Dining: Korean treats on Preston Street
Kochu’s savoury, stylish dishes deliver value
266 Preston St., 613-236-0000, kochu.ca
Open: Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 4 to 10 p.m.
Prices: Sushi rolls from $4 to $14.95, rice and noodle dishes from $9.95 to $12.95
Access: stairs to front door
I’ve needed to eat and run a few times in the last month or so, and each time it was convenient — and worthwhile — to catch lunch or dinner at Kochu on Preston Street.
Not that I would have minded lingering and sipping sake all night, chatting and snacking, especially when the eatery’s iPod is set to its jazz playlist. A narrow but agreeably stylish place consisting of a small bar and about 20 seats, Kochu serves a staggering array of sushi and a more concise selection of well-crafted Korean food dishes.
Opened in June, it’s the larger offshoot of the tinier-still, six-year-old Kochu on Elgin Street, which must be doing something right so that owner Jang Misun could launch her second location. Every time I’ve visited the Preston Street Kochu, Jang has offered her kind service, while her sister’s been in the kitchen.
Sushi rolls rule at both Kochus. There are more than 60 on the menu. Many involve sauces, cream cheese, tempura flakes and yam flakes as per the North American preference for fully loaded — and arguably overladen — sushi. Lately, I’m finding that all the add-ons get in the way, and Kochu’s torched tuna ($14.95), topped with cream cheese, for one, did not persuade me otherwise.
I prefer the relative simplicities of the unagi plus crab roll ($7.95) which balanced the eel and crab with avocado and cucumber, and the bulgogi inari ($6.95), a pouch of fried tofu containing rice and marinated beef, topped with a dab of spicy sauce.
I’m also glad that Kochu serves gunkan sushi (“warship rolls,” Wikipedia says), in which toppings such as spicy scallop ($4.50), spicy salmon ($4) and bulgogi ($4) sit on a mound of rice with seaweed around its perimeter. And I appreciate that Kochu is happy to swap in brown rice for white or soybean paper for seaweed if either is your preference.
But what I’ve liked most at the Preston Kochu are some of its homey Korean dishes.
Kochu’s miso soup ($2) was more rustic than its refined, minimalist cousin. In its broth were yielding chunks of vegetables including zucchini, and a hint of chili powder. (Did I mention that “kochu” means chili pepper in Korean?)
I would gladly re-order the meaty but cleanly deep-fried gyozas ($8) served in a metal bowl with pan-fried cabbage, carrots and onions.
Here, they make kimchee bacon fried rice ($9.95), which I associate with New York celebrity chef David Chang. Kochu’s version was more mellow than the ones I’ve made from Chang’s recipe, but it did deliver a savoury melding of smoky bacon, punchy pickled cabbage and comforting fried rice, topped with a fried egg and served in a metal tray.
Bibimbap ($12.95) sizzled away in its small cast-iron pan, its generous assortment of vegetables, bulgogi and rice topped with another fried egg and hot sauce. Jang advised that we mix its ingredients for best effect, and it struck us as a fresh and hearty mishmash of good components.
I was not as wowed by the yaki udon ($8.95) and its too-small, bland shrimp, but I was completely pleased by one night’s special, a wrap-it-yourself ssam dinner ($15.95), which did everything right. Its pork was tender and well-seasoned. Its condiments (chili-flecked strips of green onion in rice wine vinegar, a helping of gochujang, a spicy fermented bean paste) solidly boosted our enjoyment. The lettuces in which we wrapped everything else were varied and fresh. Plus, the special included a small cup of hot sake. (Kochu serves seven kinds of sake, as the blackboard beside the cash notes.)
We’ve foregone dessert on most of our visits. Time just did not permit. Once, we did bolt down some good green tea ice cream, which was not made in-house.
Not everything amazes at Kochu, but there’s plenty of appealing, reasonably priced and warmly served food to lure me back.
Perhaps most tellingly, one of my diner companions previously had no great love for the Korean food that she’s eaten in a few Ottawa restaurants. But after two visits, she’s become an unabashed Kochu fan.