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We didn't need these flavorful little dishes to punch up the excellent, spicy, marinated pork with vegetables. Also excellent was the brined and boiled pork bossam, sliced like an old-fashioned roast and sided with leaves of fresh, cool napa cabbage. We folded hunks of pork in the cabbage leaves and spiced them up with kimchi and a couple of slices of raw garlic.
To cool things down after the meal, servers bring out cups of cold cinnamon tea. Carol Ann, who has traveled through Korea, was suitably impressed. "In Seoul," she said, "a place like this would be considered a fancy, elegant restaurant."
It's certainly the fanciest Korean restaurant in Overland Park, but it's inexpensive enough that it couldn't really be considered elegant. The costliest dish on the menu is a wonderful platter of beef short ribs; every other entrée is under $20. Actually, the joint would be a lot more elegant if the Kwons invested in napkins: They're currently using cocktail-sized napkins, which are ridiculous for anything involving eating.
As a cost-saving measure, those napkins are a turnoff, but the economies of the menu are alluring. On the night I dined with Lou Jane, Bob and Truman, we ordered a lot of dishes to share, and the tab wasn't at all daunting. Lou Jane, back from a trip to Turkey, had severe laryngitis and was forced to eat in silence while Truman dominated the conversation at the table, comparing Korean cuisine with that of his native Florida. "It's all stews and fish and a lot of pickled and spicy stuff," Truman said.
Lou Jane rolled her eyes and took a swig of white wine. "Just order for me," she rasped, grabbing my arm. I took the liberty of ordering her a classic Korean comfort dish: dol sot bibim bap, a hot stone bowl filled with rice — deliciously crunchy from the intense heat of the bowl — along with vegetables and chopped beef and topped with a fried egg. Bob, the meat-and-potatoes eater in this group, had cast a wary eye at all the spicy condiments (though he'd bravely sampled a few) and was thrilled to find a familiar-sounding galbi steak, marinated in a sweet-soy sauce and served on a sizzling iron platter. It was as good as anything he's eaten at the Golden Ox, just without a baked potato.
Although Sobahn's fare leans heavily toward meat and fish, the Kwons do serve vegetarian dishes, and I really enjoyed the dubu steak, not steak at all but fat squares of pan-sautéed tofu in a silky amber sauce that was slightly, but not cloyingly, sweet.
Truman, meanwhile, was unnerved by the stainless-steel chopsticks. "You can either knit a sweater with these," he complained, "or use them for a surgical procedure. But not for eating." He was much happier when the server brought him a fork, which he used effectively on his yukgae jang stew of sliced beef, which was a little more fiery than he expected. "I've never tasted anything like it," he said as he grabbed his water glass. Claiming that he'd burnt his tongue, Truman was a little less chatty during dinner, and Lou Jane smiled. "Here," she croaked out, pushing a dish of hot radish kimchi in his direction, "eat more of this."
He revived as we sipped cold cinnamon tea and he soon found his tongue, cross-examining Sharon Kwon.
"Don't you miss singing opera?" he asked. "Wouldn't you rather be back in New York City instead of stuck here in ol' Overland Park?"
"I love being back and working with my family," she said.