Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ahri's Kitchen

I'm going to cut right to the chase: Ahri's Kitchen is killing it.

Of the many new restaurants to open downtown over the past year, Ahri's stands out as one of the best. It's also one of the more unique, serving up authentic Korean food, something we don't see a lot of in Jersey City. Everything about this small, friendly spot is meeting, and often, exceeding expectations.

For being a fairly limited menu, they offer a lot of options with everything from appetizers to Korean BBQ to Korean ramen and everything I've had so far has been delicious. While the menu is a bit heavier on the seafood/meat side of things, there are a couple of strictly vegetarian options and some meals I'm sure could be made vegan upon request. They also specify which dishes are entirely gluten-free. It's fairly affordable too, meaning you can easily get out of there for under $20/person, having enjoyed pretty generous portions.

On the appetizer side, they recently added Korean dumplings (Mandu, 5 to an order) with a chicken, scallion, and carrot filling that was tender and delicious and I would definitely recommend them. However, in case you're not willing to eat the entire menu, either of the fritters are a much better choice (unless you're getting take-out; they tend to get a bit soggy although still delicious). My particular favorite is the kimchi fritter: crisp triangles of their housemade spicy kimchi sliced, floured, and fried, but the seafood version is also excellent. Both are packed with flavor but are light enough to be an excellent  and nonfilling start to your meal.

Of everything else I've tried, the spicy tuna handmade rice roll, the grilled beef short ribs dupbop (priciest menu item at $18), and the sweet and spicy noodles were particular stand-outs.

The tuna roll was packed with fresh, crisp vegetables, tender, somewhat spicy tuna, and very well-cooked sticy rice. If you were to pair that with one of the appetizers or another roll, you're looking at an almost perfect lunch.

The dupbop was full of beefy, garlicky, oniony flavor with just a little bit of sweetness and sesame all at once. It was a bit of work to get the meat off the bone, but the kind that tells youjust how good a meal is when you're willing to make a mess and get every last bite and with rice to soak up all the sauce, not a single drop of flavor is lost.

The sweet and spicy noodles, though a little heavy on the seaweed for my taste, were excellent and very filling. It was one of the dishes that had the most unfamiliar overall flavors while being made up of completely familiar ingredients which I really enjoyed. I didn't get much sweetness, but they definitely had the biggest hit of heat out of anything I tasted. Since they're served cold, it's a refreshing dish in warmer weather, but certainly hearty enough and carrying enough spice to be enjoyed anytime.

Most of the dishes are served with a side of the kimchi which is probably the best I've ever had. I'm not a huge fan of kimchi as a general rule but I ran into no problem devouring it here. Nicely seasoned with plenty of garlic and slow-building heat, not overly fermented, and still retaining just a bit of crispness, it's opened my eyes (and tastebuds) up to just how good kimchi can be. That said, the side of it they give you is really, really tiny. It's almost more of a sample size than anything else and while a little bit goes a long way, I'd love to see them increase the size they give you even just by half.

Other than that, complaints are few and far between. The first time I went, there was an issue with something we ordered, but even after explaining the siutation and assuring the staff that we didn't think it was a big deal, they still insisted upon replacing the item, sending out an additional dish, and taking it off the bill which was just way above and beyond what I would have expected and demonstrates the kind of passion and dedication this restaurant has.

    (Top is pork shoulder dupbop, bottom is bulgogi bibimbop - the meat was tender, vegetables crisp and refreshing in both dishes)

All in All
Ahri's Kitchen, 227 7th Street at the corner of Erie, is one of the best spots to open this year. Yes, there are some minor issues here and there - the wait can be long, I wish everything that's supposed to be spicy was a little spicier than it is and so on, but really, these are minor details not worth quibbling about. The food is fresh and delicious, the customer service is entirely about providing the best possible experience to the customer, and the price is pretty appropriate. It's a great, casual but nice spot where you're guaranteed a good meal. Besides eat-in, they also offer take out, delivery via FastBoy, Seamless, Grubhub, and and they are a BYO restaurant for now.

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