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Galbi, left, and japchae at Soo Rah Korean Cuisine in Medford. Photo by Maureen Battistella

Korean home cooking at Soo Rah

Korean food is home cooking, but not of the meatloaf and macaroni-and-cheese variety. Ingredients in Korean cuisine are everyday — eggs, cabbage, beef, onions and, of course, tofu and seafood. It’s the spices, considered textures, companion condiments and presentation that make Korean food a unique culinary experience.

You’ll find it all at Soo Rah, meaning “food for the king” according to owner Paul Sungku Yeo.

It was early evening the Thursday we stopped in at Soo Rah at 38 N. Central Ave. in downtown Medford. A crowd of kids chattered softly in a back corner, playing cards and checking phones while they waited for food. Two families shared a table, one of the babies in a stroller so that curious hands were safe from hot plates. A couple sat at a booth toward the front. We took our time with the menu and enjoyed a Korean beer, Hite, while we considered our options.

I’ve loved Korean food since college when a Tae Kwon Do master, newly arrived to the states, grilled short ribs for his students. I’ll never forget the sweet, salty, savory flavors of that charred beef. The kimchee his wife served was a crunchy-vinegary-chili pepper burst in my mouth and plain, white rice a surprise after all those tastes. It was a simple meal with complex flavors so different from those I’d grown up with.

Eager to begin our meal at Soo Rah, we ordered mandu ($6.99) to start. The seven pan-fried dumplings were filled with succulent pork, minced green onions and ginger. The mandu were beautifully plated on a bamboo board and the soy-chili-vinegar dipping sauce amped up the umami in each dumpling. A vegetarian option is also on the menu.

It was a night for beef, and we hungered for galbi and our favorite standby, bulgogi, respectively $23 for a small serving of ribs and $19 for bulgogi. The ribs are every bit as good at Soo Rah as I remembered from college. The slender slices of beef, marinated in soy, ginger, sesame and chili were bedded on sweet onions, served sizzling on cast iron, cut cross grain for easy handling.

The bulgogi is equally as delicious, the rib eye sauced with subtle difference and pan-fried with scallions, garlic, onions and mushrooms.

We couldn’t resist noodles and decided on japchae, translucent and chewy sweet potato noodles with slivers of carrot, pepper, onions and spinach. As soon as the noodles arrived to the table, I slurped them up hot with loud satisfaction.

Bibimbap, rice topped with a protein, greens, seasonal vegetables and crowned with a fried egg, seemed to be one of Soo Rah’s most popular dishes and was served repeatedly as we enjoyed our meal. Hot and sizzling, the scent of those beautiful bowls floated past us more times than we could count. Not on the menu, bibimbap is available to those in the know at $14-$16, depending on your choice of protein.

Soo Rah plates their offerings using beautiful, handmade stoneware in rich, earthy colors of green, blue, brown and black. These serving pieces establish an understated elegance in the open, airy and exposed brick space. On the table are flat, metal Korean chopsticks, easier to handle than the rounded or square bamboo chopsticks commonly used for Chinese or Japanese meals.

At Soo Rah, the mains are served with miso soup, rice and the chef’s choice of sides. The night we enjoyed Soo Rah, the house rice, a 26 grain mixture of seasoned beans and steamed rice was not available, but the white rice was just fine, a bit sticky but not too much, exactly the way we like it.

The chef’s choice of sides was five small plates that were amazing, complementing and enhancing the meal. We expected the kimchee’s pungent, fermented cabbage but we didn’t expect a sampling of other house specialties that included tempura zucchini, squares of vegetable jeon (a flat, eggy pancake), seafood salad with a blue mussel and a julienne of marinated raw potato.

Sushi, sashimi, curries, udon, teriyaki and tempura are also on Soo Rah’s menu, ranging from $6 to $20. Proteins include choices of pork, chicken, beef, tofu, eel, salmon, tuna, squid and others, depending on the dish.

Soo Rah is open for lunch and dinner, closed Mondays. Reservations for large groups or during peak dining hours are suggested. Call 541-816-4141.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

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