Korean curios at Masan A-Gu Jim

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My colleague Christiane Lauterbach has a column in the January issue of the magazine that explores the dizzying profusion of Korean restaurants popping up in the northern sectors of the metro area. I frequent tofu houses on Buford Highway hadn’t been up to Duluth in a few years to really explore the commotion. I basically scanned Christiane’s column and randomly selected Masan A-Gu Jim at 255 Pleasant Hill Road. It’s in the Super H Shopping Center with many other Korean businesses. I followed Christiane’s directions: “The word ‘seafood’ is the only English in the restaurant’s sign.” (The restaurant on the left side of the shopping center.) Inside, the place is a basic little cafe painted a sunny yellow—welcome in the brutal cold (and thus the flaxen cast over all the pictures).

masan_room

As much as I love Korean barbecue and bibimbap, it was so refreshing to find some intriguingly different options on this menu. The food took a little while to emerge from the kitchen, but when it did, the four of us at the table had some major wow moments.

The banchan and a seafood pancake with kimchi were fairly standard.

masan_banchan

Ah, but then “panbroiled eel” emerged, sizzling with onions on a platter like a fajita. Interesting, after typically having eel doused in sauce at Japanese restaurants, to taste the neutral nakedness of this preparation. They were slightly chewy, and I wouldn’t want to eat this as the sole dish for dinner, but it was a worthwhile addition to the spread.

masan_eel

Next: monkfish soup in a sweet-and-sour broth revved with spicy bean paste. The fish was startlingly fresh and supple.

masan_monkfish

They served it with a bit of run-of-the-mill wasabi paste and soy sauce, which punctuated the tug of sweet-and-sour flavors.

“Black goat healthy soup” may have been the favorite of the evening. It arrived roiling as violently as soondubu (tofu stew), but when the bubbling subsided, we could see the broth was rich with greens and boneless, shredded goat meat. The soup had a lovely, herbal yet floral note to it that was hard to define. “Sesame leaf,” said our server, who spoke excellent English.

masan_goat1

masan_goat2

We finished with what the menu called “spicy cooked snail salad.” The dressing had a similar earthy fire to bibimbap. The snails looked more to us like conch, which does proliferate in the waters off Korea. They certainly weren’t escargot-variety snails, but they had not-too-resistant texture and beautifully absorbed the flavors and heat of the other ingredients.

masan_snailsalad

I will absolutely return here. The only downer: They didn’t have a raw crab dish available that Christiane enjoyed. But I now join her and the Blissful Glutton in a Korean cuisine obsession. If you have any suggestions for other such off-the-beaten-path Korean restaurants, I’m all ears (and taste buds).

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