Korean restaurant finds S. Toledo location worthy of its fare

  • FEA-Korea-Na-shrimp

    Korea Na shrimp.

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  • Korea Na stone bowl.
    Korea Na stone bowl.

    Korea Na shrimp.
    Korea Na shrimp.

    Korea Na is settled in at its new digs, the longtime location of the revered Fifi’s and Fifi’s Reprise. With the interior largely unchanged (the baby grand is on the upper level), it seems to be a comfortable fit and a step up for the Kims, who moved their restaurant this year less than two miles from Reynolds Road to this elegant space just off Airport Highway.

    The handsome Kims — she, the inspired, if unschooled, cook; he, the gracious host/manager — took the opportunity to expand the menu, hiring a talented sushi chef who holds court on an elevated bar in the main dining area. (Note the large abstract wood piece above the sushi bar, made by Mr. Kim. He can also serenade a guest with Happy Birthday on his sax.)

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    The servers at Korea Na will provide suggestions for the first-timer who has graciously accompanied a more adventurous diner, and Chef Sam Kim, a native of South Korea, will do her best to accommodate.

    Korean food celebrates the palate’s colorful palette, from spicy/salty/pickled kim chee cabbage to neutral miso soup, from delicious cuts of beef to baked eel. Dishes are often related to other Asian fare, particularly Japanese and Chinese.

    Korea Na

    Restaurant Sushi Bar and Lounge

    ★ ★ ★ ★

    Address: 1423 Bernath Pkwy.

    Phone: 419-867-8080.

    Category: Business casual.

    Menu: Korean/Japanese.

    Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 12:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

    Reservations for parties of six or more.

    Wheelchair access: Yes.

    Average Price: $ lunch; $$ to $$$ dinner

    Credit Cards: AE, Dis, MC, V.

    Web site: koreanatoledo.com and Facebook

    Seventeen appetizers include spring and egg rolls, dumplings, rice cakes, and tempura. And who else has an edamame appetizer ($3.95, boiled young soy beans in the pod)? Yes, it’s a vegetarian-friendly place.

    Terrific sushi (the menu has 16 house rolls) is served on long, narrow plates and is suitable as a meal for one or an appetizer for two or three. They’re East-meets-West concoctions as are their names (Toledo Samurai, One Night Stand Roll). Dynamite Roll ($15.25) is barely tempuraed, with spiced tuna, cream cheese, avocado, and a bit of baked crab and scallop on top. If you’re heat-averse, relish it with ultra-thin slices of young ginger on the end of the plate but avoid the wad of green wasabi, a strong horseradish blend for the brave of mouth.

    Another sushi delight is The Vermonter ($12.95), which seems to have too many ingredients but it works: fresh salmon; peppered, seared tuna (beefy in appearance and texture); garlic aioli; a sprinkle of Vermont cheddar; a bite of apple in the center; maple syrup (couldn’t taste it); curry powder, and tempura onion that’s so good I may never eat deep-fried onions again.

    In addition to appreciating spices, Koreans love beef as much as Yanks do, and the recommendable kalbi ($20.95) is short ribs cut in thin slices across the bone. Here, they’re marinated in a sweet fruit sauce which gently overlays the flavor of beef. A large portion arrives on a cast-iron platter shaped like a resting steer.

    Delicious dolsot bibim bap ($14.95) is a stone bowl full of rice, veggies, and a protein (choices include tofu). So hot are the big bowl and its ingredients that when an egg is broken on top and along the sides, it cooks, and the diner mixes it together for a scrumptious result that must be as comforting to Koreans as vegetable/beef stew is to us.

    Veggies are slightly seasoned and sauteed, and red-chili paste is on the side. We alternated the paste with soy sauce. 

    Dinner came with six sides in small bowls for sharing. Four were mild: seasoned green beans and broccoli, tempura zucchini, and fish noodles. Spicy were kim chee, and even spicier were crunchy daikon radish cubes.

    There also are several soups, stews, and noodle dishes and a tempura entree.

    One recent day at lunch we were the sole table. A dozen selections ($9.95 to $12.95) range from barbecue ribs, pork, and seafood, to veggies and teriyaki salmon, beef, and chicken. They’re presented in an attractive bento box (a six-compartment wooden tray) with the entree in one compartment and the others filled with uniformly good salad (house-made ginger dressing is wonderful), dumplings, California rolls, rice, veg tempura. Miso soup is on the side.

    Korea Na beef.
    Korea Na beef.

    My salmon entree was thin and fairly tender. Thumbs up for the seafood and tangy pork bulgogi boxes, too.

    There are aromatic hot teas and lovely, barely sweet mango sorbet ($3.95).

    This isn’t a kid’s place, but there are two items for small fry.

    Compliments to Nikki and Nolan for professional table service.

    Note: All foods can also be prepared to go.