Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Right Ahn!

Bug has been a touch under the weather (allergies? cold?) and wanted something spicy. We were thinking about going to eat pho at our usual cafe, Superior Pho. At the last minute, he decided to go to a brand new Korean cafe and noodle shop in the same little plaza where Superior Pho is located.

Ha Ahn is located in the tiny space Superior Bakery took as their 2nd home after they moved from their huge space that faced Superior Avenue. I really miss walking into the cavernous 2-story high ceiling with exposed brick space, the aroma of fresh baked pastries displayed along the perimeter, both sweet and savory. I'm not sure where Superior Bakery is now.

To get to the restaurant, you go through the alleyway back door of the plaza and walk through a narrow, brightly lit hallway, past Superior Pho's clear glass facade. The restaurant is brightly lit, simple, and very clean. The cozy, narrow space has 4 white tables that seat 4, 3 white tables that seat 2, and a hulking single door soda refrigerator.

The choices are fairly slim compared to other Korean restaurants, but some of the selections at the larger restaurants I have little interest in trying just yet. The menu lists ramyun, udong, kim chi soup, kim chi bokum, bulgogi, kalbi, kim bap. I was a little surprised they didn't have mandoo.

As I do with all new restaurants, I tried the tried and true dish that I have gotten at other restaurants. Bug was in the mood for beef, as usual. So we both ended up ordering the same dish, bulgogi ($11.95).

Okay, that sounds totally unimaginative, like going to a Japanese restaurant and ordering chicken teriyaki and California rolls or going to a Chinese restaurant and ordering chow mein or beef fried rice, egg roll, and beef broccoli.

For banchan, we were presented with bok choy kim chee, daikon slivers, leek kim chee, salad greens with dressing, eggplant, and a sweet pickled green. I liked the eggplant and the salad the most. The salad dressing was tasty - sesame oil, pepper, and HOT. We saw no red to signify how hot the dressing was going to be. The eggplant had a firm but smooth and creamy texture with a deep sesame flavor.

A tall, slender Asian lady in a long, dark coat stirred the atmosphere when she walked in with her male companion and gossiped about the bakery that was in the suite as if no one was occupying the space, at least in her dimension. She walked over to the waiter and asked for a take-out menu. Bug remarked that the waiter appeared as though he had expected her to order and return the menu, as he looked surprised when she placed the menu in her purse. Poor guy.

The woman then turned her attention to the soda refrigerator and garishly pointed out all the contents in the fridge. She exclaimed, "Oh, look at all the little fishes." Bug's eyes lit up. The couple chatted about other restaurants in the plaza and walked out.

After that distraction, I asked Bug not to eat all the banchan before the food arrived. He picked at the last leek in the bowl. Immediately, the waiter removed the bowl and returned with more leeks. We were shocked. This has never happened at any Korean restaurant we've been to, here and in Honolulu.

The couple who were in the restaurant before we were, received their appetizer order of kim bap, a plate of ~12 pieces of sushi. It looked pretty good...as good as a dish can look blurring by. I might try it out for dinner some time. It was listed at ~$5, if I recall correctly. There are no pictures, since I feel weird taking pictures in a really small restaurant.

Finally, our sizzling platters arrived. My glasses fogged over from the steam. The aroma was intoxicating.

Bulgogi comes with onions. I detest onions. BUT I don't care for ordering it without onions as it does impart a necessary dimension of flavor to the dish. I pawned off the onions to Bug...nicely. I didn't want it to seem like I was angry. After all, it wasn't their fault that my platter was half-filled with those noxious slivers.

After that transfer was done, his platter was heaping! Apparently, the waiter and another person in back were watching as I redirected the onions to Bug. Bug said they appeared concerned, but did not say anything.

Bug hoovered up 3 different banchan bowls, and immediately the waiter removed the empty dishes and replenished them. Wow.

Oh, the bulgogi was sweet and a little salty. The meat was tender, thinly sliced, and was not fatty. The portions were generous, considering how much I removed from my plate. At Korea House, after I picked out the onions, I was left with a nearly empty platter - a heap of slivered carrots and some morsels of beef.

I really want to order bulgogi again, but I'll likely try something else. The food didn't knock my socks off, but the service did. I want to return; however, passing up Superior Pho as I walk to Ha Ahn will be my test of conviction.

Bug LOVES those Korean little dried fishies that can also be found in Japanese stores but without the peppery zing. Since we didn't have to look in the soda refrigerator to know what was in it, like an automaton, I opened the cooler door without looking and picked up a small container of fishies ($3.45) to take home.

If you think the title is cheesy, blame Bug!

- Cassaendra

Ha Ahn Korean Restaurant
3030 Superior Ave E
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 664-1152

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