Riverside Korean Restaurant doesn't seem to change much over the years. The restaurant, which opened in 1995, has five floor tables and five grill booths (put into action if you order a grilled dish for two or more people) along the opposite wall for dining.
By the way, how do older Korean men and women do it? When my husband and I visited Riverside Korean Restaurant, we sat at one of the floor tables and quickly felt our impeding old age creeping up on us. Still, when in Rome...
Riverside's menu has remained intact as long as I can remember. No worries about that seasonal dish you just loved turning into a distant memory the next time you dine.
What is new, however, is the space called Café Riverside that the restaurant uses for lunch and extra seating space for dinner on busier nights. The night we stopped in was pretty calm, so that side was closed. Other than us there was a booth of young hipsters, a couple in another booth and a floor table of several young Korean men.
Our servers, both young and efficient women, helped us navigate through some of the trickier parts of the menu.
As soon as Jo Gi Gui -- pan fried salted yellow fish ($13.95) -- was described as being served with its head and its tail, I quickly moved on. And then I made an even quicker pass through the Adventure dinners, a category that includes many of the more authentic dishes the restaurant offers such as Hong Uh Hwe, spicy raw skate fish and vegetables garnished with Korean pear ($15.95), and Gob Chang Jun Gol, spicy beef intestine soup with dumplings and vegetables (dinner for two, $ 29.95).
On this particular night my level of adventure was hovering somewhere between negative 1 and 0. Besides, my angle on Korean food is that it's Asia's answer to comfort food. I could eat Dolsot Bi Bim Bap ($14.95) every day of the week as a substitute for chicken soup or mashed potatoes.
I find that many Korean dishes are quite tame, the flavors even skating on the side of bland, until the pickled this and hot sauce that is added.
For example, my Ya Chae Pa Jun appetizer (a vegetable pancake with green onion, zucchini, onion, mushroom and green bell pepper for $11.95) was a delicate dish with very thin layers of vegetables and egg batter. Husband said it looked like a Korean-style pizza. The flavors were delicate until you pushed a slice of it into the vinegary dipping sauce with scallions and hot pepper paste.
Husband's Kim Bab rice roll ($6.95 for 8 pieces) with seaweed, pickled radish, crabmeat, beef, cucumber and egg was delicate as well -- it didn't have the salty flavor of sushi rolls from Japanese restaurants I've had. Both were even better washed down with little glasses of Bek Se Ju ($16/350-ml bottle). This traditional Korean drink, which means "100-year wine," is named such because it's said to make you live that long. It's a chilled strong rice wine with ginseng, ginger, licorice, yarrow, cinnamon, vine and arrowroot. Our server described it very well -- a slightly sweet cross between white wine and sake. (Check out Michael Schiaparelli's Fermentations column here for his take on sake.)
Dinners at Riverside come with eight interesting, mostly spicy side dishes (ban chan). This evening the little dishes contained black beans, kim chee, zucchini, spinach, crab salad, dried radishes, potatoes and shitake mushrooms. The big carafes of water the server leaves at each table help calm some of the spicier selections.
Husband and I did become a little adventurous in picking our dinner selections. Rather than getting our customary Bi Bim Bap, we ordered Bi Bim Naeng Myun ($12.95), a bowl of spicy, cold buckwheat noodles with vegetables and beef, and Bul Go Gi ($15.95), grilled marinated slices of beef. Right before dinner arrived, our server set a pair of scissors on the table. I looked at my husband and shrugged, but I soon learned what they were for when the server began cutting my dinner, explaining that the buckwheat noodles were very long. An interesting take on the problem, I thought.
The Italians just twirl those puppies up on their spoon, so I thought I'd do the same with my chopsticks. I soon understood the need for scissors. Buckwheat noodles fight back. These thin, spaghetti like noodles can take some getting used to, so as my husband constructed wraps with his beef, rice, fresh garlic and hot pepper paste in large lettuce leaves I considered the best approach and our table grew silent with concentration for a bit.
As a drummer, husband is much better with chopsticks than I am. I twirled and jabbed and nibbled at my very spicy noodles and veggies, pausing occasionally to reach for the water carafe or Bek Se Ju.
Dinner took a little while that night, but as husband said: The end result was delicious.