When Koshi last fall opened in Summerville, its owners planned to offer an all-Korean menu, perhaps accented by a few hibachi plates. In deference to customer demand, they ended up installing a sushi bar, which now handles about half of the restaurant orders.
Fortunately, general manager John Choi and chef Jung Lee – both alums of Tsunami’s downtown location -- didn’t entirely give up on Korean cooking. In an area where Korean food is scarce, Choi and Lee have established a much-needed kimchi-and-noodles outpost.
Koshi is the third Korean restaurant in the greater Charleston area, if Mama Kim’s on King Street qualifies on the basis of its bulgogi bowls. The local standard-setter is Ko Cha in West Ashley, more than 18 miles from Koshi’s front door.
Because of the distance, it’s somewhat silly to compare the two restaurants: When a craving strikes, most folks will likely just opt for the nearest bibimbop. But my very preliminary conclusion – based solely on Koshi’s kimchi pancake and jjambbong, a spicy Korean-Chinese soup – is that the food at Koshi is a little less nuanced. The trade-off is that Koshi makes up for any sophistication deficits with blatant heat, which is a welcome surprise in a Lowcountry restaurant.
According to a Koshi server, Lee’s Korean-born mother stops by the restaurant every week or so to make kimchi and other banchan, the small dishes that serve as condiments and complements to a traditional Korean meal. Fried into a brick-red pancake, the rough-cut kimchi is alluringly potent.
Other starters on the menu include squid salad and mandoo, or beef dumplings. Koshi also serves jjajangmyeon, a Korean-Chinese black-bean noodle dish beloved by Koreans; japchae; kimchi stew and kalbi ribs.
The only available hot pot is budae jjigae, a culinary vestige of the hungry years that followed the Korean War. Using provisions from U.S. army bases, Korean cooks devised a kimchi soup with hot dogs, Spam and American cheese; the resulting soup is sometimes referred to Johnson Tang, in honor of LBJ. Koshi describes its version as a “slow-cooked stew with sausages, vegetables and noodles.”
Located in the former Red Leaf Bistro at 9770 Dorchester Road, Koshi is open daily from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. For more information, call 821-4641.