Traditional vs. modern — it’s an argument foodies have probably been having for centuries, particular with regard to ethnic cooking. Is it a chef’s responsibility to faithfully recreate recipes the way they’ve been interpreted for generations? Or should that chef get creative, drawing on traditional styles and techniques while moving them forward for a modern world? Honestly, it’s an argument I’m bored of having. Apparently, the people at 9 On the Plate Korean Bistro, a new Korean restaurant on Desert Inn Road and Durango Drive, agree. So they’ve drawn a clear line of demarcation down the middle of their menu. In one side, they offer their take on traditional Korean dishes. On the other, they provide a modern twist.
9 On the Plate is a mid-sized restaurant in a space that used to be home to a teppanyaki place. It’s been mostly redecorated, although one converted teppanyaki table inexplicably remains, complete with its large overhead exhaust fan. The rest of the bright space is minimally decorated. It has a modern feel, but (hip-hop soundtrack notwithstanding) doesn’t try to conjure that nightclub vibe that so many modern Korean restaurants embrace.
The menu is fairly limited, with only 14 or 15 items (side dishes included) on each side. Among the traditional dishes you’ll find the grilled meat known as bulgogi ($10), braised chicken Andong-style ($11), the rice dish bibimbop ($10) and japache noodles ($7). The chef puts his modern twists on the beef and pork bulgogi as well as the bibimbop, offering them in sliders, tacos and a salad, respectively. His modern dishes also include caramelized scallops with fried sesame leaf, crown daisy oil and chili sauce ($10) and honey chicken wings with roasted nuts ($10).
I’ve tried two of the traditional dishes. A side of deep-fried rice cakes ($3) was a skewer of five small cylinders, crispy on the outside and gummy in the center, topped with a sweet and spicy red sauce. Imagine Japanese mochi ice cream, without the ice cream, but with a nice dose of heat. An order of pan-seared salmon was crispy and brown on the outside, but still moist and tender in the middle. The fish itself was a bit bland, but the kimchi risotto with creamy hot pepper sauce offered a nice blend of flavors that complemented it well.
On the modern side, I had mixed opinions of the beef bulgogi siders ($9) and spicy pork bulgogi tacos. I’m torn: The hotter pork seasoning was a bit more to my liking than the sweeter beef, but I thought the quality and preparation of the beef itself was better than the pig. That said, the tacos were a much greater success. The thin tortilla and just a hint of avocado sour cream, kimchi chutney and spicy ssam sauce really allowed the meat to shine. Unfortunately, the thick slider buns made it hard to really appreciate the beef and other topping on the sandwich. If you’re gonna go with the beef bulgogi, I’d stick with the traditional preparation.
A seared beef-belly salad ($9) was also extremely good. The beef was nicely seasoned and perfectly cooked. And the salad of mixed greens, frisee, red onion, roasted nuts and soy-ssam sauce was quite tasty on its own.
Finally, I had the modern twist on fried chicken ($10). The small crispy nuggets were a little bland, but cooked properly, and the sesame dressing that accompanied them (along with a monstrous pile of scallions), had a nice touch of honey to it.
I’ve had lunch from 9 On the Plate twice — once dining in, the other grabbing takeout. On both occasions, the main dining room was empty, with small parties seated in a side room. Service was friendly and courteous both times. But when I dined in, the kitchen and staff seemed overwhelmed by someone ordering a massive feast in the other room. As a result, my entrée took forever to come, followed by our side dish five minutes later, and my wife’s entrée another five or 10 minutes after that. They clearly realized there was a problem, however, and brought a complimentary beef salad for us to snack on while waiting.
9 On the Plate is a quaint little addition to the neighborhood, offering simple Korean cuisine, and then mixing it up a bit, at a very reasonable price. Despite some problems with the service, it’s definitely worth a visit.
9 ON THE PLATE KOREAN BISTRO, 8560 West Desert Inn Road, 817-3417. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net and follow him on Twitter @almancinivegas.