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Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014

Milwaukee's New Korean Contender

Stone Bowl Grill will please novices as well as aficionados

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Korean food is not new to this area but for some odd reason it has never really taken off. Korean restaurants such as Blue Tower and Ko-Am came and went; Seoul has been Korea’s flagship in recent years and a few Japanese places add a sprinkling of Korean items. But now there is a new player. The Stone Bowl Grill occupies the former Mayura Indian restaurant. Owner Brian Park is no stranger to the local restaurant scene. His other places include Kanpai in the Third Ward and Wasabi in Brookfield. While the menus at those restaurants have a dash of Korean fare, they revolve around Japanese and Asian Fusion. The new Stone Bowl is 100% Korean.

Stone Bowl’s décor is traditional Korean with plenty of dark wood and just enough ceramics to set the theme and booths for privacy. The attentive servers do not waste any time. At the entrance is a bar, a place to nibble on mandoo ($6), the small fried dumplings that always please. Try them with sake or an ice-cold Korean beer. The menu’s focus is the traditional bibimbop ($9.95-$14.95), meat or vegetables served in steaming stone bowls. Options include beef, tofu or vegetables over rice and topped with a fried egg. One exception, o-jinguh, is spicy squid with a gentle hot red pepper sauce with scallions, onion and sesame seeds. There is no egg.

Entrées are served with three different banchan, small bowls of condiments ranging from very mild to somewhat spicy. Cucumber kimchi and a potato salad nearly always show up. Kimchi chigae ($8.95-$10.95) is a stew of the red pepper and garlic-laced napa cabbage with tofu, clear noodles and meaty pieces of pork belly. The kimchee is carefully seasoned, not overwhelmed with hot pepper and garlic. This is a soothing meal in a bowl, the ideal fare for a wintry day. In the seafood ramen ($8.95) the noodles may be Japanese but the flavors are all Korean. The broth is much like the chigae but with calamari, clam, shrimp and fishcake instead of pork. It’s another fine effort from the kitchen.

Korean fare is often associated with barbequed meats. At many restaurants in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, the sliced meat is cooked by the diner on a tabletop grill. Here everything is prepared in the kitchen. Jaeyook ($9.95-$13.95), also called pork bulgogi, is covered in more of that spicy red pepper paste. Onions and carrots lighten things up a bit. The pork is lean and tender. So often it is fatty, especially in Koreatown. The regular bulgogi ($9.95-$13.95) is beef minus the red pepper, its flavor amplified instead with a sweet soy sauce. The priciest menu item is the kalbi ($18.95), beef short ribs sliced in the unique Korean manner, the meat slices arriving on a sizzling hot platter topped with chopped scallions and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

Now Milwaukee has two worthy restaurants devoted solely to Korean food, both just as appealing to novices as they are to aficionados of Korean cuisine. The flavors of garlic, red pepper and hints of sugar are all there, working together in harmony. Stone Bowl Grill is an appealing restaurant, another winner from Brian Park.

Stone Bowl Grill
1958 N. Farwell Ave.
414-220-9111
$$
stonebowlgrill.com
Handicapped access: yes