I spent most of my childhood in Korea, and when I came to the U.S. over a decade ago to start college, I had a tough time adjusting to the American diet. I was used to (read: spoiled) having delicious, authentic Korean food all the time. 24/7. My mom was notorious for serving kimchi fried rice and OJ for breakfast in the morning. In grade school, I was the kid with a do-shi-rak (Korean bento box) full of stinky Korean food, sitting smack in the middle of PB&J-with-no-crust Johnny and bologna-with-mayo-on-white-bread Sally. Needless to say, no one ever offered to trade something in their lunchbox with me. Oh well, more for me!
Anyway, while the Seattle area does have a strong Korean community, most of the good restaurants and specialty stores are located a good drive away. So I was thrilled to hear a new Korean restaurant had recently opened downtown, literally steps away from my office at Pike Place Market. My bestie and fellow half-Korean Stacy (author of Does It Come With Bacon) and I immediately booked reservations.
Cha:n, located in the courtyard of the Inn at the Market on 1st Ave & Stewart St, prepares traditional Korean flavors and ingredients using modern techniques to offer a unique dining experience. The menu is split into two sections – traditional and modern – and offers small shareable plates at a very reasonable price ($14 or less). Chef/owner Heong Soon Park told us this fusion concept is his way of making Korean food more approachable for those less familiar with the cuisine. Because let’s be honest, some things are definitely an acquired taste, like kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage). Park also incorporates fresh, seasonal ingredients from the Market and other Northwest vendors such as Painted Hills Farm.
When we first walked in, we were greeted by two very enthusiastic staff members at the bar — restaurant manager Fox and bartender Nikki. I must have had the “mama-needs-a-cocktail” look on my face because they didn’t hesitate handing over the drink menu, which has an array of unique concoctions made with traditional Korean alcohol like soju (rice wine). I started with the ”Kor” Royale, made with Bokbunja, my favorite Korean raspberry wine. I also tried the Sojito, a spin on the mojito with soju and housemade lemonade, and ended with a decadent cocktail that Nikki referred to as the “brown sugar-ginger-soju” martini.
When we sat down at the table for dinner, we had a hard time narrowing down our options — everything on the food menu made me salivate, and not to mention, very homesick. Stacy and I finally decided on two items from each side of the menu. From the traditional side we ordered:
Mung bean kimchi pancake
and the spicy kimchi pork belly with poached tofu:
I wasn’t a huge fan of the kimchi pancake as it tasted pretty bland. The kimchi pork belly, on the other hand, was my favorite of all the dishes we tried. I loved the contrast in flavors and textures in this dish.
From the modern side of the menu, we tried:
Bulgogi beef sliders with cucumber kimchi
and the kimchi bacon paella cheese gratin (!!!)
Both of these dishes were superb. I especially loved that despite the combination of so many ingredients, you could still taste every layer of flavor. The sliders would make the perfect food for entertaining guests. And the kimchi bacon paella cheese gratin – ummm hello new favorite comfort food! Anything that combines kimchi, bacon and cheese is a-OK by me!
Just as we finished up our last few bites, Fox stopped by and insisted we had the ginger creme brûlée for dessert. I’m not a big fan of ginger so I was a little hesitant to have it in a dessert, but I wasn’t one to turn down a nice gesture. And holy crap am I glad I gave it a try! It.Was.Delicious. My second favorite thing of the night! The ginger was ever so subtle in the custard and the flavor combination actually reminded me of a pastry I used to eat as a kid in Korea. Yum!
Cha:n is perfect for dining with a group of friends or with your special someone. The cozy, intimate ambience, friendly service, ridiculously great food and cocktails, and very reasonable prices all make for a great time. Cha:n offers dinner service Tuesday through Sunday from 5 PM to 10 PM. For the latest and greatest, follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
Disclosure: Jenn Dot Com was treated to a complimentary meal at Cha:n, but was not financially compensated for this blog post. All opinions in this review are my own and based on my personal experience. I only promote brands, products and services that I truly value and would feel comfortable recommending to my readers.