Koreatown Takes Over at Chai Pani Atlanta

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I use to call myself a Korean food enthusiast because I’ve probably tried ten different Korean restaurants around Atlanta. Truth be told, I’m more of a Spicy Seafood Tofu Soup enthusiast because that’s the only thing I ever order when I go to Korean restaurants. Looking back after attending Koreatown Takeover at Chai Pani, I must say I’ve failed miserably to thoroughly savor the Korean cuisine offered in Atlanta.

The event was meant to celebrate Chef Deuki Hong and writer Matt Roddard’s new Korean cookbook titled Koreatown. All attendees went home with a copy of the beautifully illustrated book with hundreds of Korean recipes. A group of chefs from Chai Pani, Heirloom Market BBQ, Gaja Korean Restaurant, Buxton Hall Barbeque (North Carolina), and chef-at-large Chris Hathcock gathered together for one night to create a five-course meal of savory and seoulful dishes inspired by recipes from Koreatown.

Thirty minutes into the event, all 140 seats at Chai Pani Decatur were filled. Each guest was equipped with a cocktail or beer to start, and an hour later, the feast began. Everyone quickly picked up their chopsticks, and for those who were chopsticks challenged, they had their forks and knives ready to go!

Rainbow Banchan (side dishes) created by all the chefs
Rainbow Banchan (side dishes) created by all the chefs

A banchan tray presented with texture and flavors ranging from soft and crunchy, to sweet and sour that accommodated all palettes. My particular favorite was the beet and lime juice pickled cauliflower (the bright pink dish in the photo) prepared by Deuki Hong, one of the authors of the book.

Los-Pyunche

Los-Pyunche Smoked galbi trip-tip, shaved onion, Korean pear, sesame leaf, uja mayo, soy wasabi dressing by Atlanta’s very own Heirloom Market Barbeque.
Los-Pyunche
Smoked galbi trip-tip, shaved onion, Korean pear, sesame leaf, uja mayo, soy wasabi dressing by Atlanta’s very own Heirloom Market Barbeque.

This dish was so delicious that it deserves a full presentation and a close up. You can savor similar tender and flavorful pieces of meat at Heirloom Market Barbeque located at 2243 Akers Mill Rd SE.

goan-chujang pork vindaloo, idli  (fermented & steamed rice&urad dal cakes) by chef Meherwan Irani & James Grogan of Chai Pani
goan-chujang pork vindaloo, idli
(fermented & steamed rice&urad dal cakes) by chef Meherwan Irani & James Grogan of Chai Pani
Smoked Beef bulgogi sausage, Carolina gold rice grits, kimchi, and radish gold rice grits, kimchi, radish by Chris Hathcock.
Smoked Beef bulgogi sausage, Carolina gold rice grits, kimchi, and radish gold rice grits, kimchi, radish by Chris Hathcock.

These two dishes took me by surprise. I didn’t expect Korean dishes to carry such drastic flavors. Chef Irani and Grogan’s dish was a blend of Korean and Indian spices while Chef Hathcock’s dish was a Korean and Southern comfort fusion. I was pleasing surprised.

Although everyone seemed generously fed with more than enough food, Chef Deuki’s last dish—the classic fried chicken — still generated a lot of excitement. And the chicken tasted as good as it looked – crispy on the outside, succulent and soft on the inside, fulfilling to the core.

 Korean fried chicken with roast garlic heads and scallion salad.

Korean fried chicken with roast garlic heads and scallion salad.

Once three dishes and several cocktails were consumed, I noticed the upbeat K-pop music playing in the background. I asked my neighbor if Korean music had been playing this entire time, and he amusedly answered that he had been too focused on the food to notice any music. I think that’s a very good indication of the food!

The dessert was my all time favorite ice-cream, Melona Melon ice-cream bar. Although all the dishes presented were made at the event and difficult to replicate, you can always purchase Melona Melon at any Korean/ Asian market near you. It’s an irresistible chunk of flavored ice to cool you down in the Hotlanta summer.

I left the event completely satiated and with a change in perception about Korean food and food in general. I’ve always been so basic (for lack of a better word) when it comes to ordering food. I deemed fusion restaurants unauthentic. Perhaps, fusion restaurants are unauthentic to their native countries, but not for Atlanta, a city with such diversity in both people and cuisines.

~ By Vy Nguyen, current intern at Go Eat Give. Vy was born and raised in a small village in Vietnam and attends Emory University studying Economics and Linguistics.

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