San Su Korean BBQ
An authentic Korean restaurant with an overwhelming menu.
The broiled mackerel entree with various accompaniments at San Su Korean BBQ.
Michael A. Foley/Rycus Assoc.
If your exposure to the cultures of Japan and Korea are limited to certain restaurants in Columbus, you might surmise that the two countries were twins born of the same parent nation. Far from it, of course, but there are a lot of Korean restaurants that serve sushi and several Japanese places that offer Korean food.
This is no criticism. For the most part, these places do both cuisines well. So, welcome another one, San Su Korean BBQ, on the northwest side next door to France (the Refectory, that is) just off Bethel Road. It’s authentically Korean—from the owners to many of the staff and the chefs.
Shortly before your meal arrives, a blizzard of little silver bowls (13 at a recent lunch, 15 at one dinner) are showered upon your table and filled with all manner of salads, pickles and other accompaniments. On my visits, these included spinach salad with sesame, four kinds of pickled daikon radish (some spicy, some salty, some sweet and sour), tiny whole dried anchovies, two bean sprout salads (soybean and mung bean), a clear crunchy noodle salad, a sweet and creamy Asian pear and potato salad, strips of a mild fish cake with peppers, candied salted black beans, candied lotus root and, of course, the ubiquitous spicy cabbage kimchi.
I think a fine meal could be made with the accompaniments, along with a bowl of rice. This is partly the point of bi bim bap, which translates literally as “mixed rice.” But it is understood to mean rice served in a bowl (or in one version, a hot stone pot) topped with seasonings, vegetables and meat, seafood or egg in some combination. The various toppings then are mixed into the rice before eating. There is no set form to the dish, and so one simple and delicious lunch at San Su was barbecued freshwater eel in a hot stone bowl with rice—and those 13 goodies. It was filling and delicious, and it could have fed two, all for $12.95. Bi bim bap in a stone pot has a reward at the end—the rice on the sides and bottom becomes crunchy and toasted; it comes off in little sheets and adds a whole new dimension to the dish.
Each table at San Su has a little circular burner grill imbedded in it, on which vegetables, meats and seafood can be done to your liking by the server or on your own. The choices ranged from beef short rib (sliced off the bone in a thin sheet and cut into strips), marinated chicken, spicy marinated pork, squid, a selection of vegetables and other things.
There was quite an array of meal-in-a-bowl soups and stews, from the unusual (around these parts, anyway), such as beef intestines, and a seafood and vegetable combination. The interesting broiled fish selections confirmed that this place is Korean: eel, three kinds of mackerel and yellow croaker. Mackerel can be oily, but the salt-broiling here drove some of the fat from the fish and the swimmer was well worth eating. Noodle dishes were of both countries, from the Japanese classic tempura udon (buckwheat noodles in a rich broth topped with a couple of pieces of shrimp tempura) to something called “mool nengmyun,” a cold noodle soup from Korea with charms I could not detect. (Given that all the dishes I knew about were well-executed and authentic, I am sure the fault on this one was mine.) There was a lot more on the extensive menu, including teriyaki and katsu (breaded and deep-fried beef, chicken or pork—quite Japanese).
I found one treasure among the appetizers: the scallion and kimchi pancake. Made with rice flour, the huge thing was fragrant, crispy, oily, spicy, salty and wonderful. As mentioned, there was sushi—a full and very fine menu of all the basic items, including the requisite zillion types of “rolls.”
The pleasant servers were more than willing to guide you through the overwhelming menu. There was a full bar, as well as modest wines and several good beers, which is the best alcoholic choice with most of this highly flavored food.
San Su Korean BBQ
1138 Bethel Rd.
Atmosphere: Well-designed and pretty enough, with booths and granite tables.
Recommended dishes: Stone pot bi bim bap, broiled mackerel, kimchi pancake, sushi.
Price range: Appetizers $4-$13, soups and salads $2.50-$12.95, noodles $9.99-$12.99, entrees $9.95-$62.95 (dinner for two).
Hours: Monday through Thursday noon to midnight, Friday and Saturday till 1 am and Sunday till 10 pm.
Service: Willing to help new diners navigate the menu.
Rating: *** 1⁄2