The stars have aligned over here at Itinerant Foodies. Less than 24 hours after Maya and I had an impromptu Skype chat that ended with a decision to post about Korean food for the rest of the week, I realized that we’re just in time for Korean Culture Week at Ohio State University. Next week, from April 26 to April 28, folks in the Columbus area can celebrate all things Korea. Serendipity! Woo hoo!
In honor of this momentous (three day) week, I present to you my Korean food go-to: Diaspora. Located just south of the famous football intersection of Lane Avenue and High Street in the middle of Ohio State University’s campus, this restaurant holds its own in the land of Buffalo Wild Wings (what happened to the “3”?) and Noodles and Company.
When I first stumbled into the brightly-colored place with cartoon-like balls hanging from the ceiling and — sadly — pizza on its menu, I was ready to write it off as an Americanized Korean food joint focused on the lowest common denominator of all palates: the college freshman. All it took was one bowl of Dolsot Bibimbap to know that I wasn’t eating at the Taco Bell of Korean cuisine. And after a (short) trip to Seoul—and its cartoon museum—I no longer view the decor as something to entice the western eye. This place could easily be on any street in the capital city of South Korea.
Take a look at the aforementioned dolsot bibimbap and let’s, for a quick moment, honor the egg in this week of hunts and baskets. No matter how you decorate it, no egg can be as beautiful as one placed atop a mountain of rice alongside sprouts, spinach, carrots, ground beef and mushrooms served in a hot stone pot. (Even though it’s a few dollars more expensive served sizzling, it’s worth it to order this dish hot.) I haven’t found bibimbap that I love more than Diaspora’s. They don’t skimp on the toppings, nor do they disturb the dish with handfuls of iceberg lettuce. (I’ve seen it done.) Add the sauces to your content and the dish is nearly perfect.
Last night, I was armed with a few girlfriends to help me stray from my regular. Above is Diaspora’s version of galbi, or marinated beef ribs. Marinated in a sweet sauce and piled atop a plate of never-ending grilled onions, this dish was delightful, but brought me to that awkward dilemma that comes with meat-on-the-bone Korean cuisine: how, oh how do I eat it with chopsticks while maintaining some semblance of grace? The answer, as it always is, is to give up looking put together and use my fingers and teeth to pull the meat off the bone. Served with a side of rice, and topped with chopped onions, this dish could easily convert the uninitiated from a diet of fast food to one including Korean fare.
Our third entree, oh jing uh bokum, was deceptive in many ways. First of all, this plate of marinated squid served with carrots, onions, peppers and other vegetables looks like it’s super spicy. It is not. Second, it’s incredibly rich. Somehow, this dairy-free dish tasted buttery. Each time I tried to pinpoint the source of the soothing creamy flavor, I lost six points as a food blogger. I continued to be baffled even after I tricked our server into describing the marinade. The squid was delightfully textured and will become a strong contender the next time I stop by the campus eatery.
I close with the banchan, which everyone knows is the real reason to go to a Korean restaurant. The lively—and healthy!—side dishes brilliantly balance out the beef consumed during the meal. Pictured above (clockwise, from top left): kimchi, fish cake, marinated tofu (the only time I’ll ever knowingly eat the stuff), potatoes (my favorite), pickles and zucchini. Sadly missing from the mix was another favorite: steamed egg. If I could consume the rest of my meals this week in banchan form, I’d be a happy gal.
Although the restaurant has to pander a little to their surroundings, I’m happy to report that nearly every dish we saw on the tables around us came from the Korean portion of their menu. And somehow, I doubt it’s because the other diners were there to celebrate Korean Culture Week. Because, you know, that is so next week.
P.S. There’s parking behind the restaurant!
2118 North High Street