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There hasn’t been much quality Korean barbecue inside the Perimeter since Mirror of Korea on Ponce de Leon Avenue closed forever ago. D92 Korean BBQ set out to change that when it opened in Decatur last August.
I hate hovering servers, but I also don’t want to be completely ignored. One easy way to negotiate the right level of service is the buzzer common in Korean restaurants. Picture a red button mounted next to your table. Push it, and a server materializes, ready to turn down the flame below your sizzling meat, refill your kimchi bowl, or bring you more barley tea.
Drive up and down Buford Highway or around Doraville and Duluth, and you’ll start to notice that Korean bakeries—pushing 20 by last count—practically line the roads. Their vibes range from soothing cafe to late-night hangout, where the Asian-majority clientele includes students hitting the books, elderly couples perusing, and friends of all stripes socializing over espresso drinks and bubble tea.
The most global culinary destination in Gwinnett, the metro area’s most international county, at first glance looks like a typical American food court. But the bazaar inside Duluth’s Assi Plaza brings together the cuisines of Korea, China, Japan, Vietnam, Russia, the Philippines, and Peru under one roof. Compared to the other Asian hypermarkets—Super H Mart, Great Wall Supermarket, and Mega Mart—opened in recent years along Pleasant Hill Road, Assi (which launched in 2009) delivers the most cross-cultural reach. In its food court, counters with attractive, uniform signage face a common dining area with wood-grain, laminated tables grouped on a linoleum floor that draws the eye with its sunny colors. Every vendor posts backlit pictures of staggeringly diverse menu items.
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).
My first encounter with Korean culture took place in the small Greenwich Village apartment my future husband shared with the son of the Korean ambassador to the United Nations. Young Victor Han kept kimchi in the refrigerator and a tiny metal hibachi in the living room for his grilling needs. I moved up the food chain when Victor’s parents entertained me at a sit-down dinner at the new embassy in Vienna, where they were posted a year later. I remember very little of the meal, except that it was long and formal and I had no idea how to eat a whole fish with chopsticks.