The abrupt closing of a beloved restaurant is always a shock. I’ll never forget the day my favorite Szechuan restaurant at the time, Lucky Dragon, closed in the fall of 2007. Expecting to spend the next hour wiping away peppercorn-laced sweat from my brows, I instead found myself staring at a locked door with a handwritten sign saying the restaurant was now permanently closed. My once near-weekly ritual of scarfing down crimson cauldrons of water-boiled fish and piles of blisteringly good fried chicken cubes was no more.
Sad as the demise of Lucky Dragon may have been, life moved on. There were other equally good Szechuan joints around the corner, and I found love in Chung King. Their food numbed my tongue and won my heart.
But what happens when a restaurant closes and there isn’t another to fill the void? With its cozy wooden booths, Sa Rit Gol resembled a country inn and served home-style Korean food. The banchan spread, renowned for its scope and quality, numbered well into the double digits. I loved it. Various kimchi teetered that fine line between fresh and funk, tangy and spicy; bits of candied dried anchovy were deliciously pungent. Some days you’d find baby octopus stir-fried with gojuchang or lotus root gently simmered in a sweet broth.
I fell head over heels for their famous eun dae goo jorim, cod braised in a sweet-spicy sauce so addicting it could double as heroin. My favorite part was the accompanying slices of luscious daikon, edible sponges soaking up the wonderful sauce. Likewise, their pork belly barbeque was stellar. The primal, fatty slabs of meat were nearly worth the inevitable triple bypass heart surgery. And who can forget the delicate mung bean pancakes, magically held together by a gleaming, gossamer crust.
When it closed, I felt lost. Where else would I spend my nights gorging on incredible home-style Korean cooking, fueled by beer, fortified by soju? My search went on for over a year. Olympic Cheonggukang was good but didn’t possess the refinement or selection. Kobawoo House came the closest (their bossam and mung bean pancakes are amazing) but the banchan was no match. And certainly not a soul bested Sa Rit Gol’s legendary eun dae goo jorim.
But sometime last year, my friend Steph told me a new restaurant, Soban, had opened up a few blocks west of where Sa Rit Gol used to be. She said it served some of the best Korean food I’ll ever have, and she was right. My search for great homestyle Korean food finally ended.