Recently weÂ (Caryn’s thoughts in italics) were fortunate enough to be asked to review two Korean restaurants. We eagerly jumped on the opportunity to try a new cuisine (this was a first for both of us) and headed over toÂ Shilla, a Korean restaurant located in Korea Town, for a spin. Â If you aren’t familiar with K-Town, it is in the vicinity of 31st St through 36th St between 5th and 6th Ave. We walked into Shilla and I was surprised to see that the restaurant was two floors. Â We headed upstairs and saw several big groups together – so this is definitely a place where you could have a mini-reunion with your college friends or a birthday party, as there were tables of 10 people or so.
Since we were invited to the restaurant, we didn’t have to make any decisions about ordering because Shilla decided what they wanted to serve us. Â We started with a seafood scallion pancake ($15.95). Â To be honest, this was my least favorite dish. Â I took one bite and that was pretty much it. Â It had a real strong fish taste to it and was a little too eggy for my liking. I didn’t think it had a stronger fish taste than say, grilled calamari, and I liked that it was eggy. It reminded me of batter in some strange way and I love batter. It was also a little oily which I really enjoyed. Now that I’m reading the things I like: semi-strong seafood taste, eggy and oily, I can see how this might sound weird, but what can I say, I liked it!
The next two dishes though wereÂ unbelievableÂ and made up for the fishy pancake. Â We had a rice dish with vegetables – or its proper name, Gop Dol Bi Bim Bap ($12.95). Â So yea, call it rice with veggies because there is no way you’ll remember that name. Â They served this rice dish in a big stone pot with different vegetables thrown in – I remember spinach and I think mushrooms. Â I liked how as our waiter mixed up the dish together, the crunchy rice from the bottom got mixed in. Â It was a nice little added texture bonus. It also reminded me of the restaurant I miss so much from my FiDi days, Y’Organic and the rice bowl I used to get with my favorite vegetables. I wasn’t a fan of this dish. Yes, the flavors were good, but I didn’t like how some of the rice was soft and some was too sticky and chewy. I like differences in texture in food (like creamy and crunchy parts of mac and cheese), but this was too extreme for me. I’d get bits of soft rice and then these sticky wads of rice that took too long to break up in my mouth.
For me, the best part about the entire meal was the barbecue. Â Now I never had Korean barbecue until last weekend. Â At Shilla, there are gas grills built into tables. Â Our waiter got our grill going and placed the rib tips,Â a house specialty, on the grill and started cooking it table-side for us ($25.95). Â After he was done, he left it on the grill which allowed our meat to stay nice and warm. Â We were then given bibb lettuce which we could use as little wraps for our meat. Â We tossed in some sauce (there was a barbecue sauce, but not traditional BBQ sauce, this had a special flavor and tang to it) and some kimchi and we were good to go. Â The meat was incredibly flavorful and didn’t even need the sauce. Â I enjoyed the barbecue so much, that when there were two ribs left on the grill, I keptÂ eyingÂ them and finally asked Caryn if I could have them – I wasn’t going to let go of this opportunity (she was nice and handed them over to me). I really liked the barbecue too and would go back for it. I actually loved the accompanying barbecue sauce so I dumped it on my meat. It was a nice alternative to lettuce chicken wraps that I sometimes get as an app at Chinese restaurants. If you’re going to check out Shilla, this is a must-order.
At Korean restaurants, they typically serve different vegetables on the side. Â I didn’t try too many of them because I was focused on the meat, but I did enjoy the pickled cucumbers in a spicy sauce. Â I also sampled the cold mashed potatoes but thought it could use more salt. None of these are memorable for me, but I don’t think they’re meant to be standout stars anyway. It was nice to try a few bites of different items in between my fishy, eggy, oily pancake and barbecue.
Overall, I’d go back to Shilla, ideally with a big group to do Korean Barbecue. Â It’d be perfect for someone’s birthday dinner or a specialÂ occasionÂ - after all, Korean Barbecue isn’t super cheap (about $26) so it isn’t something you’d want to spend money on every weekend. Â Also, keep in mind that they cook the barbecue table side, so you may want to refrain from ordering this if having an awkward conversation at your table because your server will be listening (i.e., if you decide to break up mid-date). Thankfully this did not happen during our dinner date.The Basics Name: Shilla Location:37 W. 32nd St, between Broadway and 5th Who to bring: Groups, Friends Price: $$$ Overall: Â Judging on barbecue solely – 4 stars. Â If looking at the entire meal, probably 3 stars.