Nakwon- A Homey Korean Restaurant in Beaverton   1 comment

The intention was to go to Du Kuh Bee to try their famous fresh noodles, but when we found they were closed, Nakwon was right next door so made that our impromptu lunch destination. I rationalized, if this restaurant can survive next door to Du Kuh Bee in a pretty non-busy non-descript part of a Beaverton, it must have something to offer. I don't know why some people thought this area was sketchy, or why it wasn't clean. There is so much worse out there. The description of service getting slow because they are not staffed adequately is right on though. 

As soon as we walked in, I saw we were fortunate enough to only be the second table for lunch. The only server by the register had a bubbling bowl of soup, and let us pick whatever table we wanted and handed us the menus. He was young and cheery, but got overwhelmed as all the tables filled up. Just as some reviews on the internet had noted, the menu is a bit of a mess to read- but oddly this doesn't bother me because Korean menus are often very mysterious with their mix of English and Korean letters, and then the English often including romanization of the korean words mixed with descriptive English of what the dish is. And then add special color coding and icons sometimes to try to show spice level and vegetarian, and there's a lot going on the page. Ironically, I had just mentioned in my previous post that Pho Hoa Hung is one of the few Korean places I've ever seen that has made their menu more accessible.

My tip here for reading these type of Asian restaurant menus is to first do a scan of the categories and for any key themes of ingredients. If you're fortunate enough to find a theme, you probably have hit upon the specialities of the restaurant. These establishments are usually family run with dad or mom or grandpa in the back, and they are going to naturally offer some of the key dishes they are good at in multiple formats, rather then just a dish that has a choice of beef, chicken, or pork- instead these three options will be presented as three different entrees you could order. But, the key is the dish- which I saw from Nakwon's menu were their soup broths, their dumplings, and rice cake with spicy sauce. Sure, they offer the usual bulgogi and kalbi and spicy pork, but it's at the way back of the menu, and this is not even set up as a bbq joint- the grills are not already on the table with vents installed above, so don't bother with korean bbq as a choice. It's on the menu probably as an obligation, not because it's good. This also explains some of the other ratings people gave- just look at what dish they ordered, and their experience with Korean cuisine in general.

Ordering soup, dumplings, and a dish with rice cake was way more then my stomach could handle, so I settled for two appetizers. The first thing to arrive was the panchan, all the little side dishes. Man, I love panchan. How can you not get excited when your meal starts with all these little tastes arrayed before you like a little buffet?

I downgraded my usual seafood pancake choice to a kimchee pancake since I fortunately found out early on that my dining companion eats seafood but not squid. The pancake was mixed- I think if I had simplified it to just green onion (which is used I think in all three versions of the pancake on their menu), or gone all out with seafood but had to eat it alone, they would have tasted better. The execution of cooking the pancake was perfect- crispy edges and outside- but the kimchee didn't have either the spicy or sour pickle tinge I was expecting. It could be an unfortunate helping of the kimchee ingredient I received on this visit, or the frying of kimchee as part of the pancake leeched out that flavoring. I tend to believe the latter, because the kimchee in the pan-chan was fine. The menu has the font in red to indicate spicyness, but this wasn't spicy.

On the other hand, the other appetizer I ordered, pan fried rice cake with spicy sauce with dumplings and ramen, in the same red font, is super spicy. Some might wonder what is going on with the little tupperware jug of water being put on the table, but don't question it- you will need that water. The hot rice water is nice, but is not enough relief in those little teacups for the hotness here. The ramen are soft tasty noodles cooked to the right chewy texture, and the rice cake slices are thin slices that have the same impact as slivers of umami. The dumplings are thick round tubes in this case, very firm and definitely not what I was expecting for a dumpling. I was thinking the kind that look like stuffed bags, not a combo of gnocchi and rigatoni. In the end, it all added up to an interesting mouthful of different kinds of chewyness- I think some additional ingredients like veggies besides the few sprigs of green onion or seafood would really finish the potential of this dish. 

My dining friend has the shrimp curry. It was an ok curry- thick and stewy, almost like a gravy- and would have benefited from more rice. It was brimming full of chunks of potatoes, peas, carrots, like you would imagine your Asian mom would throw in to make sure you get all your veggies. On the other hand, look at how the portion is so large it's in a big casserole dish! It was still steaming a bit even when we put it into the to-go containers. It would be easy to ask for more rice and make this a shared dish, or take it home for a second meal. Seriously, portions are huge here  if it's not obvious from the pictures already.

Next time, I'm getting the dumplings with my soup. From what I saw from other orders as the place quickly filled up for lunch, the soup bowls are pretty big, and they come bubbling and boiling so that if you drop a raw egg in it, it would cook right there at your table in less then a minute. And, it smelled and looked delicous. As you walk to this place after parking your car on the street, you'll be enjoying the aromas as you walk up to the door. Looking at the ratings you may see reviewers at various places are giving it 3 stars, but it's more like 3.5-4 out of 5- and that soup might be a 5 since that really does stand out in the menu. I just didn't want to burn my taste buds before I go to Slappy Cakes tomorrow- which I inevitably would have with my impatience- so I skipped over what is probably their best dish.

If you're look for Korean BBQ or more generic dishes like stone rice bowls and bibombop, there are plenty of other options in the area for those: aka go to a seafood restaurant for the best seafood, not a steakhouse. Your odds will be a lot better. Nakwon offers the hearty hot dishes that you would find in a Korean home during the winter, just as they would be eating them, take advantage of that.

As I have been reading through Fearless Food Critic's book on Portland, they have highlighted many Korean and a few Japanese places in Beaverton, which was surprising. It's not obvious that there is a mini Korea-town or Japan-Town embedded here- I see signs here or there all in a different language, but never so many together that it seems like a flag indicating community that would support these home-country flavor profiles in a business. At least, not that I've seen so far, but I've only been here a year and mostly in the city. But, as my discovery of Nakwon's neighborhoo
d has shown me, it's definitely here- not obvious like a neighborhood in New York, Chicago, or LA would have, the radius might only be a few blocks a couple blocks away from the busy main streets- but that makes these hole in the wall secrets even more alluring for me- and I think a bit more accessible and less intimidating then being the only non person of that ethnicity for a mile or so around. I actually feel lucky now that I have to go out to Beaverton daily for my job- because now it won't be so out of the way to explore a little bit more out here and not just in the Portland city proper (my usual hunting grounds), and sometimes I don't want food with a Northwest spin- I want to be transported to the other side of the world. Nakwon definitely did that for me- I was only in Korea for a day during a layover, but this tasted like something I could definitely get there. 


Posted January 8, 2010 by pechluck in Uncategorized

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One response to “Nakwon- A Homey Korean Restaurant in Beaverton

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