Is Jenifer Jin's Korean restaurant primed to be Saraga's next star?
By Ah, KFC … you had me at the first flavorful, fiery bite. Tender chicken. Crisp, crunchy fried skin. A rich, heavenly glaze. I’m not talking about fast-food from our neighbors to the south but Korean fried chicken, or yangnyeom dak, which can be found at only a few eateries in Columbus. Located inside Saraga International Grocery—home to Columbus’ highly acclaimed Nepalese spot Momo Ghar—Bulgogi Korean Restaurant is an exciting newcomer where fried chicken fans can get a yangnyeom dak fix.
Bulgogi’s version is piled high on a plate and dotted with sesame seeds. Offered in a half ($11.99) or full ($21.99) serving, the meat is slathered in a sticky sauce rooted in a red chili paste called gochujang. Offered to patrons in sweet, spicy and soy-garlic flavors, the chicken is fried twice before the sauce is applied, leaving the skin crunchier than its American counterpart.
Jenifer Jin, Bulgogi’s owner, waitress, chef and menu mastermind, greets patrons with an affectionate smile and a warm aura. She lingers with her guests like a longtime friend. Jin tells me that she added yangnyeom dak after it became a runaway hit at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
A resident of Central Ohio for 33 years, Jin opened the North Side restaurant in March in a space formerly occupied by an Indian eatery. She worked at Saraga for a short time before her homemade lunches of authentic Korean food caught the eye of the market’s owner.
Like the restaurant’s few tables that sit in close proximity, Bulgogi’s menu is compact, composed of less than a dozen options that showcase true Korean cooking. Jin’s focus on providing a few dishes and making them well is appreciated. The food is cooked fresh in a kitchen within view and offers complex sweet, salty and fiery combinations.
The restaurant’s namesake, bulgogi ($11.99), is marinated beef stir-fried with onions and carrots. The beef is tender and clean on the palette, thankfully lacking a chewy bite. Kimchi, a Korean staple of fermented vegetables, pairs nicely.
Another successful dish is japchae ($9.99), sweet potato noodles stir-fried with onion, spinach, carrot, shitake mushrooms and a choice of protein.
Naengmyeon ($9.99), thin noodles made from buckwheat, are served cold with boiled egg, cucumber and radish in a soup sweetened with Asian pear and spiced with chili paste and sesame oil. Jin tells me it is her favorite dish and one of the most popular among her Korean clientele.
Handmade, pan-fried dumplings ($9.99 for eight pieces) filled with meat or vegetables are a recent addition to the menu. Not to be confused with Momo Ghar’s Nepalese version on the other side of the market, Jin explains that her dumplings are authentic to her birthplace. She even offers a version stuffed with kimchi.
Bulgogi is open for lunch and dinner 11 a.m.–9 p.m Monday through Saturday.