Hidden in the golden plaza: Ha Ahn

Hidden+in+the+golden+plaza%3A+Ha+Ahn

Rachel Hunt

Korean food is delicious, especially when served in an intimate setting where the sounds and smells of a traditional Asian meal completely surround the customer.

Grace Francisco, Contributing Reporter

Upon entering the Golden Plaza on Superior Rd., dim lighting and russet-colored tiles lead to a glass pane wall where little hanging holiday lights illuminate enticing close-up photos of fare offered by Ha Ahn, an eatery specializing in Korean cuisine.

Unable to resist the vibrant images, one can only hope that the flavors live up to the visuals. At first sight, beyond the glass lies a narrow, rectangular room housing no more than 10 tables atop black and white checkered tiles. The left wall is painted a dim moss green on its upper half and bold neon green on the lower half.

At the very back of this restaurant, saloon-style doors stand as a divider between the dining room and the kitchen. Such a scant partition allows the clash of pots and pans on the stove, the hiss of sizzling edibles, and the aromas of the kitchen to effortlessly drift to seated patrons. Puffs of steam escape the kitchen doors and the scent of nutty sesame oil and charred, marinated meats is prevalent. The menu is small and sturdy, mirroring the shape of the eatery itself.

Paging through, the descriptions of items to order are brief and simple, the pricing diverse. Appetizers range from $3.95 to $8.95, entrees from $7.95 to $29.95, while lunch specials circulate at $7 to $8 at Ha Ahn.

While waiting, an array of small dishes, known as banchan, are promptly set on the table to accompany the entrée. Steamed green broccoli florets, which have been chilled and are still crisp to the bite, are accompanied by a red pepper paste swirl, adding a sweet-spicy zing. Beside it are slender slices of soft eggplant offering a spicy, slightly salty chew with a possible hint of fish sauce. The adjacent saucer holds chunks of potatoes with a smooth, creamy, texture in the same sauce. Bean sprouts and slightly bitter broccoli rabe are subtly doused in a mixture of rich sesame oil and clear brine. Thin shreds of snappy, opaque daikon radish doused in ginger-infused red chili-vinegar add an acidic bite to these petite offerings.

The “Soft Tofu Soup” is a popular start to a meal. It comes in a hot bowl as a steaming concoction that is fiery in temperature and, to some, taste. One can choose from vegetables, beef, or seafood. Just as the title suggests, the tofu is omnipresent in this dish, and so soft that it disintegrates on your tongue. It comes with a raw egg that you break into the bowl yourself, where it immediately cooks when it comes into contact with the hot broth.

The “Spicy Rice Cake” at Ha Ahn is a piquant, vermillion heap of caramelized onions, sautéed carrots, and wilted scallions over slanted cream cylinders of rice cakes, a hard-boiled egg, and tender strips of Korean fishcake called odaeng with a delicate sprinkle of sesame seeds.

The “LA Galbi” consists of boneless beef short ribs sizzling on a cast iron hot plate in a thick, gleaming sauce of garlic, soy, and contrasting sugary sweetness, over a bed of softened white onions and another dash of sesame seeds. The meat on the short ribs is fibrous, but while there is an initial gristly texture, the quick sear leaves the beef supple on the tongue. The traditional sticky short-grain rice is perfect for absorbing the viscous sauces.

The “Hot Stone Bibimbap” is a popular option. The starch from rice stuck to the bottom of the hot stone bowl creates a crunchy golden crust that contrasts the rich ooze of the over-easy fried egg yolk and slippery shreds of carrot and zucchini with brown coils of marinated beef. The amount of meat is somewhat disproportionate to the other components. The bibimbap itself is a bit bland; the red pepper paste offered on the side adds a greater depth of flavor.

Just like fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants, Ha Ahn provides an end-of-meal treat of their own, colloquially known as yoh-goh-lroh-te (요구르트) or, in English, simply yogurt. It is a drink similar to thinned yogurt: cold, velvety, sweet, and tart.

A small place within a modest plaza offering a variety of plates could be easily overlooked, but don’t miss Ha Ahn. While service could use more smiles & be more attentive, and the restaurant may not be fancy or have those trendy at-the-table grills, Ha Ahn serves modest fare worth more than one trip.