800 Bethel Rd 43214
Hours – 11.30-10pm daily (open until 11pm on Fri., Sat.)
Min Ga is a restaurant that, for us, has always seemed to quietly fade into the background. It’s been around forever, and on previous visits always struck us as the epitome of ‘not bad’ with a dash of ‘hmmm… that seemed a bit expensive’. A nice enough option to have out there, I suppose, but not exactly the sort of place you jump out of bed eager to write about.
So, when we asked the owner of a Korean grocery store for restaurant recommendations and he suggested Min Ga, we were a bit surprised. Ultimately, though, his recounting of a change of management there was all we needed to give the place another shot.
These kimchi dumplings were a thing of beauty – pork, kimchi, and a surprising quantity of soup broth all tidily wrapped up in a wonton-like pouch. The flavors melded seamlessly, with kimchi flavor being obvious but not overly dominant (and contributing little in the way of spicy heat). These disappeared quickly. Word to the wise, though – eat these in one bite, or you’ll be wearing the broth.
I’ve long been a big fan of the Korean seafood pancake, and Min Ga’s version is as good as any I’ve had. Bits of almost every sea creature imaginable (including scallop, mussels, squid, octopus…), are mixed into this moist, dense, bread-like savory pancake. With a bit of the included soy-chili sauce (a little of this salty concoction goes a long way), these pizza wedge cut slices of seafoody goodness are pure contentment.
Our first main was the tofu pork bokum – big blocks of steamed tofu and a generous serving of pork & kimchi topped with sesame seeds and green onions. If the dumplings hinted at it, this dish confirmed – pork and kimchi are meant to be together. Moderate levels of spicy heat mingled with earthy, tangy, porkiness to form a dish that was enjoyed not only at the table but also as a leftover the next day. Tofu should feel lucky to have such a delicious saucy topping to carry it.
Kalbi, marinated and grilled beef short rib meat, is a another longtime favorite, and I’m now a big fan of Min Ga’s version. The meat is extremely juicy and has a big beef flavor, and the taste of the careful char is perfection. The subtly sweet marinade accompanies well and never overwhelms. Many is the time I’ve eaten at a steakhouse and thought I’d rather be having this dish, and Min Ga’s rendition will probably be what I’ll be longing for the next time.
Finally, we tried the soondae guk – Korean sausage soup, described on the menu as ‘soondae soup with vegetable and pig heart and pig intestine’. The (above) top photo shows the soup, and the bottom is the sausage that was served as a side to be put into the soup. As my experience with Korean soups is limited, allow me to quote a relevant passage from Wikipedia:
“The third category of soups is gomguk or gomtang, and they are made from boiling beef bones or cartilage. Originating as a peasant dish, all parts of beef are used, including tail, leg and rib bones with or without meat attached; these are boiled in water to extract fat, marrow, and gelatin to create a rich soup. Some versions of this soup may also use the beef head and intestines. The only seasoning generally used in the soup is salt.”
Switch up beef with pork and you’ve got the idea. The soup itself was surprisingly bland (tasting of little more than a meat stock with a pinch of salt) and the sausage was packed with rice and had the iron-like flavor and deep red-purple color that I’d associate with a blood sausage. This dish appeared to be a special, and it fell flat for us not because of the off-cuts and other unusual ingredients – which largely just assumed the flavor of the broth – but because of the absence of any real depth of flavor. The wikipedia passage above suggests that this is at least somewhat intentional, and as we’ve encountered similar soups before at other Korean restaurants (and had similar reactions to them), I’m inclined to file it under ‘things I just don’t quite understand’.
As expected, a wide variety of banchan (small, complimentary cold sides) came with our meal. All were enjoyed…
…which also makes for a pretty good encapsulation of the whole experience. Entree prices seemed reasonable ($10 – $20, with most $15 or less), though app prices seemed incongruously inflated ($8 – $25 and every point in between, excluding the $5.00 edamame). Cost perhaps seems a bit more reasonable when the complimentary banchan is thrown into the equation.