I’m writing this the day before voters (hopefully) send Donald Trump back to the Las Vegas asylum from which he escaped two years ago. But if things go as planned, another lunatic, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, will show Hillary his ass in Trump’s stead. He plans to launch a missile in the direction of Guam, just to remind us that North Korea is on the verge of full nuclear weaponry.
Fine. Whatever. In fact, you should celebrate Hillary’s election and pay homage to Jong by dining at the new Char Korean Bar and Grill (299 N. Highland Ave., 404-525-2427, www.charatlanta.com). The restaurant’s menu includes meals named after Jong and his deceased father and brother. There’s also a portrait in the bathroom. You would be right to note very dry satire – so dry that I could not follow staffers’ explanations of some of it.
Char’s owner is Richard Tang, who was involved in the opening of Craft Izakaya at Krog Street Market. Specializing in Korean barbecue, Char opened in September and seems to have encountered serial impediments. It didn’t have a pouring license when it opened. Then its chef, Ryan Catherall, disappeared and was replaced by the sous chef, Shaun Byun. Then the city extinguished the restaurant’s traditional table-top grills. They’ll be back in use, I’m sure, but their absence created a long wait while the kitchen grilled everything.
The small but dense, six-page menu here is divided into starters, specialties like bibimbap and garlic shrimp, and plates of barbecue-grilled meats. The problem was that I could never get a straight answer out of our server as to whether, say, a bowl of the bibimbap was adequate as an entrée. He kept directing our attention to the combo plates of grilled meats. This is what we were inclined to order anyway, but he insisted we order the $60 plate plus the $120 plate. The featured meats were marinated short ribs, bulgogi, brisket, pork belly, spicy pork, and tongue. These were all spectacularly tender and each was individual enough in flavor that they didn’t melt into one big meaty taste.
The combos are served with unlimited banchan – the traditional, mainly pickled vegetables that are usual with Korean meals. The variety isn’t as great as I’ve had at many restaurants, but the quality couldn’t be better. That means nothing tasted like it had been sitting in a five-gallon jar for three years. There’s plenty of kimchi, of course. It was mild and, unfortunately, there was nothing on the table that had much of a spicy kick.
You are free to eat these meats and condiments as you like. The restaurant provides a mound of lettuce leaves in which to roll the meat with the banchan, rice, and a touch of three sauces available. Or you can eat the meat over rice. Personally, I do not think the five of us needed $180 of meat. I think the $120 plate and a couple of apps would have worked fine.
Of course, being too full to waddle didn’t keep us from accepting the restaurant’s offer of free dessert because of the long wait for our food. A fried twinkie with “strawberry fluid gel and double chocolate milk” doesn’t sound very tempting, but it vanished.
I think the restaurant’s still got some kinks to work out, but the only Korean barbecue in the area that comes close is at Breakers in Duluth, where you won’t spend quite as much and you get an all-you-can-eat pass.