Until I went to Silla Korean and Japanese Restaurant in Sharonville, the sum total of my knowledge of Korean food came from old M*A*S*H reruns. As it turns out, Silla covers so many bases in its effort to please that I needn't have worried about finding something on the menu that looked familiar. They offer literally dozens of dishes, and whether diners are adventurous or conservative, they are bound to find something to their liking. Which in and of itself is reason to go eat there. Silla affords a chance to experiment with new eating experiences and be assured of good food amid tasteful surroundings. And you won't spend a fortune.
My intrepid fellow diners and I were slightly surprised by the long drive out to Silla -- the distance from virtually anywhere could be the biggest disincentive to eat there. Don't be deterred; pop a good CD in the player (or indulge, as we did, in some spirited familial repartee) and head on out. Reservations are not necessary during the week; the dining room was all but empty when we got there.
The austerity of the décor added to the ambience -- shoji screens and Japanese-style ornaments dotted the walls. While not overemphasized or kitschified, the look suggested the clean elegance of the East. An open show-kitchen sits in the middle of the main dining room, staffed by a trim, elderly cook who that night was fashioning an elaborate sushi centerpiece for some special occasion.
Since the menu features both Japanese and Korean cuisine, we sampled both. To start, we ordered Pot-Stickers ($5.95) and Yaki Tori (like chicken satay) ($3.95). Everyone loved both.
As is usual in Korean eateries, a number of anonymous side dishes accompanied the pot-stickers -- we tried each, but never learned what they were. Some sort of pickle, a hot fish dish with red pepper, a tough green-beanlike salad, marinated bean sprouts. The pot-stickers were crispy and scrumptious, filled with savory pork and vegetables. The skewered chicken also tasted good, though the portion was pretty small.
My brother got a Hot-Pot with Soft Tofu ($9.95), which came steaming in a little crock and took a while to cool down, but he loved it. The older nephew, who mastered using the hashi over the course of the evening, similarly enthused over his marinated beef dish, Bul Gogi ($12.95) -- it had a marvelous sweetness, and was so tender it practically melted on the tongue. The 14-year-old tried Chicken Teriyaki and Tempura ($13.95), which also was lovely. The tempura looked and tasted beautiful, especially the jumbo shrimp. I got Yakisoba ($8.95), which had perhaps a few too many onions, but otherwise was delicious.
We also tried Unagi ($5), because the boys hadn't had sushi before, and I wanted them to taste how good eel is (they wanted to say they'd eaten eel). It arrived arranged most prettily on the plate -- a hand-made rectangular dish with the ginger and wasabi artfully in corners and the delectable little sushi daintily in the center. Fantastic. They care about presentation at Silla. We watched flaming woks go by on the way to other tables and enjoyed seeing the chef in the center kitchen preparing that huge and intricate sushi ship.
We had a family discussion about foreign sweets; seems most of us agree that the U.S. just makes better desserts than the rest of the world. Undeterred, we ordered three to finish off the meal. Silla, having perhaps encountered other wary desserters, serves cheesecake ($2.95) as well as Korean and Japanese treats. We got that plus green-tea ice cream ($2.95) and a dish that I simply could not resist ordering, listed on the menu as "Bread in shape of Crucian carp" ($2.95). The cheesecake was just the way they liked it: hard and cheesy. The green-tea ice cream, similarly, didn't disappoint -- lovely mellow tea flavor, rich and creamy. The "bread in shape of carp" turned out to be a waffle-type of thing, fashioned to look just like a merrily leaping fish, and filled with sweet bean paste. It was darling to look at and tasty, too.
Lots of vegetarian dishes, lots of wonderful new things to try, many, many old favorites, all of them freshly prepared and presented with care and served in attractive surroundings. It's worth driving to Sharonville and seeing a little of the world. Bring your taste for adventure and get ready to be pleased with the results. ©
Silla Korean and Japanese Restaurant
Go: 11420 Chester Road, Sharonville
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 3-10 p.m. Sunday
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Vegetarian options aplenty