In the course of a week, we’ve gone full circle, from New Years Day lunch in an Arby’s to first Saturday lunch in a former Arby’s. When we were driving toward the perimeter from New Years’ Eve dinner, we passed by the iconic hat-shaped building on Clairmont and I was reminded of our intention to go to Sobban Korean Southern Diner. When we were journeying to Ikea and REI, a loop around to the Emory area was a logical “next step”. So we squeezed into a couple of seats at the counter that fronts the restaurant, just ahead of the lunch crowd. The crowd that came in behind of us indicates why Sobban is consistently appearing on the list of “hot” spots in town.
Owned by the chef team behind Heirloom Market BBQ, and opened last October, the menu focuses more heavily on the Korean side of the name, with a Southern flair. For starters, Jo began with a beet salad,with roasted beets, candied beets, local greens, dried lotus root (the crunchy looking parts) and an Uja dressing (no idea what’s in that). Being the beet connoisseur among us, she said it was excellent and cleaned the plate. I started with the Gogi Goon Mandu -fried dumplings with shaved local beef, shitake mushrooms and chives – served with a soy and mushroom dipping sauce. The dumplings were much crispier than they looked and, though the mushroom taste was stronger than expected, I enjoyed them.
One of the things we noted while sitting at the counter was its unusual depth (you can somewhat see it in the beet picture). Many times when you’re seated at a counter lining the walls of some place, the counter is so thin that you seem destined to dump your plate in your lap. That wasn’t the case here, although I did manage to fling food all over the place, but that’s a story for later in the meal.
For an entree, Jo ordered the bulgogi with ricewhich was served with some pickled vegetables and a boiled egg (hot sauce added, on the side). The bulgogi was slightly sweet and was excellent. I wished that I had ordered it, maybe as the bulgogi gyro that the guy sitting to my left ordered, the bulgogi roll that I saw served to my right or in the same dish that Jo had.
Instead, I chose the chicken kalguksu,
a dish with house made wheat flour noodles, served in their “over night” broth, with nori, arugula, what appeared to be shaved squash, carrots and pulled chicken, with a side of daikon kimchi – a pickled white radish – which was pungent. I envisioned the dish as similar to udon, which it was, but it didn’t seem to have a very strong flavor to the soup and the chicken, itself, was fairly bland. It was served with a side of hot sauce, which gave the chicken some much needed flavor.
On the food flinging front – I was picking up some of the chicken with chop sticks, while eating the soup with the giant spoon. I had them all resting in the bowl and, while talking demonstrably with my hands, accidentally hit the portion of the chop sticks extending from the bowl, sending arugula, nori and soup flying in multiple directions. Nothing like leaving your mark on a place…
It was definitely a unique dinner, but much closer to a traditional Korean restaurant than I expected. When we go back, likely with some friends, I’ll order the bulgogi instead.