Korean food: ‘different’ is good

Running a restaurant in a hotel comes with one priority: good food to help guests start their day.

And, remember, guests come from all over the world, so the food can’t be too “out there” and the staples need to be covered: eggs and burgers.

But many hotel restaurants can’t survive on business from just the guests … they need to attract the locals.

Michael Yeh has this figured out. He runs FUSION from the old Talisman location at the River View Hotel at 1stand Wood Street.

He has “typical” breakfast and lunch fare (no dinners yet) and then added some Korean dishes.

Yup, he managed to find something that isn’t offered in Whitehorse yet, although it is close to Japanese cooking.

“Koreans use steamed rice, Japanese use dry rice,” says Yeh. “And we put more vegetables in there.

“The beef is mixed with soy sauce and put away for 12 hours, and then taken out and barbecued in a pan.”

Barbecued in a pan?

“He fires up the fry pan – there are flames – and it looks like a barebcue,” says Meh of his chef, Alex Choi.

Choi is one of these über-talented chefs who used to work for five-star restaurants in another country – South Korea, in his case – and found his way to the Yukon, via Vancouver, for something different.

He is now learning about his customers – what they like, what they don’t like – and massaging the menu.

For example, Kinchi is the most popular Korean side dish, but it is very hot. Choi and Yeh will introduce it soon, but in a milder form.

“I’m trying to find new local people to bring in since I need to see what people want,” says Yeh.

He knows there is a good lunch crowd in Whitehorse that wants something different, but there is also a dinner crowd, too. So, that is in the works.

On a Thursday morning, before the lunch crowd was due, my lovely dinner companion and I were offered a sampling of Korean foods. This was to be a crash course in a cuisine that was new to both of us.

Meh was only too happy to stick around and help us out.

First delivered to us by our server, Liz Benoit, was Bibimbab. It was steamed rice with a healthy wallop of beef on top and was surrounded by neat piles of veggies. There were cucumbers, onion, zucchini, carrot and spinach.

“And mushrooms,” said Daisy, my LDC. “These are really good mushrooms.”

Then there was a side dish of a sauce. Meh mixed it all together on the plate and we served ourselves.

“Hmm, I can taste the seasoning,” said my LDC. “And I love that hot sauce, it has a real kick to it.”

I was enjoying the spices, too. It wasn’t hot, but it did fill the mouth without being overpowering.

Next was the Bulgogi Korean Grilled Barbecued Beef.

“There’s a sweetness to it,” I said.

“Yes, Korean cooking adds a sweet taste to the meat,” said Meh.

“I love it,” said Daisy.

Now, the Korean and Canadian cultures meet in the Korean Barbecue Beef Burger. It was the meat patty that made all of the difference: it was cooked perfectly (moist, yet still hot throughout) and nicely spiced.

Then Benoit brought out a Bulgogi Korean Barbecued Beef Benny. “She leaned in conspiratorially and said, “This is the best Benny I’ve ever tried.”

Yeah, it was excellent. The homemade hollandaise sauce and the Korean-style beef made it more of an experience than a meal.

Alas, there was too much for even the three of us, so Benoit kindly put it all together in a doggie bag.

“We’ve heard that before,” said Meh, with a satisfied and mischievous smile. “One person complained that the dish was too big.”

FUSION is open seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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