Seeing the light


POSTED: Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Beyond the usual risks associated with opening a restaurant, Myung Chul Cha knew he was challenging common assumptions when he opened Yu Chan 12 years ago.

His Korean black noodles defied expectations back then that noodles be pale or straw colored and served hot, with a few notable exceptions such as squid-ink pasta and somen.

He drew mostly a clientele of Koreans hungry for a taste of the old country, and since moving from Keeaumoku Street to a larger, more visible space on Kapiolani Boulevard, his black noodles have been winning a local following as well, no doubt with an assist from the cruelly long, hot summer.

The black noodles offer welcome relief from the heat with an icy broth with a slushy, granitalike texture. The broth was devised as a compromise, a way to mimic the flavor of a type of kim chee unavailable here. In Korea, it is served with the noodles.

The resulting broth is both sweet, salty and mildly sour with a touch of vinegar.

Then there is the noodle itself, notably NOT al dente. It starts with buckwheat flour but bears little resemblance to its Japanese cousin, soba. The addition of arrowroot, considered soothing to the stomach, to the flour starts an oxidation process that turns the noodles dark and gives it its signature gelatinous quality.




Yu Chun Korean Restaurant

        1159 Kapiolani Blvd. (next to McKinley carwash) » 589-0022

Food ;*;*;*;*
        Service ;*;*;*
        Ambience ;*;*;*;1/2
        Value ;*;*;*


Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily Cost: About $25 to $40 for two


Ratings compare similar restaurants:
        ;*;*;*;* - excellent
        ;*;*;* - very good
        ;*;* - average
        ;* - below average




The combination of soup and noodles is refreshing. You can start with a plain bowl ($9.99) of the noodles topped with pork, slivered cucumber, onions and a half-boiled egg, or get the same bowl also topped with spicy sauce for no extra charge. The restaurant also has a special for two which includes two bowls of noodles and one choice per table of thick-cut kalbi or bulgogi for $28.99.

The noodle orders are huge, but try to eat it all on the spot. I took home my leftover noodles only to find the next day that it was something of a gooey, unappetizing mess.

BLACK NOODLES are not the restaurant's only claim to fame. I also had to try the G.I. Stew ($25.99, for two or three), which starts out as a traditional Korean spicy stew with tofu and kim chee but also includes ham and sausage.

Cha explained that many Koreans developed a taste for the Western ingredients after their introduction by American troops during the country's occupation after the Korean War.

“;It's sad story,”; he said. “;After the war, the Koreans were poor, with nothing to eat but kim chee. Somehow, they got the leftovers from the American compound,”; he said, guessing usable food was cast out as leftovers, “;and they add it to their stew.”;

The stew remains popular in Korea as “;pu dae chi kae,”; but here he went with the easiest name to understand and remember.

The stew starts as an array of beautifully arranged ingredients cooked in a hot pot at your table. My favorite part of the dish was the udon noodles at the center of the arranged ingredients. Once you stir everything in the pot, remove the quick-cook noodles before they become too flabby.

The BBQ baby back ribs ($15.99) here are some of the best in town, flavorful and tender, marinated in Korean BBQ sauce, then finished with ko chu jang.

If you're mostly a veggie eater, you'll want to bring a couple of friends to dig into a tray of cold buckwheat noodles served with slivered purple cabbage, cucumbers and carrots, as well as slices of tomato and hard-boiled eggs, the noodles topped with a dollop of homemade sweet chili sauce and sprinkled with pine nuts. This, too, is accompanied by a bowl of icy broth to ladle onto the salad.

The menu is rounded out by hot soups, as well, so when the weather changes, patrons can stop by for such comforts as mandoo soup ($9.99) and beef and vegetables in spicy soup ($9.99).