Korean flavors made with care
While many Asian cuisines create exotic flavors with strange ingredients, Korean food manages unfamiliar experiences from relatively pedestrian parts. Japanese dine on poisonous puffer fish, Mongolians enjoy their horse meat and the Thai are known to love crispy insects—but surprisingly, these weird-sounding morsels can taste pretty normal. The deep-fried grasshoppers I tried on the streets of Bangkok had the flavor and texture of chicharrónes. Cobra tastes like chicken. A plate of stir-fried donkey in central China could have been beef. Korean dishes, meanwhile, can look normal enough on paper, but they take taste buds to interesting new places.
Fu Yuang, in the Scottsdale Village shopping center at Candelaria at Eubank, is a good place to ease into the fermented bath of Korean flavors. And with half the menu devoted to familiar-looking Americanized Chinese dishes, the timid needn’t leave their comfort zone while the adventurous go exploring.
Abstract Asian paintings and screens cover the restaurant’s walls, and watery music loops tickle the airwaves. The cheerful waiter, Chris Lasco, is married to the cook, Mia. Her parents opened the place 30 years ago (originally called Fu Shou House). Chris scampers around the crowded dining room and makes a snappy yet sincere effort to ensure that you order what’s right for you.
For those who want Korean but aren’t ready to leap into the kimchee crock, the bulkalbi is a meat lover’s dream.
A bowl of taegigogi kimchee jiege, pork and kimchee stew, embodies the sour, pungent fermented flavor characteristic of many Korean dishes. The kimchee-dominated broth has an aroma that will strike some as strong—when your face is steaming in it, you might wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. A moment of slurping the broth’s sour heat should allay these concerns. The stew is packed with green and yellow onions, kimchee, tofu, and pork sirloin thin-sliced to maximizes the absorption of broth.
Another exotic dish created from humble raw materials is chapch’ae, or sweet potato starch noodles. This time it’s the texture, rather than the flavor, that’s new. The soft and chewy noodles are like thin, savory, root-beer-colored gummy worms. They’re stir-fried with vegetables, mushrooms and your choice of proteins, and served in a nutty toasted sesame sauce.
Items on the Chinese side of the menu are cooked with the same care, but they aren’t likely to surprise you. The Korean half is more interesting. For those who want Korean but aren’t ready to leap into the kimchee crock, the bulkalbi is a meat lover’s dream. A pile of thin-sliced, bone-in marinated ribs is brought to your table simmering with carrots and onions in a delectable fruit-based ginger-garlic soy sauce on a tabletop hibachi. An extra $1.50 buys a plate of romaine leaves and a bowl of chile-miso sauce with which to roll your ribs, after cutting away the bones.
Herbivores would be impressed by the Korean salad, a large pile of organic greens with a sweet sesame vinaigrette. Also on the appetizer menu are Best of the Burque-winning beef pot stickers, their rich taste accented by a dipping sauce of soy, chile, onion and sesame. That sauce on a bowl of rice would make a poor man’s feast.
While the food isn’t heavy, it’s filling. I have yet to make it through an appetizer and main course without bringing home leftovers. That’s due in part to Chris’ habit of refilling your bowls of kimchee and namul—small side salads that come with the Korean orders—whenever they run dry. Fine by me. A close second to dining at Fu Yuang is coming home to a box of Korean delicacies in my fridge the next day.