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Korean made easy

The new Palace Restaurant is a must try

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ANNOUNCER: For most of us, Korean cuisine can be difficult to like. First of all, it is the cuisine that gave the world kimchi — the notoriously stinky, fermented cabbage that is an essential part of any Korean meal and an acquired taste at best. Then there is the fact that so few Korean restaurants bother to Americanize. Most cater to Koreans only, so in reality there is little need to do so.  But this is a healthful style of cooking and quite delicious to boot.

JAKE: Palace Restaurant and Cafe is no exception. Born this fall in the former Papaya Sports Bar on South Tacoma Way, it is one of the more inviting, visually, of the two dozen or so Korean restaurants in Lakewood’s Korean Town. The open concept décor mixes dark woods, purple and yellow halogen lighting, and modern touches with hokey red ribbons on plants, Korean advertisements and Korean programming on large plasma screens. On a recent lunch, there were around a dozen Korean men wearing golf hats, who had apparently just finished playing 18, and several groups of Korean businesswomen.  I was the only Caucasian but felt welcomed.

JASON:  I love Korean food.  I mean LOVE.  It sits on the top of my Asian varieties pyramid. I love the barbecue.  I love kimchi.  Palace Restaurant doesn’t disappoint. This attractive bi-level Korean treat sits on South Tacoma Way close to Kyoto Japanese restaurant. And although it doesn’t do much to attract Westerners, the staff doesn’t look put out whenever I grace the Palace.  I don’t buy into any notion that Lakewood screams dining segregation. I’m a man about town and sample as many different cultures as I can.  And never have I felt discriminated against or imposing on anyone’s culture or turf in Lakewood’s Korean Town.

JAKE: Was that a public service announcement?  Are you doing Geico next?

I did feel a bit weird sitting around the horseshoe style bar.  It’s retro with space-age like stools, and the exotic drinks are killer, but the Korean drinkers stared at me like I was George Jetson.

JASON: Rut roh.

JAKE: The Palace serves an array of sojo (Korean vodka-like liquor), which sent me into the outer limits. OK, moving on.

The Palace’s menu is divided between noodle dishes, seafood, chicken, barbecue, lunch boxes and casseroles. The casseroles take 25 minutes to prepare so they prefer you call ahead.  I never remember to call. They sound delicious — kimchi and meat in a hot sauce.  I wonder if there are potato chips sprinkled on top.

Beef tends to be the main attraction at the Palace. With almost any entree you order, you also will get pa’chan — around 10 side dishes filled to the brim with kimchi, rice, house soup, yellow bean sprouts, pickled onion and tasty, tangy naengmyon — those chewy, cold buckwheat noodles. The boneless barbecue chicken arrived mountain size and quite tasty.

JASON: The menu is informative as well as complete.  Items are in both Korean and English, so I know what I am eating.  Korean cuisine doesn’t wade far beyond mainstream ingredients, so there’s no need to worry you’ll order something that will make you queasy.  And for as much as is written about kimchi, once you try it, you’ll wonder what all of the fuss is about.  It’s not weird.

JAKE: There are at least two dishes not to miss here, and they have a broader appeal than most of the others. Japchae are clear, bean-thread vermicelli noodles, sautéed and then served in an enormous tangle. Mingled in the pile are lots of beef and a few cut vegetables. It makes a delicious lunch.

Mandu are boat-shaped dumplings with meat filling, which can be ordered in soup or deep-fried.

JASON: On my first visit, I ordered my favorite — the Korean barbecue (short ribs).  This Korean dish is on my top 10 of favorite foods (spaghetti is number one in case you wondered).  The Palace keeps the short ribs on my top 10.  The sweet soy-sugar and garlic sauce is seared into the meat.  The quality of cut is what you’d expect from a place charging $12.  The only difference here is the short ribs are flaming hot.  I think I left my fingerprints on the bones.

JAKE: I’m a bit disappointed that I couldn’t indulge in the current fad in Korean barbecue restaurants — duk bo sam, which means that along with your heaps of raw short ribs and piles of foliage, you are issued stacks of oiled rice noodles, about the size and shape of beer coasters, with which you can wrap grilled meat into plump little tacos.  I suppose I could pretend with the Palace’s kimchi pancake — a thin mass of egg batter laced with fermented cabbage, lashed together with scallions and then fried to an exquisite, oily crispness. The greasy heat of the things is enough to power you through an entire double-size bottle of Korean Hite beer.

Palace Restaurant and Café

Where: 8718 S. Tacoma Way, Lakewood, 253.581.0880

When: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

Scene: Attractive, open bi-level space with dark woods, two plasma screens, mostly Korean diners (good sign) and friendly staff.  You’ll need to take the bill to the counter to pay.

Menu: Typical Korean selections with a couple of steaks, an omelette and spaghetti.  The barbecue is a sure thing. 

Drinkies: Full bar with exotic cocktails, Korean liquor and beer

Damage: Lunch boxes are $7-$8, entrees range $7-$15, casseroles $22-$26, and two complete meal choices are $24-$28.

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