At Korê Steakhouse, each table is equipped with an inlaid grill that gives you the freedom and heavy responsibility of playing chef for a night. Are you ready for this?
I hope. Because the restaurant, which opened at Waterside Place earlier this year, is one of the best in Sarasota.
When I arrive, the waiters deliver me a variety of banchan, traditional Korean side dishes like pickled onions and radishes, egg salad, and kimchi, for free. You can dip them straight in or save them to accompany your main dish. At Korê, there are no rules, except take your time and have fun.
For new Korê diners like me, the staff explains the Korean barbecue process, offering recommendations on how to cook with your grill. They take care of you without tipping, providing excellent service with no expectation of return. Some diners may slip a few extra bucks on the table as they leave, but that’s not necessary as a service charge is baked into the pricing model. The menu offers a la carte options, as well as a prix fixe menu, with a wide range of meats and varied sides.
The fixed price “Butcher’s Pride” ($95 for two) includes a fried shrimp appetizer, two sides (cheesy corn – rich and salty corn on the cob brimming with cheese – and a salad of green onions), a generous selection of beef and pork to prepare and a light dessert of mixed berries and whipped cream. Servers bring in raw meat, one item at a time, with a pair of scissors so you can cut the meat into bite-size pieces before placing it on the grill. The room is equipped with a state-of-the-art ventilation system that draws air around the underground grill and circulates fresh air into the dining area, preventing the build-up of smoke and odors while you cook.
Meat offerings in “Butchers Pride” include prime meats like New York strip loin, rib eye, pork neck and galbi (marinated short ribs). The ribeye is intensely marbled, making it a rich, buttery bite that melts when it hits your palate. The pork neck brings a gaminess that I’m not prepared for and don’t like, while the galbi, marinated in soy, sugar and aromatics, overshadows the rest with well-balanced umami and sweetness. When I get back (and will definitely be back) I’ll skip the prix fixe and head straight for the galbi and ribeye.
The menu offers other items than those prepared at the table. They are labeled “For Sharing” and include japchae (stir-fried sweet potato noodles, $15), bone marrow ($12) and bibimbap dolsot ($17), among other options.
Although you won’t be making the bibimbap yourself, it’s highly recommended. The server delivers it to a very hot stone bowl that toasts the rice from the bottom, giving it a crispiness that is a revelation in texture. Then the waiter mixes it all together – beef, a fried egg, vegetables and rice – so that each bite contains a bit of each ingredient. I enjoy it while my meat cooks on the grill and somehow it stays hot throughout the meal.
Korê’s cozy booths are ideal for an intimate evening, but larger tables can accommodate multiple guests, as Korean barbecue is best enjoyed with lots of friends. The interactive experience is fun and sparks conversation, and the restaurant would even be a great place to bring the kids, so they can play with their food as they help prepare it.
As my eyes wander around the room, I’m struck by how much fun everyone is having. Laughter abounds as people awkwardly carve their meat with scissors. I look forward to bringing friends, family, and anyone who likes to have a good time.