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THE WEEKLY EATER


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Adding zing to benign burgers

By Nadine Kam

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:59 a.m. HST, Jan 09, 2011


I tend to be more analytical than superstitious, but the one thing I can't escape is the force of the new year and all the good-luck, bad-luck symbolism it entails.

What most people don't want to do is set a bad precedent for the year. That means avoiding the things you don't want to be doing the rest of the year that can rain misery on your life. Therefore, you don't want to cry. You don't want to place yourself in harm's way. You don't want to fight with your significant other. You don't want to be opening bills, even if all this means putting your life on hold for a day.

Instead, you want to set a precedent for joy and abundance by doing the things you love to do. So how is it I found myself eating burgers?

In my 2010 year-end wrap-up, I noted the recession brought an overall conservatism to the food scene with comfort food reigning.

There's never a clean break between Dec. 31 and the early days of a new year, so the trend continues, for now. Nobody wants to take a big risk. Yet even in the sphere of the humble burger, there are variations on the theme and these two restaurants may have just what you're looking for.

I was one of those desperate people shopping at Ala Moana Center the evening before Christmas Eve, and by the time I left the mall, I felt tired, dizzy and weak. But as I headed up Keeaumoku toward the sanctuary of home, I did a double take when I passed KoreaMoku.

First, I had to laugh at the pun-ny name, which states the obvious. To observers of demographics, Keeaumoku and vicinity have long been home to a lot of Korean-owned businesses. The sign I saw introduced a Korean spicy burger and fusion BBQ. I had to check it out. Never mind the rain. Never mind traffic was a mess and drivers were crazy enough without Makaloa Street being closed for what I imagine were rain repairs.

While others might add spice to burgers with toppings of kim chee or jalapenos, KoreaMoku puts the spice, via a house sauce, directly into its cheeseburgers and triple burgers (which means it includes bacon and ham). The basic burger is $4.99, or $6.75 with soft drink and your choice of french fries, cheese macaroni croquettes or deep-fried potato. The triple is $6.99, or $8.75 for the meal set.

Eun Hee Nam owned a yakiniku restaurant in Korea before moving here. Now she and her son Thomas "Yoshi" Uehara run this fast-food restaurant, adapting some American favorites in the process.

Uehara explained that his mom likes to experiment with recipes, and as a self-professed mama's boy, he said: "I eat all my mom's food. Home stuff is all good. I told her if I like it, I'm sure the public will like it."

I liked the burgers, which led to further exploration of the steak panini ($5.99/$7.75 set), which just might wean you away from Philly cheesesteaks if you like spice. If you're a lazy eater, the boneless chopped duk kalbi ($8.95) might be your idea of heaven. They've chopped the meat for you, so the result is a short rib steak patty that liberates you from working your fork and knife around bone.

Mochiko chicken ($7.95) here is light, crisp and airy, made without the sugar that characterizes local versions.

Uehara said his favorite dish is the bibim myun ($8.95), the mixed rice, vegetables and meat dish with broiled pork belly. One of my favorites is the fork-tender BBQ pork ribs ($8.95). These are boiled before the sweet-and-spicy sauce is layered on for its final stint in the oven. You get only three of the spicy ribs, certain to leave you wanting more.

Side portions of vegetables are small, and unlike most Korean fast-food restaurants, which allow you three or four out of many choices, here you'll take what they give you. It won't be a great loss to many who don't eat vegetables anyway.

It's assumed that with cheeseburgers, the cheese goes between burger and bun. You can do that at Everybody Loves Cheeseburgers, but they're also giving you the option of stacking the bun with cheese.

Well, it's not really a bun, but thick-sliced Texas toast that's buttered and topped with cheese for a light, fluffy interior and crunchy, cheesy exterior. The bun is typically a supporting act, but here, the cheese toast turns out to be a bigger star than the rather flat, dry hamburger patty.

Once you add your choice of three toppings, from the likes of cheddar, mozzarella, tomato, mushroom, teriyaki, BBQ or A1 sauces, lettuce, bacon, pickles and kim chee, your creation is bound to be delicious.

I didn't think my combination of cheese toast, bacon, kim chee and mushrooms would work, but it did.

You have a choice of ordering your burger with potato or wheat bun options, and one-, two- or three-patty increments. At $6, $7 and $8, respectively, those prices include fries. A soft drink is $2 more, and chocolate or malt shakes are $3.50, though as of deadline, they haven't been able to produce the shakes.

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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. E-mail nkam@staradvertiser.com.






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