Restaurant review: Japanese Oriental Restaurant

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From the Restaurant review: Japanese Oriental Restaurant edition

The phenomenon of WikiLeaks has inspired me to launch ChefiLeaks. Here's my first entry.

Late one evening recently, in a dangerously top-shelf-booze-heavy dive bar and diner north of the OSU campus, I ran into a chef who's the right-hand man of one of the best chefs in Columbus.

Since I'm friendly with the dude, we hoisted a few, and before conversation stumbled into blearier territories, I asked which off-the-map eateries he's been loving lately. Without hesitation, he said, "Japanese Oriental Restaurant just down the street - I had their delicious bulgoki tonight."

It'd been a while since I'd dined at J.O. but I couldn't say why. I'd always enjoyed the place, and I live so close it's a joke.

Well, after acting on the chef's excellent tip, I figured J.O. was a victim of my taking my neighborhood for granted. Because the generally busy yet relaxed and reliable Japanese Oriental Restaurant has a lot to recommend.

It has a lot on its menu, too. Approximately the size of the Toys R Us Christmas catalogue - and equally packed with color photographs -that menu's a "where do I start?" tome. To help out, here's a few tips of my own.

J.O. does a commendable job with sushi, and its raw and cooked, simple and complex options seem nearly inexhaustible. But for straightforward preparations and good values, try the Rainbow Roll ($10) or the Sushi Appetizer ($9 - love how the sushi rice is pre-daubed with a tiny bite of wasabi).

If you like the idea of sushi but not raw fish, you might like the Negamaki ($9). Thinly sliced seared strips of ribeye steak tasted great doused in a gingery soy sauce and rolled around scallion and asparagus. On the downside, mine were a bit overcooked and hence a tad chewy.

But my Bulgoki with Leaf Lettuce ($14) was melt-in-the-mouth tender. In fact, I'd say J.O.'s make-a-lettuce-taco take on this classic Korean dish of marinated thin beef curls was one of the better versions in town.

Sprinkled with sesame seeds and served sizzling with onions on a cast iron plate like fajitas, the slightly sweet and just garlicky sauced meat was every bit as good as my cheffy chum said it was. Plus it came with plate after little plate of ban chan, that magic medley of alternatingly salty, sweet, pickly and funky treats that accompany many Korean entrees.

A merry band of ban chan also played along with that other staple of Korean restaurants, Dol Sot Bi Bim Bop. I went with J.O.'s refreshingly unusual seafood variety ($13) and was quite pleased.

I loved how the volcanically hot stone pot literally crunched up the bed of rice in contact with it. Atop the rice was a middle layer of chili-paste-bathed veggies and spare bits of tender seafood (like octopus and squid). Crowning it all was a cooling stratum of shredded lettuce.

Tofu Jhim ($13) might sound like some healthy guy's nickname, but it's an addictive, veggie-heavy, super-spicy Korean stir fry. I liked how its soft textures (like of silky tofu) were treated to hard-charging flavors.

By now you might've noticed that though it's called Japanese Oriental, this place features lots of Korean cooking. Well, the owners are Korean, and along with Japanese and Korean menu sections there's "Korean-Style Chinese Cuisine." From those selections, the tangy, fruity, chili-powered, battered and fried Hot Braised Pork was a killer dish. And less of a secret now that you've read about it in ChefiLeaks.

For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog at blog.columbusalive.com/underthetable