Restaurant Review: KoreanaBy Daniel Metz
154-158 Prospect St., Cambridge
Dinner Entrees $7.95-$65.95
At first glance, the inside of Koreana on Prospect Street, a ten-minute walk east of Central Square, looks like an after- school pizza joint. But don't let the little, numbered wooden booths and the top-40 music fool you: This is a serious restaurant with a skilled kitchen. And while the prices don't match the decor, the food is worth it.
Koreana's menu is impressively wide as well as deep. A great variety of meats, fish, poultry and noodles are prepared in many different ways, so much so that if you arrive particularly hungry, perusing the eight-page menu may seem a bit of a chore. Delectable short ribs, tripe, oxtail, pork, cod, monkfish, salmon, squid, and a variety of shellfish are some of the dishes offered. Preparation styles include braised, steamed, boiled, and barbecued, in soups or hotpots, pan- or deep-fried the combinations are almost confusing. Sushi and sashimi are offered either a la carte or in platters that range from $15.95 to $65.95. Unfortunately, Koreana does not offer a bountiful selection of vegetarian dishes of seven choices, some differ in only one ingredient.
Our meal began with five little bowls containing sesame-flavored spinach, crunchy bean sprouts, red, fiery-hot cabbage, two pieces of delicious scallion and carrot pancake, and some fairly bland and disappointing green beans, all with a sesame soy sauce for dipping. These dishes stimulated our appetites and mitigated our feeling that the prices here were a bit inflated. Our appetizers included the Yaki Gyoze ($4.95), five very fresh, plump, and juicy, if slightly greasy, pan-fried beef dumplings, and the Fish Pancake ($4.95), three patties of white fish with egg batter the size of IHOP silver dollar pancakes, which was very fresh tasting, if not very spiced.
When our server brought our entrees, he offered to bring out more condiments, which we happily accepted. Those little dishes are great by themselves, but were even better complementing our hot entrees. And it was with the entrees that Koreana's kitchen really shined. Unlike the bulgogi (thinly-sliced beef, marinated and barbecued) we've had at many other Korean restaurants, Koreana's bulgogi was without a hint of gristle or fat, and its intense garlic flavor made it far and away the best we've sampled. For this quality, it was almost worth the $13.95 price. The Kalbi Tang ($10.95) is a dish of traditional Korean short ribs. Pulled short-rib meat fills the bowl, along with noodles, scallions, and turnips, all stewing in one of the richest broths I've ever tried. Many restaurants make their watery broths "rich" by adding oil, but here the marrow-filed beef bones did that work.
If dinner is slightly overpriced at Koreana, the lunch specials look like great bargains. The Koreana Special (A) includes bulgogi, fried dumplings, and 2 pieces each of sushi and sashimi for $8.95, or you can get bulgogi alone for $6.95. One dollar more gets you some beef short ribs as well. All of these dishes are served with salad, miso soup, rice, and a soft drink. Sushi and sashimi are much less expensive for lunch, where you can get a meal of either for under eight dollars.
The tasty food at Koreana is complemented by helpful and attentive service. And its convenient location so close to Central Square means that I'll be back to sample more from its great kitchen.