You see more and more of them lately – on Somerset Street, on Rideau, even on Preston Street. Yes indeed, Korean restaurants are sprouting in this city, giving established places like Restaurant Joy some healthy competition in the kimchi arena.
The five-year-old Joy is actually a hybrid of Korean and Japanese cooking. Its menu hops from cuisine to cuisine without treading too treacherously into the wacky fusion arena, and it does so fairly successfully. You can stick with one or the other, or you could play around with a bit of a mix: “Joy’s Family Dinner” say, with soup, salad, sashimi, sushi and tempura, along with bulgogi, kimchi and gyoza. Bring some friends.
This may be all-purpose food, but I find it tasty, fresh, and fairly priced, and the service provided by John Ryu and family remains seriously friendly. Which, of course, it must in a restaurant called Joy. Otherwise we critics would have a field day.
Joy opened its Somerset Village doors in 2005, in the space once occupied by the late, great Ironwood CafÃ©. Vestiges of the Ironwood remain in the zany paint job. Walls are sponged pumpkin. The trim is bright blue and dark pink. Tables are covered with pink and mustard cloths. The itamae who works the sushi bar at the far end of the room sports a racy-red tunic, standing out in this pink and yellow room. So do her rice snacks, well made, well seasoned, and fresh tasting.
Joy starters include the standard sushi and sashimi, along with Korean meat dumplings and chewy shrimp pancakes. Then you move on to meats, if you opt for the Korean entrÃ©es, which I think you should.
Galbi (beef short ribs) bulgogi (sweet, pungent, and peppery barbecued sirloin served with lettuce leaves for wrapping) or try the pot dishes, which arrive dramatically sizzling, neat piles of meat, vegetables and an egg yolk atop rice. Traditionally your server will disassemble the still life (“May I stir for you?”) and, adding hot sauce according to your nods, she mixes the dish together, scraping the crispy bits of rice off the bottom, folding in the tender strips of beef, the mushrooms, greens, grated vegetables and raw egg, then leaving you with a side of kimchi (Korea’s ubiquitous condiment of fired up fermented cabbage) some extra hot sauce (unless you’ve nodded too vigorously and she’s dumped the lot) and a deep, tasty mess or rice and veg, beef and now-cooked egg, in a hot black pot.
If you’re looking for Korean table grilling, this isn’t the place. They cook it pretty well in the back, and provide condiments and instruction on how best to eat the food – add this, wrap this, fire this up.
Joy isn’t alone in the overuse of iceberg lettuce. It provides a good crunch, to be sure, but it’s pretty joyless stuff, and the spicy salmon and avocado salad ordered for lunch one visit would be much improved were it threaded with more interesting greens. But it is a fine salad nonetheless – chunks of avocado in perfect condition and a generous amount of raw salmon, in a ginger-orange dressing fired up with spicy mayonnaise.
To drink, perhaps a Korean beer, or try ‘soju’, Korean firewater, served over ice. I like the teas on offer here – ginseng with pine nuts, ginger, or sweet plum.
For dessert, ice cream, or deep fried bananas. Or both.
While hardly an adventure, Joy does routinely come to a happy ending.