There’s a good reason why Korean cuisine is one of the last Asian cuisines to really gain popularity. Unlike Chinese, Japanese, and even Thai restaurants, Koreans unapologetically refuse to cater to American palates. It’s a matter of pride, and I wish more ethnic restaurants followed their lead. It’s this same uncompromising approach that can make it a little intimating on your first visit to Garlic & Ginger Korean Restaurant located at 5847 SW 75th Street. As the only Korean cuisine in town, it would be easy for them to coast their way to the finish line. Though it can be pricey (most entrees are $12+), and the service can be a bit of a struggle with the language barrier and just blatant apathy, the food does all the talking. There’s a reason why they are amongst my favorites in Gainesville.
On your first visit, the menu can be daunting. The smells of kimchee and seafood fill the restaurant, there are words on the menu you’ve never seen before, and the TVs are always playing an awkwardly hilarious Korean soap opera. As for the food, Koreans love a good dish that contrasts spicy & cold (temperature-wise), so you’ll find items like Bibim Neng Meon, a bizarre cold noodle dish served in a spicy sauce with beef short ribs and shaved ice. There are also a lot of gelatinous textures, as you’ll find in something like Ja-Jang-Myeon (noodles in a black soybean paste with potatoes, onions, and pork) and Jab Chae (stir fried sweet potato noodles in veggies, beef, and a fried egg).
I find all three dishes absolutely delicious, but if it’s not your thing, that’s fine too. While you decide on what to get, Garlic & Ginger provides a half dozen free sampler side dishes for every table. There’s an ever-rotating selection of bean sprouts tossed in sesame oil, Korean fish cakes, kimchee, pickled radish, and spicy broccoli. It’s a great way to get acquainted with some of the flavors and textures to come. But if you’re not feeling too adventurous, you can always stick to something that all Americans love; barbeque.
Koreans love their barbeque too, and it’s perhaps their biggest claim to culinary fame. Some of you are familiar with bulgogi (grilled marinated beef or pork in a lightly spiced sweet soy sauce), it was even named one of CNN’s 50 Most Delicious Foods in the World. But if I had to recommend a dish to even the pickiest of eaters, it would be Kalbi (sometimes written Galbi), which is a grilled short rib marinated in soy sauce, garlic, and sugar. This is a must-get at Garlic & Ginger!
My super-duper secret tip of awesomeness though? Wait until the weather cools down, and ask to sit on the patio. Take a date with you, and order off their “BBQ Patio” menu. On it, you will find items like pork belly, pork neck, short ribs, and sliced rib-eye, all served around a do-it-yourself tabletop grill. Then you can enjoy a lovely evening of conversation over a sizzling hot grill, tasty food, and drinks. Trust me on this one, it’s a lot less boring than the typical steakhouse.
While a lot of it will be unfamiliar, don’t be afraid to ask questions. I know I harped a little on the service, but everyone there is more than happy to answer any questions about their dishes. Located out on the corner of Archer road and Tower Road (next to Publix), it’s a little off-the-beaten path for a lot of people, but it’s worth it if you’re feeling adventurous. If you really can’t find anything you like on the menu, just order the Budae Jun-gol hot pot. It’s a sizzling hot pot of ramen, sausage, bacon, and pork in a spicy broth. Seriously, who doesn’t like that?