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A Perfect Parody of a San Diego Beer Bar

The Reader dines out at the Korea House

The Bool Ko Kee was tolerably good
The Bool Ko Kee was tolerably good

There is a certain kind of restaurant, and San Diego is full of them. They can be described on a continuum of “unexpectedly bad food in gorgeous surroundings” to “rot in rotten surroundings.” Now, there aren’t many places in this city which serve Korean food; the Korea House, 620 12th Avenue, is one, and it falls somewhere along this line of expectation-description. The Korea House is in a so-called “run-down” neighborhood, flanked on one side by a secondhand used junk store and on the other by something either opening or closing. There was no one on the street the Saturday night we visited the place. The front was attractively painted red and black, with a keep on truckin' figure added (truck drivers move on?) to the comer. The door opened, and we were faced with a perfect parody of a San Diego Brand Beer Bar: two 25 cents pool tables, a clientele which was not too unfriendly and looked like it would die there, and way in the back, a few tables. And there was, on a black letter-board, a list of Oriental Food, vaguely Korean.

The jukebox was well-stocked with as much Ike and Tina Turner and Conway Twitty (“She’s Not With The One She Loves”) as one would want, as well as with some genuine Oriental music - tunes like “Sukiyaki” and a number (very popular here) called “The Japanese Polka,” which is played to the tune of “If You’re Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands (clap, clap).” We were amused.

There were very few things to eat, but some were unusual. As a restaurant, the Korea House apparently made money on its breakfast specials - steak and eggs, 99 cents, etc. Much of Korean food is hot — spicy — and is made with red and green peppers, mustard greens, and other hot vegetables. The specialty of the house, however, was Bool Ko Kee, which was, as the menu told us, barbecued beef. It was served with rice and shredded lettuce, and was tolerably good (the beef was soaked in soy sauce, I suspect, and that accounted for its single-minded flavor). The wonton soup was fine, and so were the fried wontons (Jang Kuk Bob): very similar to the Chinese, but spicier. There was also a rice soup, spicy peppered beef, and something called Sasyme, which the waiting person (and cook, probably) bluntly described as “roughage.” All this was served on clean melamine, in an area lit by a small colored lantern and marked off by a number of green rubber sheets hung like shower curtains.

The jukebox switched to “Funkier Than A Mosquiter’s Tweeter” and most of the people at the bar started mouthing the words. One man shooting pool repeated everything he said twice, and almost hit our soups with his cue many times. Someone in the room screamed.

I wanted a real Korean dish, so I asked the waiting person for a small bowl of Kim Chee soup. She would not at first give it to me. “It’s too hot. Ahhg. It’s too hot.” I asked again, and again, and she left it on the table with a shrug and a grimace. It was too hot, but very good, with many vegetables soaked in a broth of red pepper and Kim Chee. It should be eaten last because you can’t taste anything after it. The whole meal was too expensive($5.00 per person) and somehow rather strange. We were asked to come back.

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The Bool Ko Kee was tolerably good
The Bool Ko Kee was tolerably good

There is a certain kind of restaurant, and San Diego is full of them. They can be described on a continuum of “unexpectedly bad food in gorgeous surroundings” to “rot in rotten surroundings.” Now, there aren’t many places in this city which serve Korean food; the Korea House, 620 12th Avenue, is one, and it falls somewhere along this line of expectation-description. The Korea House is in a so-called “run-down” neighborhood, flanked on one side by a secondhand used junk store and on the other by something either opening or closing. There was no one on the street the Saturday night we visited the place. The front was attractively painted red and black, with a keep on truckin' figure added (truck drivers move on?) to the comer. The door opened, and we were faced with a perfect parody of a San Diego Brand Beer Bar: two 25 cents pool tables, a clientele which was not too unfriendly and looked like it would die there, and way in the back, a few tables. And there was, on a black letter-board, a list of Oriental Food, vaguely Korean.

The jukebox was well-stocked with as much Ike and Tina Turner and Conway Twitty (“She’s Not With The One She Loves”) as one would want, as well as with some genuine Oriental music - tunes like “Sukiyaki” and a number (very popular here) called “The Japanese Polka,” which is played to the tune of “If You’re Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands (clap, clap).” We were amused.

There were very few things to eat, but some were unusual. As a restaurant, the Korea House apparently made money on its breakfast specials - steak and eggs, 99 cents, etc. Much of Korean food is hot — spicy — and is made with red and green peppers, mustard greens, and other hot vegetables. The specialty of the house, however, was Bool Ko Kee, which was, as the menu told us, barbecued beef. It was served with rice and shredded lettuce, and was tolerably good (the beef was soaked in soy sauce, I suspect, and that accounted for its single-minded flavor). The wonton soup was fine, and so were the fried wontons (Jang Kuk Bob): very similar to the Chinese, but spicier. There was also a rice soup, spicy peppered beef, and something called Sasyme, which the waiting person (and cook, probably) bluntly described as “roughage.” All this was served on clean melamine, in an area lit by a small colored lantern and marked off by a number of green rubber sheets hung like shower curtains.

The jukebox switched to “Funkier Than A Mosquiter’s Tweeter” and most of the people at the bar started mouthing the words. One man shooting pool repeated everything he said twice, and almost hit our soups with his cue many times. Someone in the room screamed.

I wanted a real Korean dish, so I asked the waiting person for a small bowl of Kim Chee soup. She would not at first give it to me. “It’s too hot. Ahhg. It’s too hot.” I asked again, and again, and she left it on the table with a shrug and a grimace. It was too hot, but very good, with many vegetables soaked in a broth of red pepper and Kim Chee. It should be eaten last because you can’t taste anything after it. The whole meal was too expensive($5.00 per person) and somehow rather strange. We were asked to come back.

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