Suck on our salty meatballs, A.A. Gill.

Cincinnati Bites
Bibimbap from The Korea House

Posted Friday, February 19, 2010

We rarely eat at restaurants where a dinner for two costs more than $30. The sheer economics of it are always a factor, but what it really comes down to is our preference for ambiance. Neither of us feels comfortable dining at places with fine linen tablecloths, prix fixe menus, sommeliers and an unusually high proportion of luxury vehicles in the parking lot. No offense to those who frequent such restaurants: it just ain't our bag. Ya dig?

Of course, there are a few exceptions: restaurants mostly relegated to special occasions and holidays like the past one, Valentine's Day. Chung Kiwha Korean BBQ & Sushi is just such a place. And while it doesn't sport fine linens, sommeliers or an upscale atmosphere, it does cost as much as the restaurants that do.

Chung Kiwha, located in Florence, Kentucky, is an all-you-can eat Korean buffet. We typically don't do buffets, either, but again, this is an exception. Food consists mostly of meats and seafood that are cooked on a round charcoal grill built into each diner's table. Personal overhead exhaust fans do their best to dissipate the smoke, but you're absolutely guaranteed to come home smelling of smoky grilled meat. And that's part of the experience.

At $27.95 per person (which includes drinks other than alcohol and tea), the price keeps us from being regulars. Typically, we visit Chung Kiwha about once every year or two. But if you love grilled meat, arrive hungry and pace yourself, you'll manage to leave with a full belly and a silly grin on your face, believing you got your money's worth.

There's no really interesting decor to get in the way of things; they keep the place dark, as though to hide the film slowly accumulating on the walls and ceiling after more than 12 years of nearly ceaseless smoke. A large, muted, big screen TV glows in one corner, displaying an odd assortment of Asian game shows.

The buffet spread is quite simple. You can start off with your choice of two different kinds of soups, pile up a large bowl of sticky rice or pick from five or six tubs of side items, known as Banchan. The sides include Kimchee, seasoned cellophane noodles, mushrooms, pineapple, daikon radishes and tiny, silvery dried fish. Sushi is typically on hand at the buffet station (except Sundays), but if not, ask your server for some. Afterward, choose from ten trays of raw items to be grilled at your table: onions, red and green peppers, mushrooms, mussels, squid, scallops, tiger shrimp, marinated beef (bulgogi), short ribs, pork, chicken and beef tongue. Most of the meats are pre-seasoned and spiced, cut thinly to assure fast cooking. Pile up a couple platefuls and prepare to grill.

A server will arrive at your table with a fresh bucket of hot charcoal, placing it into a compartment under your grill. A pair of metal tongs are supplied for transferring meats onto the hot surface. Some multitasking is involved, as you'll be busy eating while keeping an eye on items still cooking.

grilled meat and veggies at Chung Kiwha Korean BBQ and Sushi

The simple act of grilling meat is pleasantly satiating, fulfilling base, primal urges. The charcoal smoke and the seasonings bring out intensely satisfying flavors. If you're a carnivore, you'll feel as though you've transcended to a higher plane of existence. If you're a vegetarian, you'll dance along the hot precipice of hell.

The beef tongue, scallops and chicken were easily my favorites. Most people won't try the tongue, which is a shame, because its name wrongfully evokes all kinds of nastiness. It's sliced so thinly here that, once grilled, tastes an awful lot like a Steak-umm.

Chung Kiwha is a meaty adventure that, while pricey, offers a unique, smoke-filled dining experience. Enjoy it, but be sure to take a shower afterward.

Chung Kiwha Korean Barbecue & Sushi on Urbanspoon
Chung Kiwha Korean BBQ & Sushi

Price: Expensive ($17 - $30 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 3.0 out of 43.0 stars


Posted: 2010-02-19 09:44:34
What an interesting restaurant - I've never heard of it! It just got added to the wish list. Thanks!

Cincinnati Bites
Posted: 2010-02-20 13:25:50
Cool, hope you enjoy it! My girlfriend had read about it about eight years ago. We typically eat there for birthdays and Valentine's Day.

Posted: 2010-02-21 18:24:44
ive never seen more than one car in this restaurant's parking lot...and i drive by there at least twice a week.

Cincinnati Bites
Posted: 2010-02-22 00:03:48
What time of day, BK? They don't open until after 4:30 pm on weekdays. They've been in business since 1998, so maybe it's a front for the Korean Mob? ;)

Posted: 2010-02-22 10:18:05
You're going to laugh-- but we call Chung Kiwha the "truck stop sushi" place (because of its placement, mostly). Love their sushi, but was less impressed with the barbecue-- maybe because I can never eat that much meat? Then again, I'm not big into the Brazilian steakhouse concept, either. It is a fun place in an interesting location (with good sushi).

Cincinnati Bites
Posted: 2010-02-22 14:43:44
@Julie: "Truck Stop Sushi." I think you're onto something. ;)

Posted: 2011-02-07 09:09:16
OMG - I am going to this place for the letter C on my ABCs of Cincinnati. My sister is in Korea right now and got all her friends to vote for it. I didn't know it was the random truck stop sushi place I'd driven by 100X! I can't wait to see what I'm in for! I agree - always thought it was a front for the mob. Can't wait!

Cincinnati Bites
Posted: 2011-02-07 12:35:32
That's cool, Hussy! If they don't have sushi ready when you get there, just ask them and they should make it for you...sometimes it's there and sometimes not.

It's one of our favorite places to go for grilled meatiness.

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