Venture into culinary delights of Korea at Kim Chi Bistro

Kimchi and I go way back. The spicy Korean pickled cabbage, I mean, not the restaurant. When I was a kid, my father would often open a jar of the stuff and the acrid smell would haunt me for days. Probably he just wanted a tasty snack, but it was hard not to take it as a personal affront.

Now I am older and wiser and understand that kimchi belongs with fish sauce, shrimp paste and durian in that indispensable category of foods from Asia that smell terrible and taste great. In fact, my father and I have come to enough of an understanding over this issue that I took him out to dinner at Kim Chi Bistro, the Korean restaurant that opened on Broadway late last year.

It's a small restaurant, tucked into a windowless corner of the Alley building near Olive Way, and the menu is necessarily a Korean greatest-hits collection. It's also a work-in-progress. When the place first opened, nearly every dish had beef in it. Now, there are vegetarian options like the udon ($7.99), a hot stone bowl full of vegetable noodle soup. And beef can be omitted from many entrees where it's not a star player.

One such dish is bi bim bap ($8.99), which also features a sizzling hot stone bowl, this time filled with rice and topped with beef, assorted vegetables and a raw egg. You add hot sauce to taste and stir. Then wait a minute or two while the egg cooks and the rice becomes crispy against the hot bowl. The rice can then be peeled off in strips with your spoon.

Beef or no, this is a magnificent dish.

A lunch special runs from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and features many of the dinner-menu items, a little cheaper and served with rather weak miso soup. At lunch and dinner, kimchi and other pickled dishes, called panchan, are complimentary. Lightly marinated bean sprouts are a common offering, as are cubes of cooked potato with sesame seeds, a Korean potato salad.

Service is swift but could be more attentive — once your entrees are served, it can be hard to get a full water glass. The place seems a bit understaffed.

My sense is that there are still many people out there who enjoy spicy Asian food but have never gone out for Korean. Kim Chi Bistro, with its emphasis on classics, would be a good place to start.

Check please

Gyoza: Ever since the demise of Broadway's Ezo Noodle Cafe, I've been mourning the loss of its gyoza (potstickers). Kim Chi's aren't quite as good, but they're close: small pork dumplings steamed and pan-fried crisp on one side. The mild dipping sauce needs to be saltier and more tangy.

Jap chae: A superb rendition of one of the great Asian noodle dishes.

Cellophane noodles are stir-fried with vegetables and beef in a garlic sauce. The sauce stains the noodles dark orange so they seem to announce how deeply flavored the dish will be.

Yuk gae jang: I used to frequent a New York chicken chain whose hot sauce had varying levels of spicy going up to "R.I.P. Death." They'd have to add a level if they wanted to serve this beef noodle soup. The broth is fire-engine red, and when you take a bite, you'll hear sirens.

If you can handle this level of heat, the soup is delicious.

Pork bulkogi: Slices of pork are grilled and painted with a spicy garlic sauce, then served on a sizzling platter with onions. Lean pork would dry out under these circumstances, so Kim Chi Bistro doesn't use lean pork. I call this an advantage.

Itemized bill, meal for two

Gyoza $4.25

Jap chae $7.99

Yuk gae jang $6.99

Pork bulkogi $9.95

Tax $2.71

Total $31.89

Matthew Amster-Burton:

Kim Chi Bistro

219 Broadway E., Seattle, 206-323-4472




Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily.

No liquor license / credit cards: V, MC / no obstacles to access / no smoking.