Korean tradition in Old Ottawa South
Where to find both exceptional Korean cuisine and gracious service.
Name + address: Table Sodam, 1200 Bank St.
Type of food: Korean
Side Dishes: $3-$9
Diet: Meat, seafood, vegetarian
LCBO Licensed: Yes
Website: Table Sodam
Two years of on-again off-again closures took the fun out of going out for meals and for restaurants, well we can all imagine what it meant for many owners.
So it was a pleasure to once again sit inside at Table Sodam and enjoy what they have to offer.
I was once told by the owner that their name means a table of “a variety of small dishes” and in my mind I translated that to “a table of plenty.” That’s certainly not an overstatement because at Table Sodam, you’re well fed.
According to their website, they’re still not taking reservations because of a labour shortage and dining in at lunch, it does appear that there are only two people working. It’s remarkable therefore that they successfully feed a roomful of people without any excess delay. More remarkable is that the quality and presentation doesn’t suffer in any way.
Korean chicken. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
On one visit I started with spicy dak gang jung (boneless fried chicken) with a choice of either corn and cheese or a linguine alfredo. It appears that Table Sodam does have some fusion leanings.
I opted for corn and cheese and it was a pretty intoxicating combination with both the textures and flavours of the two components nicely playing off each other. The sweet spice of the sauce married so well with the richness of the buttery corn and cheese that this is a flavour combination that could easily enhance other foods.
The portion of fried chicken was considerable and the entire meal was quite rich although the side of pickled daikon was refreshing. Nevertheless, I found myself taking home half the chicken for a second meal.
Bulgogi lunch. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
I was first exposed to Korean cuisine a few decades ago as I watched my Toronto neighbourhood go from largely Italian to what then became Koreatown. It seemed I couldn’t get my fill of either bulgogi beef or Kalbi (beef ribs). Both were always cooked or grilled to luscious umami-dense perfection.
At Table Sodam, the thinly shaved bulgogi beef is cut from ribeye and simmered with a sweet, savoury soy and comes served with an assortment of side dishes. Apart from a vegetable soup and steamed rice, most of the sides are served cold with both the kimchi and pickled vegetables fermented.
The Korean kitchen may love its protein but it’s also rich in vegetables making it a good choice for the pescatarian-leaning vegetarians in your life. Take for example the soup that comes with most dishes: it had a concentration of flavour that I recognized but I was surprised to learn that it was made only with vegetables and a slightly spicy dashi stock (commonly a form of dried fish with kombu kelp). It was more complex than I had expected and easily a highlight of the choices in front of me.
Pork ribs. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
The gamjatang here is a go-to if you’re having trouble deciding. It’s a deeply flavoured pork broth soup served with a gibraltar of pork on the bone jutting from the centre of the double-walled stainless steel bowl. It comes with the classic variety of side dishes but it’s the flavour of this broth that has you slurping as if you hadn’t eaten in days. We all know that meat off the bone just tastes better and you’ll be well rewarded, once it is sufficiently cool, if you tackle the pork bone with your hands. So good.
On my last visit I waded into pork rib territory by ordering the galbi jjim. Thickly cut and meaty baby back bones had been simmered to moist and tender perfection and served in a stew of potatoes, red bell peppers, carrots, scallions and bok choy.
What tied it all together so beautifully was a gravy (thickened with potato starch perhaps?) that had both an intense aroma and flavour of a mix of mushrooms. I admit that I’ve never had a Korean dish like it and I can’t wait to go back.
One thing of note: their alcohol mark-ups are more reasonable than I’ve seen almost anywhere in my travels around Ottawa. A pint of Sapporo beer will cost you $7 and the famous Korean drink Chum Churum (a rice based spirit flavoured with a variety of fruit) is only $20 for a 360 ml bottle. This means a mark up of only 100 percent and that is truly uncommon for any bar or restaurant.
My appreciation for Korean cuisine goes simply beyond the aromas and tastes. I find this cuisine has an inherent integrity. It’s a kitchen seldom adulterated with ready-made adjuncts. It’s clean, healthy and it always offers great value for money.
It’s no surprise that this restaurant is so beloved by the residents of Old Ottawa South: the home-cooking is first rate, the serving vessels are very attractive and the prices incredibly fair.
If that weren’t enough I find the service here to always be as friendly and gracious as if I’d just stepped into someone’s home. It makes you feel nurtured in all the best ways.