Koshi brings more Korean food to Charleston area

Koshi has closed, but Hana could pick up where the Summerville restaurant left off. 

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.