In my unproduced screenplay, Who’s Afraid of Korean Food? the villain is a dish of kimchi. The chili-laden, fermented-napa condiment/side dish, as ubiquitous on Korean tables as salt shakers on American ones, is so stinky and incendiary that it frightens away many neophytes. In my screenplay’s twist ending, I introduce my kimchi-fearing pals to Korean “barbecue” (tableside grilling), they decide they actually love Korean food, and I am a hero.
I’ve been using Burlington’s New Jang Su to woo my unadventurous friends to the joys of Korean cuisine for 10 years. First-timers are heartened to see the restaurant’s dozen grill tables filled with non-Koreans tending plates of marinated meat or seafood — ribbon-thin slices of beef short ribs (a/k/a galbi, one of the world’s great ways to enjoy beef), ribeye, chicken breast, squid, shrimp, or pork belly ($15.99–$18.99/plate, minimum two orders) — over inset gas grills. The garlicky, slightly sweet marinades elegantly amplify the simple pleasures of animal protein cooked exactly to your desired degree of doneness. You may decide to eat your bite-size bits of barbecue simply with rice, or authentically wrap them individually in lettuce leaves with a dollop of bean-paste condiment and bits of the half-dozen accompanying banchan (side dishes of kimchi, pickled daikon, sesame-dressed bean sprouts, fish-cake slices, chopped sea vegetable, and spicy pickled cucumber).
Having negotiated this delicious and not-too-strange introduction, maybe you’ll come back for “pottery” bibimbab ($12.99), a mild and hearty dish of rice given a lovely golden crust from stone-vessel cooking, stirred up with thin-sliced rib eye, vegetables, and fried egg, and drizzled with sweetened gochuchang (Korean fermented hot sauce). Who knows? Maybe sometime you’ll tackle kimchi jige ($9.99), a soul-firing stew of pork and chili-blazing kimchi, or cham pong ($7.25), a soup of thick, ropy strands of wheat noodles with shrimp, squid, and fish cake, so laden with ripe, searing chilies that it’s almost the color of blood. But don’t push your luck. Start with the barbecue and pretend you’re the kind of daring gastronaut who laughs at a little chili-spiked cabbage. If you’re anything like even my wimpiest friends, you’ll be glad you did.
New Jang Su Korean BBQ, located at 260 Cambridge Street, in Burlington, is open Tuesday through Friday, from 11 am to 10 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday, from noon to 10 pm. Call 781.272.3787.