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[January 09, 2013]
Juni's Cafe serves colorful, healthful Korean dishes
Jan 09, 2013 (The Wichita Eagle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Korean dishes are as fun to pronounce as they are to eat, from bi bim bab to bul go gi.
Wichita has for years had a few places to get excellent Korean food, including Manna Wok at 4865 E. Harry, Hot Stone Grill at 3743 N. Rock Road and Hana Cafe at 325 N. Mead.
Now, there's another restaurant in Wichita specializing in fresh, colorful Korean cuisine, which features lots of pickled side dishes, cabbage, vegetables and meat.
Jeniffer Kang opened her Juni's Cafe, which she named after young daughter, in August. The small restaurant in Comotara Center serves healthful versions of authentic Korean dishes that are made without much oil.
ON THE MENU: Juni's Cafe's menu is divided into several categories of dishes, including some that are rice-based, some that are meat-based and some that are noodle-based. There are also several soups, stews and appetizers such as spring rolls, dumplings and more. And every entree is served with an intriguing array of side dishes served in small bowls and intended to be shared by the table. Choices include kimchi (fermented cabbage), pickled radish spears and bite-sized pieces of spicy fish.
DON'T-MISS DISHES: Our trip through Juni's menu was intriguing and fascinating and more flavorful in some cases than in others. Among the most delicious dishes we tried was the chicken gal bi gui ($13.75), a dish served sizzling on a metal platter and made out of slices of chicken thigh coated in a sweet chili sauce that had caramelized under the heat. Served with a side of white rice, it was rich and sinful and would have been lick-the-platter delicious if licking the platter would not have resulted in a severe tongue scorching.
All of the food at Juni's Cafe is served steaming hot, incidentally, from the appetizers to the oxtail soup that comes with the meal to the entrees themselves. In fact, I haven't had food so hot in a long time, and we had to wait a while to sample everything. We started with an order of four vegetable spring rolls ($4.75), which were filled mostly with cabbage. They were crispy and tasted good when dipped in a sweet-and-salty sauce served on the side but were a bit pricy for what they were. We also ordered the man du, house-made dumplings stuffed with cabbage, bean sprouts, tofu and pork. Again, they were a little pricy at four for $5.25, but our waitress let us order ours half steamed and half fried. Both were good, but the fried were better.
Having read a couple of online reviews, I was excited to try the dol sal bi bim bab ($13.50), one of the more commonly known Korean dishes, which features a bowl of neatly organized meat and vegetables such as cucumber, shredded carrots, bean sprouts and spinach, served on a bed of rice and topped with a fried egg. This one was served in a hot stone bowl and continued sizzling for nearly 10 minutes after it was served. (Tip: Don't test the hotness of the hot stone bowl with your finger. Also, don't ask me how I know.) The dish came with a side of red chili sauce, and the waitress instructed me that I should chop up the egg, add some chili sauce, stir, add some more chili sauce, and stir again. I did as she instructed, but the dish was disappointingly flavorless. I asked for some soy sauce, which helped, but the dish never lived up to its visual promise. It grew on me as I ate it, though, and I particularly liked the way the sizzling bowl turned bits of the rice crunchy.
We liked the beef bul go gi ($13.99) served with tiny bits of seasoned beef mixed with broccoli, carrots and onion. The dish, which came with a side of rice and also was sizzling hot, was pleasant but not particularly memorable.
The yakisoba ($10.99), another familiar Korean dish that's a mixture of buckwheat noodles, bits of chicken and vegetables such as cabbage and carrots, was crunchy and tasty enough that two children at our table gobbled it up.
AMBIANCE: The dining room is tiny, with seating for only about 20, but it's nicely decorated with new carpet, new paint and tasteful red lanterns hanging from the ceiling and mirrors decorating the walls. We were the only people in the restaurant when we visited on a weeknight evening, and the music pumped in the room sometimes drowned out our conversation.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers are $3.99 to $8.25. Entrees are $9.50 to $15.25.
SERVICE: Our waitress was kind and patient and full of helpful suggestions on what to order and how to eat it.
Ratings reflect the critic's judgment of the food, service and atmosphere in relation to the price. If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6327.
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