Restaurant review: Kaya
There is exactlyone- count 'em, one - restaurant in Columbus where you can get your crazy-funKorean-style barbecue on (that I'm awareof).
For the uninitiated, Korean barbecue is the ultimate play-with-your-food eating experience wherein you perform some of your own cooking. To do this, you must sit at a special table equipped with a nifty smoke-free grill in its middle.This results in an action-packed sort of indoor-cookoutgame that turns into a delicious dinner. But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.
Kaya on Reed Road might highlight Korean barbecue - and that DIYstyle of dining is certainly quite popular here - but you needn't pay restaurant prices only to be forced into doing thecooking. That's becauseKaya is also a fully functioning regulation Korean restaurant - and a good one.
Pleasant but not fancy, Kaya is an open,bright and modern eatery with a nice sushi bar. In here, American top-40music can be heardfrom thelikes of Lady Gagaand Kings of Leon. But the food is strictly Asian, ordered off oneof those large menus that touches on noodle dishes, stir-fries, bentos and so on.
Appetizer-wise, I was a big fan of the delicate and delectable, not-quite-sushi dish calledMaguro Tataki ($9). Six little fanned-out slabs of ultra-fresh tuna were seared on their exterior but otherwise a pretty, raw pink. Sprinkled on top were toasted sesame seeds and glistening orange tobiko (flying fish roe) tinted similarly to a side of orange-flavored ponzu sauce.
When eaten together with the plate's other elements -longthreads of daikon radish plus pickled ginger and wasabi -it was a texture andflavor festthat would please both sushi eschewers and sushilovers alike.
Since Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap is a classic Korean rice dish and a crowd-pleasing, gateway entree to the cuisine in general, I often check it out at Korean restaurants. Kaya's ($12)was top-notch. Colorful and dynamic, it was packed with more add-ons than many other local versions.
In other words, Kaya's was beefier, had more spinach and shiitakeflavor and was served with a stir-in-yourself raw egg that rapidly cooked in its rice-crisping, volcanically hot stone pot.
Gurgling-hot spicy pots of soup are another Korean favorite, and Kaya's codfish Mae-un Tang ($14) was a good rendition thereof. Bobbing in a spicy red chili broth brought to bubbling by a sterno cup (with a snuffing-out lid) were jalapeno rings, silkentofu chunks, noodle-like bean sprouts, fresh sprigs of parsley, sliced thin mochi-like dumpling bits and hacked-up skin-on and bone-in codfish steaks. The textures and heat - both thermal and botanical - made it a riot to eat.
As for the barbecue, prior to being seated, you must request one of those aforementioned special tables (the best are highly polished wooden six-seaters tucked away in their own niches). And you must order at least two entrees from the menu's Korean BBQ section - this will feed at least three people.
You will then receive a ton of small, boldly flavored, sharable dishes (banchan) plus your preseasoned, raw proteins. Your server will then give you a how-to primer (if needed) and get the show going. If you're a novice like me, you'll mostly just be helping your server tong-flip the searing meats.
Sure, it can be a bit like a three-ring circus, but if you relax and get into the rhythms of the experience, it'll be a lot of fun.
Right on "Q"
Tips on some of Kaya's Korean barbecue options. Note: Most of these meats will be eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves with fun add-ons, as your server will show you.
Pork belly ($19):Like strips of unsmoked bacon, it's the easiest to prepare because overcooking isn't an issue - it's good eaten crispy.
Chicken ($19): Simply seasoned and delicious with a good - but very quick - sear.
Bulgogi ($19): The teriyaki-like marinade lends these beef curls an appealing sweetness, but remove from the grill immediately after they lose their raw color.
Kalbi ($25): These kabob-like beef short ribs had the deepest flavor and were the meatiest, but were also the hardest to cook without becoming chewy. (These last three meats are available in a recommended bbq combo for $26)
4710 Reed Rd., Upper Arlington
Cuisine: Chinese & Asian
Price: $$ ($11-$20 per person)
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog Under the Table at ColumbusDiningGuide.com.