I was recently planning a trip for someone interested in visiting L.A.
While discussing the details of the trip, my client stated that they wanted to stay in the part of Los Angeles that is "near everything". I closed my eyes for a moment and pictured the city and all of it's parts, then I opened my eyes and said, "Maybe we can narrow that down a bit".
For those of you who have never been to LA it can be hard to picture it's size, but it's sprawling.
Being an enormous city has it's ups and it's downs. Obviously, nobody walks in LA(a catchy lyric but also true), and the public transportation system is lacking. But if you don't mind driving clear across the city for dinner every night, your dining options are unbelievably varied and almost endless. And if you're looking for Korean food, boy are you in luck.
Los Angeles is home to Koreatown, which, in turn, is home to the largest population of Koreans in the US (and I've read outside of Korea but don't quote me on that). You can't swing a dead cat without finding some amazing Korean food in that town.
Of course we don't all live in LA. So when Nick and I were reminiscing about Los Angeles and it's amazing Korean fare, but were here in good 'ol Louisville, we headed to Lee's Korean hoping to feed our craving. I read that Lee's has been in operation for almost 30 years, so Nick and I were excited to try such a longstanding "ethnic" Louisville restaurant.
Lee's location is quite unexpected. The first floor of a large office building might be the last place you would expect to find this restaurant. But the minute you spot it, you feel like you're in on a secret.
The atmosphere inside was nice. It was clean and sparse with soft lighting. We were seated in a booth near a very cute faux paper wall.
We perused the menu and ordered some excellently priced Korean beer.
The menu offered many greatest hits. And as Nick and I perused the varieties of Bim Bop we ultimately decided to share a dish....a big dish.
We chose to share the Hae Mul Chon Gol...a seafood stew. It was presented table side, bubbling atop a hot plate, overflowing with octopus, shrimp, tofu, crab and fish. Also in the mix were deliciously plump noodles and a variety of veggies, all swimming in a spicy(ish) broth. Just before digging in our waitress kindly cut the long octopus tentacles into more manageable bites, and then we dug in.
The broth was rich and flavorful. When asked how spicy we wanted it, we basically told the waitress to "bring it on". We could have done with a bit more spice for our liking but the flavors were just delicate enough and the seafood sung.
The balance between soft seafood, crisp veggies and chewy noodles was wonderful and the ingredients were cooked well.
Between rich, seafood bites we munched on an array of banchan that was brought to the table. Probably the most commonly known type of banchan is kimchi, but there are dozens if not hundreds of varieties of banchan that can accompany a meal. Lee's banchan certainly weren't the best I've ever had but they were very good, nicely varied and offered a palate cleansing respite from the rich main course.
Service, unfortunately, seemed like it should be part of some horrible politically incorrect joke like, "How many Koreans does it take to run a restaurant". Table after table of people could wait no longer for their checks and had to hunt an employee down at the cash register. We had so much of our main course leftover that we asked for take away containers and almost didn't have the patience to wait the 20 mins to receive them.
Lee's prices were good. $30 for a two person bowl of seafood stew that could feed 4 is one heck of a deal if you ask me. The cuisine was yummy...not mind blowing but very yummy. And the atmosphere was nice. But the quickest way to have a meal leave a bad taste in your mouth is to end your dining experience with poor service and a long wait for the check.
As always I'm going to give Lee's the benefit of the doubt and suggest that they might have been understaffed that evening. And although I'm going to seek out a different Korean restaurant in town next time I've got a craving, I would recommend giving Lee's a try. If you've got some time to kill you and your date can take a yummy trip to Korea for under $50 and under the time it would take to fly there (maybe just).