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Gimchi 

Tabletop grills and spicy kimchi fuel a Korean dining

When India Palace failed to reopen after Hurricane Katrina, the area lost one of its few options for Indian food. But as fate would have it, the restaurant that eventually filled its spot offers a cuisine even rarer in the region: Korean.

  The extensively renovated Metairie building has traded curry for kimchi, the iconic, spicy, sour, fermented cabbage staple of Korean cuisine. Gimchi takes its name from an alternate English spelling of the dish, and kimchi is the lifeblood of the place, powering the best of its stews and stir-fries and adding essential flavor to Korean-style barbecue.

  Gimchi was opened last year by restaurateur Jacky Chan, who also runs the Gert Town Japanese restaurant Mikimoto. His newer restaurant essentially uses a facsimile of Mikimoto's menu with an added section of Korean dishes, so Gimchi can furnish a quick teriyaki lunch combo or sushi dinner. But to properly put the place through its paces, it's best to come with a small group and claim one of the tables with built-in grills for Korean barbecue.

  Waiters bring plates of raw steak, pork, squid, scallops or grouper, depending on your order. They melt a few pads of butter on the tabletop grill and will periodically tend the meat for you, but it's easy enough to pluck and spear the sizzling chunks yourself. The setup includes romaine leaves to wrap around the meat along with rice and kimchi. The meats look fatty but cook nicely, and the brick-red marinade imbues them with flavors of ginger, garlic and red pepper.

  Although it's very good, after a while much of it starts to taste the same, as if a master sauce were used without variation in all of a restaurant's marinades and stocks. This is still a different flavor than what you can get elsewhere in the area, but after a few visits (or even when sharing a number of dishes) it can grow repetitive. Tight portion control with the kimchi and related condiments is another issue. We repeatedly had to request more during our meals to ensure everyone had a taste.

  For a hearty dose of the stuff, order the kimchi bokum, a stir-fry of pork and wiggly triangles of tofu. It became a favorite dish, thanks to a heavy soak in kimchi. Another mainstay is the dolsot bibimbap, a rice dish with bits of steak and sprouts topped with partially cooked egg. The sides of the hot stone bowl finish cooking the egg, binding the rice to a toasty, crisp edge.

  Those who feel a proper casserole must come in CorningWare may be surprised at how the term translates on the Korean menu. Casseroles at Gimchi are better understood as stews, like the kimchi jigae, thick with sheets of thin-pounded pork, planks of tofu and a bubbling, spicy kimchi broth.

  Most appetizers come straight from the Mikimoto list. But there are a few distinctly Korean first courses, like the gool pajun, a savory pancake with crisp green onions, and the mandoo gook, which floats a half-dozen dumplings in beef soup. If nothing else seems appealing, there's always California rolls and edamame.

click to enlarge Julie Tran cooks Korean-style barbecue on one of Gimchi's inset - grills - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
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