As I’ve mentioned before, Hawaii has an influence from many Asian cuisines, and one of the more prominent ones is Korean. Indeed, Kalbi (marinated and grilled beef short rib) and Meat Jun (egg-battered and fried meat slices) are two of the more popular options in the classic Hawaiian “Plate Lunch” (which I’ll probably mention in a post dedicated to the topic). But in addition to the many “Drive Ins”, takeout joints, and the like, proper Korean restaurants are also rather common on Oahu, and one night we decided to do a Korean dinner. One of the better options, especially on the Windward side of the island, is Kim Chee, a local chain with about four locations around Oahu. We decided to check out their Kailua location, in the Enchanted Lake strip mall.
The important thing to realize is that the culinary influence in Hawaii often works in both directions, and that’s definitely one thing going on here at Kim Chee Enchanted lake. It started with the Hawaiian friendliness: walking in the door got us a boisterous “Aloha!” as well as an “Annyong Ha Se Yo!”. And culinarily, the menu is definitely more than a bit Hawaiian-influenced: instead of the individual banchan, they have the “all you can eat vegetable bar” filled with a variety of Korean vegetables, kim chee, and, in a true nod to Hawaiian culinary influence, macaroni salad (I still want to know more about the history of macaroni salad in the Hawaiian islands). But the kim chee was pleasant (although I’ve not been able to nail down the difference, the kim chee in Hawaii has a distinctly different flavor from mainland places), as were the wilted mustard greens, the pickled sprouts, and the rest of the bar was pleasant enough.
Where both of us were particularly surprised was the care and attention to plating. Carol’s Kim Chee Platter was a sight to behold, a veritable mountain of food consisting of two pieces of chicken teriyaki, some Kalbi ribs, two pieces of meat jun, and several mandu, topped off with some cabbage and an onion ring, and plated beatifully. This was both bountiful, and delicious.
My simpler meal of just meat jun and Kalbi wasn’t quite as artfully arranged, but was nicely presented, and, well, the quality was solid. The Kalbi was tender, moist, and very flavorful (a pleasant change from some of the over-tenderized and sticky-sweet Kalbi I’ve had other places), and the meat jun was very crisp on the exterior while still flavorful and moist on the interior.
Add in a complementary small dessert, and this was rather more food than the two of us could consume. For a total bill of $20, this was an impressive dinner in both quality and quantity, and served up with a lot of friendliness. If you are windward and looking for a plesant Korean-Hawaiian place, Kim Chee Enchanted Lake wouldn’t be a bad choice.