Hoban Korean Restaurant (Eagan, MN)
By Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
The best thing about Korean cuisine, we think, is the panchan. That's the little dishes of pickled vegetables that are served with your meal, and are refilled as needed. The most famous of these is kim chee: napa cabbage pickled in brine with peppers and other seasonings. Some say a Korean meal isn't complete without kim chee. But panchan also includes things like daikon radish, brined and seasoned in various ways; mung bean sprouts boiled and served cold, dressed with sesame oil; and potatoes boiled, brined, and served with garlic and ginger. And Hoban serves some marvelous greens -- a mix of lettuce and spinach, gently cooked and dressed with peppers.
Try everything and ask for seconds of your favorites.
Hoban serves a wide variety of Korean food. Expect meat and vegetables served with rice or occasionally noodles. Common seasonings are soy sauce, red pepper paste, soybean paste, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil. Hoban does some things very well indeed.
Not the appetizers, though. The dumplings taste flat, and don't appear to be made in-house. They're better than the soybean pancakes, which we just didn't like. The soy-ginger sauce with both was great, but save room for better options down the menu. The fresh and hot sweet potato tempura appetizer is the best starter.
Bulgoki is the easiest Korean dish for the American palate. It's marinated beef, sliced thin and grilled. The technique is commonly called barbecued, but it has nothing to do with barbecue sauce. Hoban serves meat that is tender, flavored with an excellent slightly sweet soy sauce marinade. Kalbee is another barbecued dish -- beef short ribs in sauce. Both come with onions and mushrooms.
Bibimbob is a single-dish Korean meal. You get a bowl of rice topped with barbecued beef, vegetables, and a fried egg. Mix it all together, add hot sauce to taste, and enjoy. We suggest the dolsot bibimbob, served sizzling in a stone bowl that keeps your food nice and hot all the way to the end of the meal.
Korean cooking is known for its hearty soups. We especially liked the yuk gae jang, overflowing with sliced beef, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and sliced onion. We also liked the cham pong, another seafood stew in a hot and flavorful sauce. Mandoo kook and tukmandoo kook are both mild soups, and a tastier way to eat the Korean dumplings.
We also recommend the various jongul dishes, more like stews filled with meat, vegetables, and noodles. The menu says they're for two people, but three could make a meal of them.
If you're more adventurous, you can try the hot spicy squid or the octopus. Both are stir-fried with vegetables and a pepper garlic ginger sauce, and both are wonderful.
We didn't like the Korean-style jun pancake entrée. The contrast of an omelet-like egg pancake filled with the tender sliced bulgogi beef was disquieting. The dish is also huge, and just too much of one thing. If you're a large party, consider splitting one as an appetizer.
And finally, don't worry if you don't like spicy food. Hoban has been in business a long time, and they understand the Minnesotan palate. They'll make the dishes spicy if you ask, but leave them mild if you prefer.
Hoban Korean Restaurant
Cuisine type: Korean
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