A fusion theme offers an easy culinary entry point to the Third Ward’s Korean bar and grill, Char’d.
As other cities have dived into Korean cuisine – one of the trendiest in recent years – we’ve only tiptoed in. There’s an air of mystery about it that has kept it niche-y. Elements are threaded into more multi-faceted Asian restaurants and even American ones. Kimchi has gone mainstream (thanks to the fermented health food craze), and the mixed-rice bibimbap is very much at home in our current bowl-obsessed culture.
Earlier this year, Char’d Bar & Grill opened in the Third Ward’s former Hinterland, and it’s less focused on tradition than a broader, fusion type of dining. The owners of Char’d run a sister restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island. When they wanted to expand, general manager Hank Kim says, the Midwest became their focus specifically because of its untapped nature. Char’d further differentiates itself with a split personality, operating as a cafe-counter-service lunch joint by day and sit-down destination by night. It’s also put attention into the ambiance, softening the starkness of Hinterland with warmer lighting, vegetation (including moss wall panels) and adding a communal dining table surrounded by banquettes and booths.
Some of the menu’s fusion adaptations work, some don’t. For example, the appetizer kimchi poutine ($8) is a rendition of loaded fries topped with white napa cabbage kimchi (spicy enough but lacking nuanced flavor), Parmesan cheese, crème fraîche and beef bulgogi gravy. And the Chinese scallion pancake ($10) is too thick and soft (though I like the seafood topping). At its optimal thinness, you have the crispy pan-fried edges and a chewy center. The KFC (Korean fried chicken) style of wings is a key addition to the genre. They’re ($12) typically fried twice for a crackly crust, but it’s that sweet, salty and spicy marinade that makes them so delectable (and will make you a fan of gochujang chile). In many Asian cuisines, dumplings are a tried-and-true starter. Char’d does the more straightforward steamed pork ones ($6), but their gummy texture pales compared with the crispy pan-fried pork version served with tart crème fraîche ($7).
A section of the menu is devoted to cooked meats brought to the table on hot lava stones, which keep the meat sizzling and sultry. The beef bulgogi ($23) is a terrific example – crisp-tender grilled beef chuck, with assorted vegetables and grilled shishito peppers. The bulgogi, galbi (delicate smoky-sweet beef short ribs, $32) and spicy, cumin-seasoned chicken thighs ($23) can be eaten “ssam” style, which means wrapping the meat in a lettuce leaf with rice, sauce and vegetables.
An unexpected result of this extra focus at the table is a more mindful, unhurried way of eating. This is a perfect example of where dining is less of a routine and more of an experience to savor. And that is just as it should be.
“Ssam” style dining, left, with beef bulgogi (bottom right dish), along with spicy Char’d chicken (top),Super Bowl (center right) and Char’d dumplings (bottom)PHOTOS CHRIS KESSLER
Super Bowl at Char’d