There is no shortage of restaurants that serve some variation of Asian cuisine in the Ann Arbor/ Ypsilanti area.
The most dominant cuisine is the obvious Americanized Chinese we’ve all grown to love. The second most dominant group is Thai food, whose lead as No. 2 is slowly getting closed by sushi bars, which over the years have seemed to gain almost exponential popularity due to the quirky cultures that have also associated with them. The proof to this has two words: Hello Kitty.
Korean cuisine does not even come close to the popularity of the other Big three Asian cuisines, but it does however deserve a good reputation as a delicious alternative to the heavily adulterated Chinese foods and overly popularized Thai and Japanese, especially with a top-notch Korean establishment being mere yards away from Eastern Michigan University’s campus.
Garam Korean Restaurant has been serving traditional homestyle Korean food for around three years now in the same complex that holds Benito’s Pizza and Campus Book and Supply. It offers an ample selection with about 40 or so different dishes.
Owned and operated by Korean native Inok Shin and assisted by her husband Wayne Shung, Garam has a cozy and welcoming dinning atmosphere you can reach by merely walking across Huron River Drive.
Frequenting the establishment a few times throughout the year, I had not strayed from its offering of Ojinguh Bok Um, a moderately spicy stir fry of sautéed squid and veggies, and an appetizer of Red Rice cakes, steamed rice cakes prepared in a sauce very similar to the one used in the squid dish.
This was enough for me in the past, but this time I decided to be a bit more adventurous with my choices, which I generally advise most people to do when they try any new cuisine.
My selection, combined with my accomplice’s option, consisted of four distinct dishes: Godunger Gui, two flanks of roasted mackerel; Soondooboo Chi Ke, a hot and spicy stew containing tofu and assorted seafood; Mandookuk, a mild miso-based dumpling soup; and my old appetizer stand-by, the Red Rice cakes.
The mackerel flanks were absolutely phenomenal; however, being raised by a lake and fed ample amounts of fish throughout my life might generate some bias to that opinion. Chub mackerel are a bonier open-water fish, similar to sardines, that have thin, thread-like bones and tend to be a bit on the oily side if not prepared in a well-suited manner.
The mackerel dish being broiled kept some of the naturally occurring oils from leaving the fish’s meat, also preventing the addition of more oils from frying, which overall ended up in a very tasty oceanic treat.
However, due to the fact it is a boney fish, with bones typically left in meat cutlets, and an oilier, fishier tasting fish, I would not recommend this to individuals not partial to seafood.
My accomplice, not being a big fan of seafood at all, didn’t mind the fish’s taste, but also did not make an attempt to eat more than a brief sample.
Another delicious dish was Garam’s Soondooboo Chi Ke, a stew consisting of ample amounts of tofu, vegetables, small steamed mussels and squid. The most dominant feature of this dish was the large amount of tofu used, which is traditionally the main focus of this stew.
The seafood that complements the dish was a bit on the subtle side, but again the stew’s traditional focus is on the tofu. The total flavor of the dish sided on the tofu and veggies, and I would definitely recommend it to a Korean food novice who has a bit of an explorative side. Mind you, it is a bit spicy, though.
The last main dish that was sampled was the restaurant’s take on Mandookuk, another soup dish that is on a milder note comprised of a lighter bean paste or miso base.
The soup featured around six or so mandu, or Korean style pork dumplings, as well as ample amounts of carrots and rice cake slices. The dumplings also had a sort of side dipping sauce that offset the soup’s neutral flavors. The dumplings were rather large, which is a plus for the price point, but kind of a tricky thing to maneuver if you aren’t quite accustomed to handling things with chopsticks.
Cutting the dumplings in the soup just ended up breaking them apart in the broth, which was not too much of a big deal but prevented the proper application with the sauce on the side.
All of these dishes contained rather large portioning, including the mackerel, which is a huge plus. Any dining experience can be ruined due to small portioning, and with our total meal tallying up to about $40 after tax and tip, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
Service is also always friendly, usually with the owner being the wait-staff as well, so you can be sure you’ll get what you ordered.
And with a large number of dishes offered, a wide variety of pallets can be accommodated, which makes this locale’s cuisine great for groups of people looking to be a bit adventurous with their dining experience.
With the owner wanting to bestow home-style Korean food to college students and others interested in dining on something a little different, don’t expect any delay in welcome, service, size and ergo satisfaction while dining at Garam Korean Restaurant. I give Garam a 5 out of 5.