When it comes to Korean cuisine, I’m mostly oblivious to the ins and outs of what’s legit and what’s not, or what constitutes a true Korean dish to begin with. To my knowledge, Louisville hasn’t seen many restaurants that feature only Korean specialties, but over the last few years I’ve seen a few pop up, one of them being Charim, a small spot that resides in St. Matthews near Trinity High School across the parking lot from a Big Lots.
I’ve been to this place two or three times before, and for each of those visits I’ve ordered the same entree: the chicken bulgogi. What the hell is bulgogi? On my first visit, I didn’t know either. After some educating from the server and my fiancee, I learned that bulgogi is basically the Korean method of grilling and barbecuing beef, pork, chicken, and other types of meat that is typically served with a grilled assorted selection of vegetables. Oh, cool.
Your choice of meat is smothered in a bulgogi sauce, which is (what I’ve been told) a thick and sticky Korean BBQ-type of condiment that usually has a spicier flavor than traditional American BBQ. I’ve always made chicken as my choice of protein and have always requested my bulgogi to be as hot as possible, because that’s how I role. This is what Charim’s rendition looks like:
I stopped in for an early afternoon lunch date with my lady friend. The restaurant was absolutely packed as seemingly every table was occupied, so we decided to sit outside to take full advantage of the unseasonable warmth that we’ve been experiencing lately. Despite being slammed by a lunch rush and the fact that we were seated about as far away from the kitchen as possible, our service was quick and friendly.
As usual with the other few spots I’ve been able to order bulgogi, Charim’s rendition was served with my choice of white or brown rice (I chose white). Also included with every entree is an array of six small side dishes which include marinated bean sprouts, kimchi, pickled daikon root, spicy sliced cucumbers, tender tofu strips, and sweetened boiled peanuts. To wash this feast down I ordered a tall, refreshing Asahi. Check out a picture of my full lunch arsenal below:
The collection of small plates is a meal in itself, but coupled with my entree really made for a collective and refreshing lunch experience. As for the main course, my chicken (as usual) was tenderly cooked to perfection covered with a delicate layer of sticky Korean BBQ sauce that wasn’t overly spicy but full of flavor. I’m still not sure what the traditional method of eating bulgogi is, so every time I’ve coupled a spoonful of white rice with a cut of meat, then gently placed into my big fat mouth. Please correct me if my version is incorrect, but be aware that this method hasn’t yet failed me.
Like I said before, my knowledge of Korean fare is pretty limited, but I feel that starting with Charim’s bulgogi is a good way to dip your toe in the water. There are several other options from Charim’s menu that I want to try (especially their seafood pancake), but after having tasted their Korean BBQ, it’s gonna be hard to sway me in any other direction.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Phillip Olympia is absolutely, positively not a food critic. Having said that, he really, really loves food, and he really appreciates Louisville’s effervescent independent restaurant scene which is why we have decided to embark on a weekly series of posts documenting a singular item from a particular menu from one of many local spots. We’re calling this series “Food For Fun” because, well, I don’t know. It’s a dumb name, but you’ll get over it.