed the flavors and saltiness of the dumpling sauce.
The expectations for the main course increased with each satisfying bite of the appetizers, and we were not disappointed. The dol sot bibim bap arrived in a sizzling hot stone bowl with a cloud of steam trailing behind the waiter. The rice and vegetable dish was served with a raw egg on top in the traditional Korean way.
The bool gogi’s arrival was not as impressive, but the flavor was as sweet as it should be. The traditional Korean beef dish arrived with a side of rice and a delicious scent in the air. It was not the best bool gogi I have ever tasted—the meat had a slight excess of fat even though it was tender—but it went nicely with the sticky white rice served alongside it.
The jae yuk bokeum, a Korean pork dish, was extraordinarily spicy, definitely not for those with a low spice tolerance! By the time my friend was finished with the jae yuk bokeum, she was blowing her nose and commenting on her new ability to “breath fire” from the spice of the meal. If, however, you could handle the heat, it was a delicious dish. Each taste I had was even better than the last.
We were completely satisfied with our Korean feast. After tasting the delicious food in South Korea, I had doubts that Ko Ko would measure up—but as soon as I entered and saw the crowd of people happily munching on their meals, the evening was already looking up. The service was quick, the waiters were friendly, and the food was scrumptious. Ko Ko far surpassed everything I had hoped for, especially since I walked out holding a chopstick full of cotton candy.
Kayla McCormack is a sophomore journalism major who is coo coo for Ko Ko. E-mail her at email@example.com.