I love Korean cuisine, and I have been a fan of Hoban Korean Restaurant in Eagan for many years. So I looked forward to the opening of the new Hoban Korean BBQ in Uptown with great anticipation. Last week, we checked it out.
First, the good news. The new Hoban is strikingly stylish, with flagstone walls and marble tabletops. K-pop music videos on the big screen behind the hostess station. Pulsing colored lights and a forest of gleaming stainless steel hoods above the tabletop grills. High decibel sound system. The clientele is young, hip and, when we visited, mostly Asian – to judge by the unofficial Facebook page, the place is especially popular with Vietnamese millenials.
All in all, it’s a major departure from the older generation of Korean restaurants like Mirror of Korea, Sole Cafe, Dong Yang and Korea Cafe – mostly lovable but frumpy mom-and-pop places. It’s also pricier than most. The only place that comes close, in terms of ambience, is Dong Hae in downtown Minneapolis.
The food is pretty much on a par with those other Korean places. If you want to get picky, the soon dobu chigae (spicy tofu soup with seafood) is bigger and maybe better (and less expensive) at Tofu House, and the seafood pancake is more seafood-y at the Korea Cafe. You get a bigger and more interesting assortment of panchan at Mirror of Korea.
But the real draw is the barbecue, and (unless I’m mistaken) Hoban Korean BarBQ is the only local restaurant that offers tabletop grilling. A variety of meats and seafoods are offered, including a couple of different cuts of galbi (beef short ribs), thinly sliced brisket, pork belly, shrimp, and squid.
Our three-bone galbi, marinated in soy, sesame and garlic ($21.95), were first-rate. There is supposed to be a two dish minimum for grill orders, but when we balked, our waiter offered us a second dish of grilled vegetables on the house. This was a very generous offer, but the grilled vegetables ($12.95), simply charred pieces of sliced red peppers, mushrooms, onions and squash with a little bean paste as a condiment, added little to the dining experience.
Our primary server was personable and attentive, but service still felt a little disorganized – maybe because they had only been open for a week.
The one sour note came at the end. Earlier, when we had asked to see the wine list, our server told us that there was no list, but that he could recommend wines for us. We wound up with a couple of glasses of a Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc, and a glass of Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc. Turns out, the Mondavi was priced at $14 a glass, and the glass of Whitehaven was $17 – pretty steep for a twist-top wine that’s sold at Sam’s Club, and can be found on other wine lists for $9 -$11 a glass.