Smile Politely

Beautiful, hearty takeout from Spoon House Korean Kitchen hits the spot

I’ve had a crazy love for Korean food ever since friends in grad school introduced me.  Fortunately, Champaign-Urbana has several great options for me to get my fill. Until now, my go-to Korean restaurants have been Masijta Grill and Good Fella. However when my lovely editor pointed out a new contender, the Spoon House Korean Kitchen, I had to give them a try.

A picture of the storefront of the Spoon House Korean kitchen as seen from Green Street. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

At the time I sampled their food, the restaurant was only doing takeout and delivery orders, so we ordered our food through Grubhub. I wanted to try a little bit of everything, so I included a mix of beef, chicken, seafood, and noodle dishes. The names of some of the items looked a little different between the restaurant’s online menu and the offerings on Grubhub. If you’re looking to cross-reference the items, using the item numbers would be the most reliable way to find them.

A top-down view of five entrees in black plastic trays plus rice in a clear plastic container placed on a white table. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

Our (reasonably large) order arrived on time, and we were immediately struck by how neatly and beautifully the dishes were plated. Someone had taken a lot of care plating each dish, and it showed.

Brown beef short ribs with green onions and white sesame seeds on top in a black, three-compartment tray. Other compartments feature dumplings and sprouts. The tray is on a white table. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

Even with the large range of items on hand, I had my priorities. I went straight for the gal bi ($24.80, #16), grilled beef short ribs. The short ribs were garnished with sesame seeds and green onions. The flavor was on point with the sweet, sesame oil marinade. The meat was not as tender as I expected from a marinated short rib but was not unpleasant. It gave my teeth something to work with. On the side, the dish featured sesame oil-tossed sprouts, pickled ginger, and two fantastically delicious (pork-filled?) fried dumplings. Next time, I’m ordering a whole plate of those dumplings — and I don’t intend to share.

A red-hued mixture of octopus, rice cakes, and vegetables in the large compartment of a black, three-compartment tray. Other compartments feature dumplings and sprouts. The tray is on a white table. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

Next, I dug into the spicy octopus ($14.80, #45) served over glass noodles. The octopus was perfectly cooked; it had a chew to it, as expected, without feeling like leather. The slices of rice cakes tossed with the octopus were similarly chewy and paired well. This dish incorporated a generous quantity of gochujang (Korean pepper paste) and was definitely high on the spice scale for me. Similar to the gal bi, the spicy octopus came with pickled ginger, fried dumplings, and sprouts on the side. I found that topping the octopus with the sprouts and pickled ginger introduced a welcome crunch and sharpness to this dish.

Fried chicken pieces coated in a golden crust with a shiny sauce in the large compartment of a two-compartment tray. The second (smaller) compartment features a tomato and lettuce salad with a pink dressing. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

For my next sampling, I had to fight the tray of fried chicken, dakkangjung ($13.80, #40), back from my son. I’m so glad I did. This dish was phenomenal: a true crowd-pleaser. The crust on the fried chicken was unlike any crust I’ve experienced before. It was thick but light and airy with a very satisfying crunch.  A salty-sweet sticky sauce found its way into the craggy crust, dripping off each piece. On the side, this fried chicken was served with a no-nonsense lettuce and tomato salad dressed in thousand island. It was so simple and so good. I’ll be going back for more of this.

A red seafood noodle soup with large mussel shells in a black plastic bowl. The bowl sits atop a white table. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

Of all the dishes we ordered, the seafood noodle soup, jjam bbong ($13.50, #34), was the only one we found bland. I ordered it hot and spicy, but the predominant flavors were chiles and mussels. We all agreed this dish would have had more potential if it wasn’t underseasoned. Similar to the octopus dish, the seafood was cooked well. The meat in the mussels still had a buttery quality to them, and the shrimp was tender. Also, the noodles (packed separately) hit that sweet spot somewhere in between al dente and too soft.

Light brown clear noodles with orange matchstick carrots, green onions, and white sesame seeds. The noodles are in a round, black container sitting atop a white table. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

I fell in love with jap-chae ($11.50, #31) the first time I tried it, and this version from the Spoon House was no exception to that love. There’s something so satisfying about glass noodles slick with sesame oil, giving it that perfect slurpability. Toss in stir-fried veggies and the earthy, meaty perfume of shitake mushrooms, and you have pure comfort food alchemy. I ordered this dish sans meat (vegetarian option) but didn’t miss the meat at all. I’d go back for this jap-chae over and over again.

The surprise hit from our order was the rice that came with the gal bi and dakkangjung. It was not the sticky rice that we’ve come to expect from most Asian restaurants. It found a Goldilocks realm, somewhere in between long-grain and short-grain with a wonderful (jasmine?) aroma. It was delightful on its own and with the dishes.

Spoon House Korean Kitchen
616 E Green St
11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., daily

Top image by Tias Paul.

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