Dinner Out @ Riverside Korean

I'd never been to Riverside Korean until this week.  It just slipped through the cracks for years somehow.  I've consistently heard good things, and it's been on my list for a while, so I'm glad I can finally check it off my list.  My Urbanspoon rating is an "I liked it," and I did, but it comes with a few substantial caveats.

The Food:  The menu at Riverside has loads of options, but I was the last one to arrive from our group and had to get in some greetings.  The group chose an appetizer - the Ya Chae Pa Jun (a vegetable pancake with green onions, zucchini, onion, mushrooms, carrots, and long hot peppers), which comes to table with a sauce much like gyoza dipping sauce.  This was a simple dish that was solid but not impressive.

Next came the Ban Chan.  Before the entrees at a Korean place, small plates or bowls of spiced and/or pickled vegetable (and some seafood/meat) are brought for everyone at the table.  The most famous of which is definitely kimchi, made with napa cabbage. In this case, we got eight options, including squid, potato, radish, daikon, and spinach.  We finished off most of these before our entrees arrived, and then ordered another round (at some places they're free).  I was told that these small plates can also serve as ways to blunt or increase the heat of the main dishes.

For my entree, I ordered the Galbi Jhim (on get in mah belly's suggestion) - short ribs with veggies and pine nuts in a pot that keeps on cooking as its placed on the table.  The defining element of my meal though, the sauce - it's very sweet, but has a lot of depth to its flavor and is so good it could be drunk all by itself.  Thankfully, there is enough of the juice to cover all the meat, veggies, and rice.  Unfortunately, too many pieces of the ribs were laden with tough fat or cartilage, and I didn't really want to be chewing and spitting at the table.  It would have been nice if the prep work would have been a bit more thorough.

Others at the table had Duk Man Du Guk (rice cakes and dumplings with beef broth and egg soup), Jhu Ku Mi Gui (grilled baby octopus with spicy tangy sauce),  O Jing Au Bok Um (spicy stir fried squid with cabbage, long hot peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, onion, green onion, and carrots).  This meal was not nearly so focused on the food as most of my trips to restaurants these days, but I did catch the following tidbits: the soup was a huge portion, and the squid was blazing hot (there's no scale, it just comes that way).  I was disappointed that none of us ordered an "Adventure Dinner."

The Ingredients:  There is nothing on the menu about local, organic, or sustainable.  Just as we'd hope for the other restaurants around town - and particularly the highly rated, highly publicized places - it would be great if Riverside would source ingredients locally, and if they'd note it on their menu.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  Riverside is located on Main Street in Covington, in a relatively nondescript storefront.  When I was heading out the door, I asked Sarah how nice the place was so I could figure out if I needed to change clothes.  She said she remembered white table clothes.  It turns out that if you sit on the floor in the raised area of the restaurant, there are white linens.  But, in the booths at floor level the tables are wood and have a metallic opening that appears to be for an on-the-table heat source.  Overall, I was underwhelmed by the atmosphere and decor - it doesn't strike me as a place you would think of as "nice" and warrant dressing up for.

The service was pretty straightforward.  We had a few jokes with our server, but there weren't many other people there on a Tuesday night, and generally we were on our own.  Waters went unfilled at times, and we asked twice before getting another round of Pan Jun.

Because Riverside has been listed #10 the past two years in Cincinnati Magazine's list, I think my expectations just didn't mesh well with reality.  Top 10 spots usually are "nice" - they tend to be more expensive and the decor + atmosphere usually = dress up a bit (wine me, dine me noted this when she wrote about Slim's and Cumin making the list in 2009, though she calls it "special").  I was expecting big, bold flavors from a Korean place, and in that regard, Riverside delivered.  But the setting and service left something to be desired, surprising me that the total package put them in the Top 10.  I also left thinking I could get a lot more bang for my buck than I did for that $35.

Lastly, the photos - not so good this time, I went sans Sarah and had to make do on my own.  But, check out the slide show below anyway.

I will definitely be back to Riverside.  I need to go as a dedicated eater, and I need to do it again sooner rather than later.  The menu is chock-full of selections that sound amazing, and there are more than a few ingredients listed that I'm not sure you can get anywhere else.  But until then, I'll keep wondering what those Cincinnati Magazine scores were.

Riverside Korean on Urbanspoon


D R E W said...

i love riverside! my favorite dish is dolsat bibimbap, aka, the stone bowl.

all the different ban chan is great, too. especially the potatoes and daikon radish.

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

Bibimbap is a favorite of ours as well - we posted a home recipe for it a while back here - http://amateurfoodies.blogspot.com/2010/03/bibimbap-home.html. I too really liked the potatoes in our 1st round of ban chan. Thanks for the comment!

Tony said...

Good review. You should label the little photos that sit within the body of the review if you can.

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

Tony - thanks for the comment. I started out using captions for the photos, but they are kind of annoying at the bottom of the picture. But, you're right, we should figure out something with that, maybe even just listing the name of things in the write-up (i.e. the photo on the left is...).