Wednesday, July 29, 2015

First bite: Making a 'Stand' for contemporary Korean

Nadine Kam photos
K-ramen is one of the specialties at Red Stand, a new contemporary Korean restaurant in the Samsung Plaza.


Locals are accustomed to Korean meals with a centerpiece of grilled meat, but a new wave of contemporary Korean restaurants is veering from that format.

The latest is Red Stand, where carbs form a large part of the menu, with meat taking a secondary role.

It will probably take a while to adjust, but enter by day and you will find an array of grab-and-go fare, such as Spam musubi ($1.90) and its Korean equivalent, samgak kimbap, triangular musubi packed with such ingredients as kim chee and tuna, beef bulgogi, spicy pork, and spicy squid, at $2.25 each. It’s like a smaller version of Mana Bu’s.

The restaurant is small and cozy.

If you choose to stay, dining here is like being fed by your mom, starting with the tidy bentos packed to-go—sending you off to a day at school or work—to tableside service as staffers, currently all women, carefully stir dishes of tteokbokki (spicy rice cake) and stews so you don’t go splattering red gochujang sauce all over yourselves.

There is a definite feminine vibe to the room that is cozy, clean and appointed with floral touches and teddy bears dressed in Red Stand logo shirts. The bears are gifts to customers who spend a minimum of $50.

And the gluten-free demographic may appreciate the presence of rice burgers, with white rice buns standing in for the usual wheat bun. The combination of rice, with centers of kalbi ($3.95), beef bulgogi, spicy chicken, and spicy pork ($3.75 per burger), amounts to eating a giant musubi or a hand-held plate lunch.

Spend $50 on a meal, and the small bear in the logo tee is yours.

For the gluten averse, there are rice burgers, such as this one with kalbi center ($3.95). It’s like eating a giant musubi, or plate lunch in your hands.

One of my favorite dishes here is the shrimp fried rice, the rice flavored with seafood broth to give it beautiful depth.

Mini set bentos can be prepared for those looking for a quick, simple and inexpensive breakfast or lunch. The smallest is a combo of Spam musubi and scrambled egg, accompanied by your choice of kim chee, miso or corn soup, for $4.50. There’s nothing particularly exciting about it, but it’s polished and comforting.

If you’re a diehard meat eater, this probably won’t be the place for you. You won’t find the heaps of grilled chicken, kalbi and other meats associated with old-school Korean take-out spots. In their place you’ll find more carbs in the form of fried rice, tteokbokki and K-ramen (read: instant, which is what’s popular in Korea, where they have yet to embrace the notion of artisan noodles) and stews that serve two or three, cooked over a hot plate.

In spite of the instant status of the noodles, the broth, like most of what’s served here, is cooked from scratch and the ramen is beautifully presented in a covered pot. Seafood ramen ($7.95) is topped with shrimp, squid and negi. Other ramen options are topped with spicy beansprouts ($5.95), cheese ($5.95), kim chee ($6.95), and ham ($5.95).

The restaurant also specializes in housemade tteokbokki, also known by the more Western user-friendly name toppoki. This is the seafood version with shrimp, clams, mussels and fishcake.

Many who dine here gravitate toward the tteokbokki, also known by the more Western-user friendly name topokki. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of carbs, so generally steer clear of these thick, tubular rice cakes. At most places, they’re usually reconstituted from dry form with the tendency to be hard and chewy. No thanks. But Red Stand makes its rice cakes from scratch so they’re much softer and pillowy. One order of tteokbokki, at $9.95 to $18.95, generally serves two. A large serving will serve three to four, at $15.95 to $27.95.

The seafood version ($18.95/$27.95) features shrimp, mussels, clams and thin sheets of fishcake, with cabbage, carrots and negi. To these ingredients you can add on such extras as ramen ($3) added to the broth at the end of the meal, hard-boiled egg ($1 each), cheese ($2) or fried mandoo ($2.50). The mandoo features a housemade wrap, so it arrives looking more like a misshapen pancake, with filling that’s milder than usual, without as much of the oil and salt component of typical dumplings.

The spicy sausage stew ($27) might be considered a Hawaiian lunch meat special because of the array of processed meat in it: Portuguese sausage, Spam, Vienna sausage, ham, and one of my friends swears he tasted a slice of bologne, beautifully arranged before it’s tossed with tofu, negi, cabbage, bean sprouts, onion, cabbage and beans.

Finish a meal, or simply stop in for dessert of bing soo, or Korean shave ice ($7.25), with green tea, strawberry or red bean granite topped with pastel mochi, slivered almonds, dried cranberries and fresh fruit. It’s one more way to cool off this summer.

Spicy sausage stew might better be described as a lunch meat stew. The meat comprises ham, Vienna sausage and Spam, cooked over a hot plate with bean sprouts, green and white onions, cabbage, carrots, beans and tofu.

A twist on bi bim bap, with the rice swapped out for noodles.

Sujebi, a soup with filling-less dumplings is a specialty that I just don’t get because I don’t crave carbs.

Korean-style shave ice, or bing soo, is available for dessert. Options include strawberry, green tea, mango and coffee flavors for $7.25 to $8.95. This one is green tea.
Red Stand is in the Samsung Plaza, 655 Keeaumoku St., open 7 to 10 p.m. daily (subject to change). Call (808) 947-7272.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

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