Most of the city's Korean restaurants, much like our Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese dining dens, are marked by their transparent strip mall center facades, bare interiors and stoic service. That's not how Shin Sa Dong, a new Korean restaurant at 10293 East Iliff Avenue, rolls.
The swank shrine to Korean grill-your-own barbecue, complete with a seemingly infinite parade of banchan, the miniature bowls of Korean side dishes that zigzag between kimchee and jelly noodle salad and all sorts of other curiosities that remain mysterious to me, opened in early June, and the elegant dining room, with dark wood, melodic fountains and waterfalls, stone-cemented walls and hardwoods, is more than just a quick stop to get your prime-grade bulgogi fix.
"We renovated about 60 percent of the restaurant when we took it over, and while there are quite a few Korean restaurants in Denver, people have figured out that it's really nice here, that it's spacious and that the food is better than everywhere else," says general manager Patrick Choi, who glides across the dining room in an impeccably pressed suit. "Our chef is from Korea, he notes, "and he's cooked in New York and Los Angeles, and and his food is prepared in a more current and modern style while still respecting tradition."
And the diners, adds Choi, keep coming back for more -- more boiled oxen head soup, more sweet potato noodles bobbing in a cold beef broth, more steak tartare with toasted sesame, Asian pears and pine nuts, more Korean sausage soup and bibimbap. "We've had one Korean guy who's come in every day for two weeks in a row, sometimes twice a day," says Choi. "They keep telling me that they have nowhere else to go for Korean food -- that's the feedback that I'm getting from our repeat customers."
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After clogging my gut with more food than anyone has a right to -- the banchan alone feeds three, quite possibly four -- Choi can count me among his devoted disciples. Take a look through our gallery of photos to get a taste.
The banchan exhibition. Shin Sa Dong's dining room, enhanced by fountains. Beef bibimbap. The space, which seats nearly 200, is the largest Korean restaurant in Colorado, according to Choi. Meat...in the raw. Beef bulgogi, pineapple and onions searing on the inset gas grill.
Shin Sa Dong is open daily for lunch and dinner; call 720-748-1414 for more information.