By Linda Bladholm
Sushi Café is a Korean restaurant in transition. It is still known as Shilla, named after one of the three ancient kingdoms of Korea, yet the neon sign out front has the new name.
Folks flock here for the rolls and boats, yet the hidden gems are found on the Korean menu, served in an adjoining room divided by pagoda-like wood-cut panels that add a bit of charm and intrigue. Original owner Yang Hoon sold the restaurant four years ago to Harry Chung, a long-time employee from Hong Kong. She taught him the Korean dishes and he added sushi and vegetarian options, using tofu and soy protein "meats." He runs the place with the help of his wife and two sons.
Korean food is a home-based, multidish feast that has translated slowly to restaurants. Korean places are fairly few and far between in South Florida, so it’s worth a trek to West Dade to try the authentic dishes here.
Go with a group of friends and try a communal hot pot (called casserole) at one of the four tables with gas burners. Everything is served with mit banchan, little side dishes that can cover a table in saucers of kimchi (pickled cabbage), cucumber slices tossed with vinegar and sesame oil, sweet shredded daikon radish and carrot, and bean sprouts with sesame seeds in hot sauce.
A must-try is bibim bap in a sizzling stone pot. This brings a bowl of slightly sticky medium-grain rice scattered with vegetables including gosali (fiddlehead fern) topped with a fried egg and sprinkled in bits of nori seaweed. A meat version adds marinated, stir-fried beef boolgogi and can be spiced up with gochu-jang (hot chile paste) — or just use soy sauce mixed with sesame oil.
Koreans use flat, long-handled spoons to eat rice and the various soups served with it and chopsticks for handling other foods. Use those spoons to dig into any number of soups. Soon dubu is a specialty, a spicy tofu hot pot with squid and shrimp or vegetables, fish and egg. As a side, have sengsunjeon, fried pancakes with green onions and bits of flaked fish or fried oysters with thick, tangy-sweet tonkatsu sauce.
Other choices include marinated ribs; beef, pork, or chicken cooked at the table; pan-fried dumplings; broiled abalone with rice; seafood ramen soup and mixed vegetables with cold noodles and beef broth.
Fruit (canned longan and lychees) is the traditional dessert, but you can also get Thai doughnuts with fried ice cream. Mani deuseyo! (Bon appetit!)
Shilla Korean Restaurant/Sushi Cafe, 7917 NW Second St., Miami (off the Flagler exit of the Palmetto near the Mall of the Americas). 305-261-4266.
Hours: 11 a.m-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon-10 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Appetizers $4.95, sizzling grills $10.95–$16.95, casseroles $9.95-$13.95, stone pot rice $8.95-$9.95.
FYI: Lunch specials $7.95 with rice and vegetable. Catering and delivery available.
Linda Bladholm’s latest book is Latin and Caribbean Grocery Stores Demystified.