New Orleans has never had a lot of Korean restaurants. Until recently, the only full-time Korean place in the area was Korea House in Fat City. That changed about a month ago, when Little Korea opened at 3301 S. Claiborne Ave. It's a casual place with a fairly limited menu at the moment, but what I've seen is interesting enough that I'll likely be back. From the number of cars in the parking lot on the times when I've stopped by, I'm not alone in that sentiment.
Joyce Chen, whose parents own the restaurant, told me that her family recently moved to New Orleans from Hawaii, where they'd owned a take-out restaurant. She said they decided to open Little Korea when they saw the lack of options for the food of her parents' native land. The building that houses the eatery was once a Taco Bell, and it shows from the outside. The interior is better, with comfortable seating, simple décor and Korean pop music playing over a television showing muted Korean TV shows and movies. The napkins are paper, and there are no tablecloths, but it's a far sight from the days when plastic booths were filled with people eating mediocre Tex-Mex.
The menu offers a pretty good range of Korean food, with a few items prepared on small gas grills brought to the table, a number of fried and/or stir-fried dishes and a half dozen or so soups on offer. On a recent visit, I tried the potato croquettes and the galbi dol sot bibimbop, and while the latter wasn't the best I'd ever had, I found enough promise to recommend you give the place a shot.
The croquettes were excellent. They're about the size of black walnuts, and a bread crumb-coated exterior gives way to a filling of mashed and cubed potatoes, shredded carrots and onions and bits of hard-boiled egg. A creamy, slightly sweet pink sauce is drizzled over the half-dozen croquettes, and while it reminded me of French dressing, it was a pretty damn good match for the croquettes.
The bibimbop was less impressive. Bibimbop is served in a heated stone bowlfilled with rice and topped with vegetables and , in this case, grilled short ribs and a sunny-side-up fried egg. The idea is to mix all of the vegetables and the egg (with its runny yolk) into the rice along with a spicy bean sauce; as you eat, the bottom layer of the rice mixture becomes crispy from contact with the extremely hot bowl. That crispy layer is just about the best part of the whole affair. Unfortunately, the rice in my bowl never took on the requisite color and texture to be truly good. Whether the rice was cooked with too much water or the bowl wasn't hot enough, I can't say. I suspect it was a little of both, but I can say that the ribs were good, and that the vegetables, including something Joyce told me was called “bracken,” were excellent.
So too were the side dishes that accompanied the bowl. Joyce told me they change these regularly, though kimchi is always on offer, and they're all made in-house. She said that because of the climate here, the kimchi is made by a more expeditious method than is typically used in Korea, but while it didn't have quite the pungency I've found at other Korean eateries, it was very good. The other two sides when I ate were a shredded daikon radish salad and slices of eggplant cooked with sesame seeds and onions. The eggplant wasn't all that interesting, but the radish salad was refreshing.
As noted above, Little Korea is located at 3301 S. Claiborne Ave. It is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., though they're considering extending the weekend hours. Call the restaurant at 821-5006 to find out more.
In entirely unrelated news, The Irish House is hosting a Ceili this Saturday. When I interviewed chef Matt Murphy just before the Trish House opened, he'd mentioned he was planning on hosting Ceilis in the large upstairs space at his St. Charles Avenue gastropub. He even told me what it was, after I'd made him repeat the name four times and then spell it thrice. I then promptly forgot everything about it until I got the following press release recently:
You might be wondering what a Ceili is. Well, a Ceili is a big Irish party with lots of traditional music and dancing! Everyone is welcome to come and enjoy an exciting night of fun! Beginners, children, adults or even seasoned dancers.
Stop by the house for some fun, and you might even learn some new moves.
Dinner and drink specials will be available through out the evening.
So there you have it, complete with exclamation points! The shindig starts at 7 p.m., and I think it's probably significant that there's no end-time listed in the release I received. The Irish House is located at 1432 St. Charles Ave., and if you want more information about the Ceili, or any of the other events that Murphy has planned for the Irish House, call 595-6755!