Friday, November 13, 2009

Rose-coloured reviews Kimchi House, Jasper, Alberta

Note: this is review is in conjunction (but not consultation) with a review by my dining companion, AMT. Please see her blog for another perspective on the same meal (I'll edit this to add a link when hers is up).

Right, so the small mountain town of Jasper, Alberta, is beautiful, semi-remote, mildly touristy and not at all the first stop on anyone's Asian cuisine binge. Nevertheless, there is both a Chinese and a Korean restaurant in town, and as my dining companion had had previous good experiences at KimChi House, we decided to go there for our one dinner in Jasper.

I needed little convincing, being a lover of Korean food and inhabitant of a city that is a much more probable destination if one were seeking to (over-)indulge in the stuff.

So the first thing to report is that the kimchi was subpar. I eat a lot of kimchi, the spicy pickled cabbage that is so much of the Korean diet. I can't really be called an expert, as I can't make it (I think it actually takes a village to make kimchi) but I know what I like--lots of sticky bright red chili paste and salty-sweet-spicy flavour. This kimchi was overwhelmed with brine, and had very little chili paste--it was sort of pinkish beige, and very drippy. Also not so spicy, although it was the drippiness that really put me off.

Ok, that's it for the negative--the rest of the food was excellent. I didn't sample AMT's bulgogi because I don't eat beef, but it looked and smelled great. My own dak bulgogi (bulgogi only chicken instead of beef) arrived all sizzling on a cow-shaped platter and was stellar. I especially liked the random little bits of veggies--one broccoli floret, three mushrooms, a bit of celery, etc. The sauce wasn't super-spicy (I'd ordered "medium") but it had a good kick to it.

There was a thing of steamed rice that I didn't eat (I don't care about rice; sorry) and that was it for free side dishes. Unusual for Korean restaurants in Toronto, at least, which usually throw in two or three little dishes of pickles or somesuch. We paid $3 for the dribbly kimchi, plus $3 each for a wonderful if salty seafood salad (AMT's choice) and a platter of lettuce leaves (my choice; the menu promised "leaf-lettuce salad). I made lettuce wraps out of my meat and the lettuce, which was quite tasty but not quite orthodox.

Ambience: a nice big restaurant, well-appointed but undistinguished. I appreciated the lack of "look, Asian stuff" art--it was just comfortable. The music was, unfortunately, some sort of classical hits album. When we entered, something from the Nutcracker was playing (full disclosure--AMT id'd everything that played, but I only nailed the wedding march.) The aspect that of course the restauranteurs didn't directly control was the other patrons. On the night we dined, these were: someone waiting for takeout and fiddling with a laptop; a man eating alone who later came over to ask us what we'd ordered and if we liked it (I couldn't tell if this was genuine culinary fascination or loneliness--I ran out of things to say about dak bulgogi, but I would have chatted with him more about something or other if I could have discerned what he wanted); a young couple in ski jackets, he with pants and a shirt underneath, she in a wedding down. Perhaps the classical march was appropriate. Anyway, it was all interesting.

The meal was a bit on the expensive side. Even leaving out the a la carte sides, $18 is more than most Torontonians would pay for bulgogi. But well, it is the mountains, I suppose you pay more for the ingredients being trekked into the mountains. And perhaps we were subsidizing the lack of other patrons. Anyway, the owner came out and talked to me while AMT was in the bathroom, and she seemed charming and dedicated and very very nervous about our liking the food. Her family immigrated 9 years ago.

So while I do have to disclose that my dining companion spent a small but striking portion of the night throwing up, I am not sure what to make of it. It seemed like such a nice place--maybe everyone screws up once in a while.



Anonymous said...

There is also a sushi restaurant in Jasper - Sayuri's - near the CIBC on Connaught Drive.

Anonymous said...

Horrible service. Horrible. Unfortunate because food was good.

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