Korean House gets grilling

FIRE IT UP: The new tabletop grills at Korean House will allow diners to cook fresh food at their tables in traditional Korean style. Photo by Jayson Im

Where there’s a grill, there’s a way — particularly for Korean House co-owner Jayson Im. After nearly a year of permitting struggles, the restaurateur is thrilled to debut his fleet of 10 tabletop grills on Friday, Dec. 19.

“We’re happy that we finally get to introduce Korean barbecue to Asheville for the first time,” says Im, explaining that the do-it-yourself method of food preparation is the cornerstone of Korean barbecuing and was the inspiration for opening Korean House.

THE STORY SO FAR

“The biggest holdup was the ventilation system,” says Im, “but we were able to work it out with the city [of Asheville].” Permit process manager Diane Meek, according to Im, was the primary force driving the project through the permitting process and was also the originator of the idea to use electric grills instead of gas units.

“When we got the new grills, we were able to bypass all of those problems that we were having,” says Im, likening the swap to upgrading from a 2G phone to a smartphone. The new infrared grills are 99 percent smokeless and preheat to 400 degrees Fahrenheit in two minutes.

Im says investing significant time and resources toward pioneering the concept in Asheville caused struggles in year one, but he expects an uptick in business to justify those efforts. The entrepreneur is currently retraining and expanding his staff to ensure a smooth transition.

From left, Korean House owner and chef Kristina Im and server Maya Fitzdare at one of the restaurant's new grills. Photo by Jayson Im
From left, Korean House owner and chef Kristina Im and server Maya Fitzdare at one of the restaurant’s new grills. Photo by Jayson Im

AUTHENTIC KOREAN FOOD

Korean food isn’t about culinary theatrics, according to Im, who says Korean meals are slow, communal affairs. Restaurant patrons typically cook portions of their food sporadically between socializing, which draws out the experience.

“That’s the whole point,” says Im, explaining that the goal is to “cook just the right amount you want to eat, talk, drink and then cook some more.” Im says full service will be offered at the table, but guests shouldn’t expect any “flame mountains.”

Korean food emphasizes freshness above all else, and Im describes the fare as having “a lot less oil involved and a lot more fresh vegetables,” compared to Chinese food. Although Korean grilling usually involves meat-based entrees, Im is working with his sister and business partner, Kristina Im, to create grilled vegetarian mains like house-made tempeh to augment the eatery’s veggie-laden sides.

In keeping with the tradition of freshness, Korean House is also upgrading all of its meats — which were already free-range, non-GMO products — by sourcing from Fairview-based Hickory Nut Gap Farm.

A SECOND GRAND OPENING

“A lot of people have been waiting for this,” says Im, remarking that he gets regular calls from locals who have heard about the initial restaurant concept and want grill updates. “We’re finally going back to our original plan.”

Reservations are highly recommended since each of the 10 grills seats only five people. During weekends and until demand slows, Im will favor grilling parties of four or more, but smaller groups will likely be able to char their own entrees to perfection on weekdays after the holidays.

Parties of any size — even lone diners — are welcome to order food prepared in the kitchen any day of the week.

Once the new cooking machines are integrated into the regular service, Im hopes to tackle even more improvements. A sizable and largely unused space downstairs (with roughly the same capacity as upstairs) will come into use on Fridays and Saturdays and host a full liquor bar by early next year. Parties of six or more are invited to use another private seating area tucked away from the main tables downstairs, and Im also plans to adorn restaurant walls with local artwork in the near future.

Korean House is at 122 College St. Call 785-1500 for reservations or visit koreanhousenc.com for more information.

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About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

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