Alex: Heather and I have been craving something different in our food routine lately. Lucky for us, there are a few hidden gems in Jacksonville’s culinary scene. We recently found ourselves at Hon Korean Restaurant off of Beach Boulevard where both the food and the company we were dining with being as equally enjoyable. Six of us surrounded a table with a hibachi inset; surrounded by colorful magazine cut outs and various bits of Korean memorabilia.
Cari had orchestrated the trip, and since the rest of us weren’t well versed on traditional Korean fare she also ordered for the group. The restaurant is run by a married couple, the wife is the chef and the husband is the server. We settled into casual conversation as the server set down glasses of tea, which is served instead of water. At first sip the barley flavored tea was a bit strange, but the flavor definitely grew on me throughout the night. In addition, since Hon is a BYOB restaurant, Cari brought out a selection of unique beers to enjoy with the meal.
The first dish to make it to our table was the Haemul Pajeon, a “Korean pancake” that was basically a giant seafood omelet. I wasn’t exactly sure what I had been expecting when I was told that we’d be having a pancake for dinner, but it certainly wasn’t anything like this! There was squid, cuttlefish, octopus, and all manner of other shellfish stuffed in with a healthy serving of green onions. The next time I’m feeling creative and have some spare seafood around at breakfast time I’ll have to try my hand at making my own Korean pancake.
We also had a couple servings of their fried chicken wings coated in sweet and spicy sauce and topped with peanuts. I love chicken wings, and it was really hard to set these down knowing that we had so much more food coming. But that might have been a bad decision, because as soon as I stopped eating the heat really started to kick in. It was only through timely refilling of my barley tea by our server that I managed to survive, if only to try another bite!
One other appetizer we shared was yakimandu; fried dumplings filled with vegetables, noodles, and spices. Heather really enjoyed these two-bite dumplings. There was a good balance of flavors and they didn’t last long between the six of us.
Once we’d chomped our way through the appetizers, it was time to officially get the table going. The stove was turned on in the middle of the table, the meat was brought out, and Cari took the lead again to cook the main dish correctly. The LA Kalbi was marinated short ribs with an assortment of vegetables. On top of that, we also had the Dolsot Bibimap, which was fried rice with marinated beef and topped with a fried egg served in a piping hot stone bowl (which is what the dolsot is).
We had specific instructions to listen for the Bibimap to stop sizzling before stirring it around and serving it, which was incredible advice in the end. The rice came out lightly toasted and covered with bits of egg and beef made a hearty meal on its own. You can order bibimbap without the dolsot if you prefer your dish more plain, but Heather loved the crunch texture of the rice that was created with the dolsot. The Kalbi turned out excellent under Cari’s ministrations; it was perfectly tender and practically melted in your mouth. We had a dizzying amount of banchan; side dishes that vary based on what is available at the World Food Mart store right next door. However, it was the fresh kimchi, a dish made of pickled vegetables and spices and is Korea’s national dish, which stood out as the most unique flavor.
Overall it was an incredible evening. Where some might say the service was slow, I would say it wasn’t rushed. Nothing is more frustrating than enjoying good conversation and nice atmosphere then feeling like the server is rushing you out the door. We all had the opportunity to relax and truly enjoy the excellent cooking coming out of the kitchen. I would happily come back to Hon and spend another wonderful evening there to listen to the sizzle of the Dolsot Bidimap and smell the kalbi roasting on the hibachi.