Seoul searching, part 1

In case you missed it, my column that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald this week included a whirlwind visit to three local Korean restaurants, starting at Marina’s New Korea Restaurant. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.

When you eat out as often as I do, you sometimes wind up getting a little set in your ways. Without a little push — like an upcoming review — I find myself making the rounds of the usual suspects, my favorite restaurants around town.

When my friend and I were making dinner plans the other day, I started flicking through my mental list of those usual suspects. Mexican? French? Vietnamese? Italian? Burgers? Pizza?

I realized that they all felt so, well, usual. I wanted to venture off the beaten path — and that’s when my friend suggested Korean food. The light bulb went off.

I’m not sure why, but Korean food never really pings too strongly on my food radar. It’s rather surprising, considering I actually quite enjoy Korean cuisine.

Korean barbecue is so flavorful, perfectly sweet and spicy.

Korean barbecue is so flavorful, with meats marinated perfectly sweet and spicy, then grilled until they’re lightly charred and caramelized. The accompanying side dishes — little bowls of kimchi, bean sprouts, daikon, tofu and the like — make for a fun dinner combining different flavors with each bite.

And the side dishes make for nice complements to the barbecued meats.

And so this week’s column was born — my friend inspired me to go on a whirlwind tour of three Korean hot spots around town, and I’m sharing some my favorite dishes at each.

New Korea Restaurant

If you know where to look, there are a number of hidden gems tucked away in the strip malls and side streets of Marina. New Korea Restaurant definitely fits that bill — it’s hidden well off the main drag in a residential neighborhood.

New Korea Restaurant serves up some great Korean barbecue off the beaten path.

Sitting down for dinner, my mouth started watering for some Korean barbecue.

The Mae Woon Dak Bulgogi — marinated spicy barbecue chicken thigh ($13.99) — arrived on a sizzling hot plate. The aroma of sweet and spicy barbecue wafted to my nose and had me salivating. Thankfully my brain’s survival instinct had the good sense to tell me to put down my chopsticks and wait for the plate to cool before devouring the food.

The barbecue chicken was one of the best dishes of dinner at New Korea Restaurant.

The chicken had that light touch of smoky char that’s my favorite part of barbecue. And it was perfectly spicy — enough heat to tickle the back of my throat, but not too much to overpower the subtle barbecue flavors.

The barbecued Galbi were delicious too, though a tad tough.

The Galbi — marinated beef short ribs ($17.49) — were cut thin. The meat was a little tough, but I was willing to overlook this considering how flavorful the marinade was, with a nice depth of flavor.

Sadly, the squid were a little too tough, but the sauce was nice.

The only disappointment for me was the O-Jing Uh Bok-Eum — marinated pan-fried squid with vegetables ($11.99). The sauce was tangy with red chilies, but I thought the squid needed to be tenderized more. The tentacles in particular were awfully tough.

New Korea Restaurant is at 300 Carmel Avenue, Suite D, in Marina. 384-7171. www.yelp.com/biz/new-korea-restaurant-marina.

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