Oct. 24, 2012 - Issue #888: Winter Guide 2012
Give a whiff
Lee House earns its reputation for reliable Korean cuisine
But what is it? I confess a dire ignorance of Korean cookery's particulars. I've reveled frequently in its marinated and grilled meats, its hearty, kaleidoscopic soups, its crunchy bean sprouts and mountain vegetables, its crispy mundoo and quasi-tempura. But mostly I don't have a whiff about the means and modes of preparation.
Maybe that's why I decided it was time for a trip to Lee House—I leave Korean food to the pros. Eclipsed as most local Korean eateries are by the longevity and reputation of Bul Go Gi House, the House of Lee has nonetheless established a reputation for its house specialty—fried chicken shellacked with a distinctive sauce, livid crimson portions of which are conspicuous on almost every table.
Lee House does not stint selection-wise, but they make it easy on newbies by summarizing the house specialties on the first page of the menu. I had made my mind up ahead of time and didn't want to be confused by more choices. We had to wait a bit to be served, but we could see our young server laden with plates, whooshing through the tightly plotted floor-plan—she was run off her feet. Still, she managed a smile when she finally stopped at our table and quickly jotted our order: vegetable pancake ($9.95), bibimbap ($13.95) and the star of the show, gam poong gi ($16.95)—oh, and two bottles of Korea's favourite beer (for all I know), Hite ($4 each).
Things started, rightfully, with banchan—the assortment of vegetable sides (and rice) that are part of any Korean restaurant meal worth its sesame oil. Small metal bowls of crunchy beansprout salad, kim chi and pickled daikon kept our mouths amused in the short interval before the mains.
First out of the kitchen was the gam poong gi, the smaller version of Lee House's signature fried chicken, which is to say, balls. A low mound of exquisitely crisped—but not breaded—glistening spheres of chicken drenched in sweet, smoky, spicy barbecue sauce, adorned with minced carrot and sesame seeds, to be precise. Be warned though—the unique deliciousness of gam poong gi might permanently supplant cravings for chicken wings.
The bibimbap showed up soon after, with its attendant squeeze bottle of gochujang, the zesty red chili paste that makes bibimbap sing. Some assembly is required, as it arrives at your table as a bowl of steamed rice arrayed with distinct piles of julienned carrot, zucchini and cucumber, steamed spinach, bean sprouts and, in this case, a little dried seaweed, all topped with a sunny side-up egg. Your job is to gochujang it up how you like it, then mix everything together. Lee's is not the most phenomenal bibimbap I've ever had—a little bulgogi beef in there wouldn't hurt—but it covered all the bases and proved to be just the right amount for two people.
The vegetable pancake was a little tardy—I was already almost full of chicken balls—but was a tasty enough disc of eggy dough stuffed with carrot, zucchini, cabbage and lots of green onions. I'm usually not crazy about onion-filled things, but was untroubled by their profusion here, and the pancake made a nice starchy mop for gam poong gi sauce. The proprietor dropped by after we'd eaten about half to inform us the pancake was burned and we would not be charged for it. It might have been a tiny bit over done, but well within specs from my vantage, which just goes to show what I know about Korean food.
I do, however, know what I like and I've found it reliably at Lee House.
7904 - 104 St
780.438.0790 vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
Vue respects your privacy. We will not forward your personal information to any other organization except as required by law, and will use your e-mail address only to respond to your comments. We reserve the right to edit and remove comments for length, clarity and/or if they are illegal or inappropriate. Your email address is never shown to visitors to vueweekly.com. Read the whole policy at: http://vueweekly.com/privacy