The Arirang, only open a little over a month, is Salt Lake's second Korean restaurant, and my dinner companions were game for something new. Only one of the five of us had ever tried Korean cuisine, despite widely traveled palates. One of the party asked if the kimchi, Korea's well-known spicy marinated cabbage dish, had been buried in the ground, referring to the dish's preparation that had been a key storyline in a "M*A*S*H" episode. Our waitress, sensing some of our confusion with the Tower of Babel menu, didn't miss a beat. She demurely explained that it was made fresh that morning.
With that gentle rebuff, the rest of my dinner partners turned to me as if somehow I could extricate them from a somewhat embarrassing situation - ordering from a restaurant's bill of fare that was completely foreign to them. And I had only had minimal exposure to Korean food in my travels.But when all else fails, like most of our questions to our more than patient server, we all agreed that she should order for us, giving us the kind of satisfaction that other diners, many Korean, were enjoying.
We enjoyed five appetizers and five entrees, each distinct. As it turned out, some were more familiar than others. We also left with the realization that we would return to try other items on the lengthy menu.
The Korean sushi, or kimbap, was similar to Japanese-style sushi, with the nori, or seaweed, wrapped around sticky rice that had pickled radish, green onion and other pleasant but undiscernable vegetables. The yachae, or vegetable tempura, were small bundles of crispy vegetables, deep fried in tempura batter. The goon and jjin mandu, fried and steamed potsticker style appetizers, were very good, with a mild meat filling and thin dough outer layer. Chapchae, slices of sauteed beef and vegetables with glass noodles, was lightly seasoned with soy sauce. Each, costing $3, was pleasantly consistent in flavor as well.
Newcomers to Korean cuisine will especially enjoy the small side dishes which come with each entree, similar to small salads. These are refilled during the course of the evening. Each adds tempting textures, color and complimentary tastes to the meal. Our side dishes included separate servings of gently pickled mung bean sprouts, spinach and thin daikon threads. There were also dishes with larger chunks of hot pepper seasoned white radish, spicy kimchi cabbage dish, and an uncharacteristically bland slice sausage dish. Plenty of steamed rice also comes with the entrees.
We shared our entrees family style. The dokdoritang ($6.99) was chunks of chicken (watch out for the bones) with pieces of onion and green pepper in a very spicy red pepper sauce. The pork tansuyuk ($7.99), small pieces of fried pork in a sweet and sour sauce, and shrimp bokumbap ($6.99), fried rice with small sweetened shrimp, were considerably milder.
Our favorite was the pulgogi ($8.50), slices of tender grilled beef sauteed with onion, soy sauce and sesame oil, served on a sizzling platter. In many Korean restaurants, it is prepared tableside. Another beef dish with a pleasing flavor was the kalbi ($8.50), barbecued short ribs with a slightly sweeter sauce than the pulgogi. Each portion was generous and served piping hot.
The lengthy menu includes several combination dinners with the above items as well as tempura, vegetables and rice. Other intriguing and interesting dishes include ggochi odeng (fish cakes), haemul pajun (green onions and seafood), yangjangpi (spicy seafood and vegetables), jjachangmyun (noodles with bean paste and vegetables), yukaejang (beef soup with spicy sauce, vegetables and rice) joki-kui (seasoned and cooked yellow fish and rice), pibimap (vegetables with egg and hot sauce with rice), gopchang jungol (beef with hot sauce), and agutang (fish, parsley and bean sprouts). Prices range from $6 to $8, which includes rice and the side dishes. Lunch portions and light dinners are also available.
Diners with either experience or an interest in expanding their culinary knowledge will find the cuisine and service at Arirang pleasing and a nice change from the usual dining out choices.
Rating: * * * *
Arirang, 2701 S. State, 467-7778. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Closed Sunday. Accepts major credit cards and check with guarantee card.