Few things excite Tristan as much as a trip to his favorite restaurant in Charlottesville, Korean House. Except maybe giving him a jar of kimchi.
When you first walk into the restaurant, it doesn't look like much: one giant, sparsely decorated room with an open kitchen featuring a small television in the corner playing Korean soap operas, partially furnished with orange chairs that look like they came from a high school cafeteria. But it's easy to like once the adorable Korean grandmother gently puts her loving hand on your shoulder, takes your order, and heaps food upon your table. ...Or maybe that's just me because familial love is so lacking in my life.
First there was the water. Or "water." It had just the faintest flavor of something grainy—corn tortillas, to be exact. And now I know there's such a thing as corn tea, or oksusu cha. It tastes alright—I'd add sugar to it if I were making it at home.
The banchan came in great quantities: pickled vegetables, non-pickled vegetables, flat fish cakes, sweet, crunchy seaweed flake things. When one dish ran low, a waitress would come by to replace it with another. Score.
We shared a large order of vegetable mandoo (about 15 pieces it seems; the menu doesn't say). Light, crispy skins were filled with chopped greens and noodly bits. I'd happily eat a whole plate of these.
Ryan was the first to receive his entrée, the haemul (seafood) pajun with a side of...scissors? Every time I've eaten pajun it had come precut, but here you could cut out the portion you wanted. The pajun wasn't bad—it was chock full of seafood and scallion goodness—but not one of my favorites either; I like them a bit crispy on the outside while this one was mostly soft.
I ordered the jajangmyun , an originally Chinese dish (not that I've ever had the Chinese version) of thick wheat noodles mixed with a viscous black soybean paste-based sauce (that will probably get all over your mouth as you suck up the noodles) and chunks of onion and pork. The sauce had a mild flavor—a little sweet and savory, not strongly one or the other. It tasted good, but not so good that I'd want to finish the tub-like bowl that must've held at least four servings.
Tristan's favorite dish, ssal dukbokki, consisted of sliced rice cakes, shredded carrot, onion, fish cake, cabbage, and bean noodles smothered in hot pepper sauce. I liked its mix of textures, mostly the springy chewiness of the rice cakes. It also benefits from coming in a small and large size—if you have a normal-sized stomach, get the small.
I didn't take a photo of everyone's dish—it gets annoying after a while—but everyone enjoyed their food, even if that didn't always mean finishing the huge portions. My favorite un-photographed dish was Lihan's Korean ramyun, a cold noodle soup with very thin bean noodles in a spicy horseradish-flavored broth.
The meal ended with an unprecedented event: each of us was given our own check. We didn't even ask for them to split it; they just knew. It was a nice rest for my mathematically challenged brain. And I'm sure it'll never happen so easily again.
At my insistence, we went to Splendora's Gelato Cafe for dessert. The shop had a line out the door, although it was no more crowded than the rest of the Downtown Mall on that late Friday night. People...everywhere...
I tried samples of pistachio, hazelnut, and a few other flavors while trying to figure out what I wanted. Unfortunately, the pistachio tasted more of almond and the hazelnut wasn't anything special. When I reached the end of the gelato case, I impulsively went with cinnamon and pineapple. The cinnamon was surprisingly good—not too sweet with just enough flavor, except near the end of the scoop when the flavor kind of died out—but the pineapple was too sweet and reminded me of pineapple-flavored candy. Its texture was also airy compared to the cinnamon's, not something I want in gelato.
Lee Anne had more success with her cup of chocolate and lemon. Neither flavor was too sweet, although I would've liked the lemon more if it had been more tart instead of bitter.
Splendora's seemed hit or miss—nut flavored gelatos were pretty "meh," and the sorbets weren't bad—although I couldn't known for sure unless I tried every flavor. ...Don't think I wouldn't want to.