I love to study my food, to allow it to whisk me away from the menial tasks I’m forced to endure. Right now my psyche is engulfed in deadlines and reports, trying to learn my new job and do it well. I haven’t been to lunch out since I started this new position almost a month ago.
But then there I sat, alone, yet satisfied, because this was my time. Sa Ri One was my sole choice on this new adventure. I’ve got to say, the decision was a sound one.
In my experience, Korean food is meant to be studied and analyzed at length. Meals tend to involve an investment of time, and with good reason. There’s no motivation to rush, even though this stuff comes out at a steady pace. I love getting all the little bowls of banchan and sampling bites between the spread that ends up at my table. So many combinations, so complex, yet the food is humble and honest. The flavors are bold with a generous amount of spice, sweet, salty and pungent with a purpose. You never need to use salt, as it’s always seasoned soundly, holding nothing back. The only issue I have with Korean food in general is my lack of knowledge of the vocabulary. I don’t know why certain places use different words, but just know that they do. Listen I don’t write these menus, and I doubt there’s are two camps waging an underground battle of words. As far as I can tell, gal-bi and kal-bi are the same thing. As is banchan and panchan.
Keep in mind this was an impromptu mealtime jaunt. I just had my Sa Ri One eye on this place for a long time. The restaurant is unassuming on the outside, looking more like a doctors or lawyers office than a fantastic addition to my already steadily growing list of Korean food outlets in Tampa.
I only ordered one thing, (Gal-Bi Lunch Box) one very seemingly ordinary menu item that every K-restaurant will have. What you get isn’t just meat on rice. You’ll be served an entire feast, with at least 10 different unique components that stand up all on their own.
The main attraction are the lengthwise cut grilled short ribs. Most commonly you’ll find these cut very thin, marinated in a very sweet soy based solution. These were thicker, still tender enough that you didn’t have to gnaw like a dog to remove the fatty marbled beef. The sweetness was there, though not overly pronounced. You knew the sugar would have your back if things got dicey.
You also get a nice salad, a couple small scallion filled omelets, and some little meat dumplings called mandoo which resemble gyoza or pot stickers for those unfamiliar.
I’ve been utterly impressed with the Korean condiments served to me lately, so it was no wonder the banchan (which included kimchi) that came with my meal were the real heroes when the dust settled. I get positively anxious trying to guess what medley I’ll be served next. It’s like going to a Flight of the Conchords concert and getting a surprise two song sit in set from Bowie. You’ll be most likely be rewarded with a fantastic voyage including a seemingly unending list of wonderfully fermented products like cabbage, cucumber, bean sprouts, daikon, broccoli, zucchini, potato, apple, scallion, bean curd, and so on. Don’t ever let shyness or lack of veracity steer you away from trying new things. I’m usually the one being told what to do in a less than admirable way. This time I’ll take cue from Sgt. Slaughter and command you go to a well-respected Korean food hall or BBQ joint and ask for as much banchan as they have in stock. That’s an order food soldier!