Tag Archives: seafood

Omaha’s Korean Connection

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Joshua Foo

Korean restaurants in Omaha have strong ties to the military community.

While many Offutt Air Force Base staffers developed penchants for Korean cuisine during Air Force deployments to South Korea, there are also many military spouses who relocated to Omaha from Korea. Some of these spouses have opened local restaurants.

The Korean Grill is a prime example. Its owner, Henim Stimson, used to operate a restaurant in Seoul. Her husband, Air Force veteran Scott Stimson, now helps her in the kitchen at 1408 Harlan Drive in Bellevue.

They often serve couples with similar U.S. military and Korean backgrounds.

While eating dinner recently at the Korean Grill, Cody Scott (an active-duty Air Force veteran) and his wife, Gi (who is originally from Tongyeong, South Korea), share their suggestions for finding authentic Korean food in the greater Omaha metro.

Cody grew up in Tennessee, and he studied Korean in California. The couple met after Cody relocated to Omaha. “We met at Maru Sushi and Korean Grill. Gi was working there as a waitress,” Cody says. They married in 2013 and reside in Bellevue.

The Scotts listed the Korean Grill as their favorite in Omaha. The restaurant’s lunch combo meals and to-go boxes attract a lot of military personnel and many Chinese students from nearby Bellevue University.

Eating Like a Korean

Korean meals are typically served with a variety of “banchan” (side dishes) in small portions. All banchan is communal. Featuring a wide range of seasonal vegetables, roots, tofu, or small seafood, banchan can be fermented, pickled, lightly seasoned, or braised in sauce. Kimchi, fermented napa cabbage, is the most common type of banchan.

While many associate Korean food with Korean barbecue—thinly sliced meat dishes (both marinated and unmarinated) and vegetables cooked on a built-in table grill or a portable grill—rice, noodles, soup, and stew remain staples of Korean cuisine.

One of the most iconic offerings in Korean cuisine, “budae-jjigae” (army stew), is a spicy soup with Spam meat, hot dogs (or other scraps of meat), tofu, instant noodles, mixed vegetables, and sometimes a piece of Kraft cheese.

The Scotts order budae-jjigae and several of their other favorites while speaking with Omaha Magazine. The stew comes in a huge portion, best suited for two to share.

“Army stew” is an invention of South Koreans after the Korean War. As food shortages persisted, locals scrambled up surplus processed meats from the U.S. military and cooked them in a spicy soup with kimchi. Its standard ingredient—Spam meat—is beloved in South Korea. During Lunar New Year, the pork product is often packaged in a fancy box and given away as a gift.

“Gimbap” (Korean sushi) is another of the Scotts’ favorites. Gi explains the dish is akin to Korean takeout food; they would eat it on the go or at picnics. Unlike its Japanese cousin, the rice in gimbap is not seasoned with vinegar but salt and sesame oil. It does not require dipping in soy sauce or wasabi. To prevent leftover gimbap from drying out overnight, Gi suggests leaving the sushi rolls on the counter instead of in the refrigerator.

“Japchae” (a sweet potato starch noodle stir-fry) is another beloved Korean dish. Although usually served as a side dish, japchae can also be a stand-alone dish eaten with rice.

Korean Restaurants Around Town

First-timers to Korean food should take a quick crash course at Korean Grill. You will find a selection of assorted dishes displayed in a food-warmer cabinet; the owner readily offers honest advice and a generous portion to guarantee a good dining experience.

Cody recommends ordering “galbitang”—a clear soup with beef short ribs—and “doenjang-jjigae”—a spicy (if made traditionally), fermented soybean paste stew. Korean Grill offers three other famous dishes—“sundae,” a Korean-style blood sausage; “kkori gomtang,” an oxtail soup; and “jokbal,” a steamed pig feet dish. Those items are “hidden from the menu,” so diners must order in advance for such delicacies.

Gi’s top three picks for Korean eateries are Korean Grill, Korea King, and Maru. Rather than ordering soup, her go-to dishes usually contain some seafood, such as octopus.

Korea King offers communal family-style Korean food. The chef there used to work at Maru. “Their ‘ojingeo-bokkeum’ [spicy stir-fried squid], ‘kkori gomtang’ [oxtail soup] and ‘chicken bulgogi’ [bulgogi is a grilled meat dish] are good,” Gi says. “Maru, on the other hand, serves personal-size dishes. I like their chicken bulgogi, ‘jjamppong’ [Korean spicy seafood noodle soup], and ‘jajangmyeon’ [Korean black bean sauce noodles].”

“Go to Korean Grill for soup; go to Korean House Restaurant for grilled meat,” Cody advises. Korean House Restaurant is located right outside of Offutt Air Force Base and is known for its great prices. Cody recommends its grilled beef. You can also find Korean street food “tteok-bokki” (spicy Korean rice cake stir-fry) there. The restaurant is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and between 5 and 8 p.m.

Suji’s Korean Grill has recently reinvented its entire menu and introduced Korean built-in table grills to the Aksarben area. Cody says he has not been to the restaurant since its updates, but he used to enjoy the “Chipotle-style” Korean food Suji’s offered.

The 2.0 version of Suji’s is booming with business. On any given weeknight, a steady stream of diners awaits to feast on its $35-per-person endless Korean barbecue, which begins with a platter of high-quality fresh meats, including rib-eye, chicken breast, pork belly, flank steak, pork jowl, and brisket; complemented with a steamed egg dish, banchan, and bowls of rice. A picture of the meal on social media will guarantee meat envy.

In Ralston, you will find authentic Korean food at Korea Garden. Its banchan is all house-made and tastes delicious. Although the Scotts had not tried Korea Garden at the time of our interview, I highly recommend an order of the “nakji bokkeum” (stir-fried baby octopus) at Korea Garden.

Local Korean Eats

Korean Grill
1408 Harlan Drive
Bellevue, NE 68005
402-933-5150

Korean House Restaurant
2413 Lincoln Road
Bellevue, NE 68005
402-291-3900

Korea King
4719 S. 96th St.
Omaha, NE 68127
402-593-6568

Korea Garden Restaurant
5352 S. 72nd St.
Ralston, NE 6812
402-505-4089

Maru Korean & Sushi Restaurant
5032 S. 108th St.
Omaha, NE 68137
402-593-0717

Suji’s Korean Grill
1303 S. 72nd St., No. 101
Omaha, NE 68124
402-884-7500

This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

The Big Easy in the Big O

March 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

One of America’s great food cities, New Orleans, is steeped in history, culture, and fantastic flavors. From beignets to étouffée, the Southern city’s distinctive cuisine attracts food lovers worldwide. Perhaps the best way to satisfy one’s Cajun and Creole cravings is with a trip to N’awlins. But if that isn’t in your plans, a visit to Herbe Sainte offers a taste of the Big Easy without leaving the Big O.

The Aksarben Village cocktail bar and restaurant, which opened in late October 2016, is the creation of longtime restaurateur Ron Samuelson and his nephews, Aaron and Justin Halbert. For decades, Samuelson co-owned M’s Pub, the iconic Old Market restaurant that was destroyed in a January 2016 fire. His focus is now on Herbe Sainte and other new projects, including a French-focused eatery that he and the Halberts are working on.

muffuletta

For Herbe Sainte, the trio took inspiration from the food and drink of the Crescent City. “New Orleans has a great cocktail culture,” Justin Halbert says. Seafood purveyors from several Gulf Coast states supply the restaurant with fresh shrimp, crawfish, and oysters. Halbert, who used to live in Florida, says seafood from the region, particularly Gulf shrimp, boasts exceptional flavor and texture.

Shrimp is the star of one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, NOLA shrimp. One of a dozen items on the small menu, it features plump, succulent shrimp smothered in a rich, luscious sauce made decadent with cream, butter, and wine. It’s served with crusty French bread to sop up the sauce, which is sparked with a Creole seasoning blend for a palate-tingling heat. I would have liked a bit more spice, but I thoroughly savored each bite.

raw oysters

Executive chef Jeff Owen leads the kitchen, showcasing an appreciation for the nuances of New Orleans cuisine while putting his own twists on the classics. The shrimp roll features boiled shrimp lightly dressed with Cajun remoulade, lettuce, onion marmalade, and cornichon. Lack of breading and frying allows the shrimp’s firm, meaty texture and sweet, clean flavor to shine. We liked the filling but thought the bun needed to be warmed or toasted a bit.

Oysters are abundant in New Orleans and on Herbe Sainte’s menu. They’re available shucked and served on the half shell, as well as broiled. For non-seafood lovers, there’s muffuletta (a signature New Orleans sandwich stuffed with cold cuts, cheese, and olives) and a cornbread and sausage plate. It features sliced boudin (pork-and-rice sausage), mustard, pickles, slaw, two types of cornbread, and honey butter. The restaurant’s boudin has a soft, crumbly texture and was milder than I expected.

Enhancing the dining experience is a stylish interior with local artwork, modern-meets-rustic décor, and an eye-catching bar with custom wood shelving. Several couches, coffee tables, and armchairs invite guests to linger. The high-ceilinged space is intimate enough for date night yet lively enough for after-work cocktails. “We wanted it to be really eclectic,” Halbert says.

The establishment’s name comes from Herbsaint, an ingredient Sazerac cocktails.

The drink menu offers classic New Orleans cocktails, such as the Sazerac. Bold yet balanced, it includes brandy, Peychaud’s bitters, simple syrup, and the restaurant’s namesake, Herbsaint, an anise-flavored liqueur used as an absinthe alternative. The long, spacious bar provides plenty of room to whip up craft cocktails and develop house-made ingredients.

Together with their design team and bar and kitchen staff, Herbe Sainte’s owners have created a delicious, inviting spot to savor a taste of New Orleans and let the “bon temps” roll year-round.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit herbesainteomaha.com for more information.

NOLA shrimp

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Fat BBQ Shack

July 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Barbecue is gaining in popularity. It has become so popular that Europeans now consider barbecue to be the cuisine of America. I am OK with that. Real barbecue does not come from that thing on your deck used to create char marks on steaks. Real barbecue refers to the culinary style that involves slowly cooking tough, inexpensive cuts of meat over hardwood charcoal until they become tender, smoky, and delicious.

FatShack1Barbecuing is not easy. It’s an art form, and good barbecue technique is something that takes people years to master. Fat BBQ Shack owner Cary Dunn has perfected his style of barbecue. The original Fat Shack started as a food truck and has since become a brick-and-mortar restaurant at 30th and Webber streets. It’s easy to figure out where the restaurant is in the Webber Place shopping center, since the line often stretches out the door.

The inside of the restaurant is nothing fancy, but it’s clean and serviceable. Most folks might refer to the place as a barbecue joint. It’s a small place that looks smaller because it is usually packed. Wood chairs surround lacquered wood tabletops. A roll of paper towels and two bottles of the Fat Shack’s housemade barbecue sauce top each table. You order at the counter from a well laid-out menu board. Then you can either take your barbecue to go or eat it there—if you can find a table.

The menu is quite extensive for a barbecue joint. The Fat Shack has a large selection of sandwiches, burgers, hand-breaded seafood, and, of course, smoked meat dinners with all the sides. The meats include brisket, pulled pork, ribs, rib tips, sausage, smoked turkey, and smoked half chickens. The sides include baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, green beans, corn on the cob, fresh-cut fries, fried okra, collard greens, and homemade potato chips.

On a recent visit, I braved the crowds and ordered a “Three Meat Dinner” ($14.99) which comes with two sides and choice of sliced bread or cornbread. I ordered brisket, pulled pork, and ribs. Brisket must be the chef’s specialty. It had a crisp black exterior, pink inner smoke ring, and a juicy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. It tastes incredible. The pulled pork is also good, but not on the same level as the brisket. The rib meat falls off the bones and tasted great, but I like ribs to stick on the bones a little more. For sides, I had the macaroni and cheese, and the collard greens. The macaroni and cheese is amazing—easily the best I know of in Omaha. The collard greens are also a real treat, perfectly seasoned and braised with smoky bacon. I also sampled the cornbread, which was hot, moist, and yummy.

FatShack3On another lunchtime visit, I tried the “Carolina Sandwich” ($7.99). This giant sandwich is piled high with moist smoked pork then topped with a vinaigrette pepper sauce and their crisp, creamy coleslaw. The combination is incredible, definitely a must-try. I also tried “The Shack Attack” ($8.99). This gluttonous dish is a giant mound of fresh-cut fries, nacho cheese sauce, choice of meat (I went with the brisket), barbecue sauce, shredded cheese, sour cream, ranch dressing, jalapeños, and chives. If this does not fill you up, nothing will. I have never enjoyed stuffing myself more than with this decadent and delicious pile of a meal.

If you’re getting the feeling that I like the Fat Shack, then you are right. The Fat Shack has moved itself to the No. 1 spot on my list of favorite barbecue joints, and that is really saying something. You owe it to yourself to go give it try.

FatShack2

Fresh Seafood From Stem to Stern

May 23, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Article originally published in May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

To say that Omaha is not known as a seafood town would be a huge understatement. In fact I can count the local restaurants that specialize in “fruits de mer” on one hand. It could be because we are so far away from bodies of water that produce good seafood? It could be because so many midwesterners don’t really appreciate good seafood and that could, in turn, be because it is so hard to find good seafood in the Midwest? Regardless of the reason, In the spring of 2013 the quest to find good seafood in Omaha got infinitely easier with the opening of Plank Seafood Provisions in the Old Market.

Plank4

The restaurant is operated by the same people who brought us Blue, Roja and Blatt, so you already know it will be good. Located on Howard Street, the restaurant itself has a modern yet comfortable look to it. Bright orange chair cushions, iron fixtures, and distressed wood paneling combine to make this a very attractive but casual restaurant. The bar features a full oyster bar where you watch your fresh fare be hand-shucked before sliding them down your throat. Fresh, live oysters are a big part of what makes Plank so inviting, and many people go there to just have a beer and some fresh oysters. I can’t say as I blame them.

On a recent visit I started off as I usually do with a half-dozen fresh Oysters on the Half Shell ($19.64). Many people think the Gulf Coast is where choice oysters come from, but that’s not really true. The very best come from the cold, clean waters of the Pacific Northwest or the icy East Coast bays of Massachusetts, Virginia, and Connecticut. Plank features top-notch varieties from both coasts. On this night they had six different varieties, and I tried one of each. All of them were extremely fresh and tasty. I like trying them one by one and noting the difference in texture, salinity, and flavor. The raw oysters on the half shell are served as they should be—on ice with cocktail sauce, horseradish, and mignonette. If raw oysters aren’t your thing, they will also cook them grilled BBQ style, baked Rockefeller style, or fried in Anchor Steam beer batter. To me it seems like a shame to cook them, but I have tried all of their prepared oyster dishes and can tell you they are all worth a go.

Plank6

There is more to plank than just great oysters. On this night we also tried the Shrimp Cocktail ($11.50). These perfectly cooked, flavorful white shrimp are boiled with creole spices and served with creole mustard and a housemade cocktail sauce. We followed that with a cup of Lobster Bisque ($7.00), which was expertly prepared and very enjoyable. For dinner I had the Diver Scallops ($28.00), which were pan-seared with braised bacon, creamy farro, braised kale, sherry reduction, and a carrot ginger purée. This was a truly stellar dish and the combination of ingredients worked perfectly together. My dining partner had the Shrimp Po Boy Sandwich ($15.00). This was the best example of this classic cajun sandwich that I have sampled in Omaha and, at least for a moment, transported me to the French Quarter. The bread was crisp and perfect, and the fried shrimp, tomatoes, dill pickles, lettuce, and creole mustard sauce were all spot on. I will be sure to have this the next time I come in for lunch. What perhaps most surprised me was the fantastic desserts at Plank. We tried the Bananas Foster Bread Pudding ($8.00) creatively presented in cubes on a banana brulee sauce with homemade brown sugar rum ice cream, and salted caramel sauce. Possibly the best dessert I have had this year. We also tried the Chocolate Torte ($8.00), which was also presented beautifully and featured chocolate ganache with a hazelnut wafer crust, homemade coffee ice cream cardamom, and crème anglaise. Yum!

Plank8

If you are getting the impression that I liked Plank, then you’re not far off the mark. I have not yet even mentioned how good the service was or talked up the impressive draft beer list, the creative craft cocktails or the seafood-friendly, curated list of wines. To learn more about those things, you will just have to the dive into the waters of Plank and find out for yourselves. Cheers!

Plank7