KEN IGE / KIGE@STARBULLETIN.COM|
Four sisters serve up Korean family favorites at Sis Kitchen. From left are Sunmi Pak, Sara Sung, H.J. Kwak and Sun Pak. They're showing specialties of kim chee meat jun; spicy squid; meat jun; a short ribs, chicken and rib-eye steak combination platter; and garlic chicken.
Sisters share the kitchen,
and the results are delicious
CAN you imagine working with just one of your siblings? Or more? There are seven sisters in the Pak clan and four -- Sunmi, Sun, H.J. Kwak and Sara Sung are in the house at Sis Kitchen, where home-style Korean fare is on the table. The business seems to be coming along smoothly, squashing any imaginings of sibling rivalry.
The restaurant idea took off when Sun and her husband Jae Ahn stopped over to visit her family. She was working as a fashion designer dividing her time between San Francisco, Los Angeles and Korea, and he was a computer graphics artist. It was his first trip to the islands and, feeling quite at home, he suggested staying. Problem is, there's little demand for high-level fashion designers or computer graphics here.
Pak says of her sisters, "We all love to cook and it was always in my mind to have a restaurant, but that never happened. Now, it's convenient for all of us."
Ahn put his artistic eye to good use, creating an oasis on the ground floor of the former Aina Haina Garden Shop building. Sis Kitchen is constructed to be as inviting as a home, with a modern interior, slate floors and plenty of contemporary art on the walls.
From the moment you are seated you are treated like a family guest, greeted by about nine different appetizers, or ban chahn, meaning dishes served with rice. The multiple offerings are a gesture of hospitality. The more, the better. These range from spicy saba (mackerel), to lightly seasoned rehydrated shiitake to delectable caramelized dry anchovies. And of course there is homemade kim chee. (You can also request daikon, whole won bok or extra spicy versions reserved for aficionados.)
The ban chahn selections are rotated daily. When I missed the saba one day, they took note, and saba was brought to our table with a flourish. (They don't know me, I swear.) Each dish, by the way, is meant to perk up the tastebuds with a new sensation, whether salty, sour, bitter or sweet. The sight of all these dishes and their flavors is truly a sensory treat.
Portions are bite-sized, but its easy to feel you've had a meal before even starting on your own ordered entrees. If you can bear one more appetizer, you might try yook hwe, raw beef ($9.95) marinated in sesame oil and soy sauce, plus green onions, garlic and sesame seeds. What does that remind you of? I'd say poke. The steak tartare shaped into a mound and frozen earlier in hope of killing any bacteria, so you might get a few frosty bites at the core. It's sprinkled with a few pine nuts before serving. This dish usually is also usually prepared with a raw egg, but you can request they withhold it due to salmonella concerns.
KEY TO THE Korean table is the jigae, or stone pot stew ($8.95). In meager times, these salty broths offered one way of extending a meal. You might start with the mild soft tofu stew, working your way up to the soybean paste stew with tofu and vegetables, and up to the hot and spicy kim chee stew. Unlike other Asian cuisines, the stews are meant to be eaten with spoons, not chopsticks. For western-style ease, spoon some over your rice, and for etiquette's sake leave your bowl firmly anchored to the table.
Heavenly miso butterfish ($10.95) is served in a far greater portion than you'll find at most Japanese restaurants. The salt love fest -- another way to extend dishes in the old days -- continues with a dish of garlic shrimp ($12.95), which has proven to be one of the most popular dishes on the menu. It's not for the hypertensive.
After the parade of strong flavors, the teriyaki-style beef known as bulgogi ($9.95), seemed all too tame. You'll probably find spicy barbecue pork ($6.95) more to your liking because this dish has been localized to be more sweet than fiery. It's still plenty spicy, but anyone who grew up in Korea would deem us wimpy.
If you're in need of something chilly to chase the spice, try their dessert of shave ice topped with azuki beans, fruit cocktail and vanilla ice cream. Finish with a glass of roast corn tea.
Sun says she may one day return to the world of fashion, but for now she's enjoying the family reunion.
1137 11th Ave. (behind Big City Diner) / 732-0902
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays
Cost: About $25 to $30 for two
See some past restaurant reviews in the
Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:
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