Korean barbecue restaurant KUI brings traditional cuisine to downtown Columbia

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 | 12:59 p.m. CDT; updated 9:39 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Chefs Ray Park and John Lee plate food on Wednesday in the kitchen of the new KUI Korean Restaurant on 9th Street in The District. The restaurant opened three weeks ago.

COLUMBIA — A traditional Korean barbecue restaurant, KUI, "grilled meat" in Korean, has opened for business in downtown Columbia.

“Korean-style food is the most universal food for everyone. We do not pursue fusion-style cuisine that adopts other countries’ food culture,” John Lee, one of KUI's owners, said.

If you go:

Restaurant: KUI

Address: 22 N. Ninth St.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 4 to 9:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday

Recommended dishes (all can be ordered to go):

Bulgogi: Lunch, $7.95; dinner, $11.95

Galbi: Lunch, $9.95; dinner, $14.95

Sweet and Spicy Pork: Lunch, $7.95; dinner, $11.95

Bibimbap: $7.95

Gimbap: $4.95

Kimchi: $1.50

Korean Cinnamon Tea: $2.50

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KUI uses oak charcoal to grill its meat. It sells "Bulgogi," marinated tender beef, "Jeyookbockeom," sweet and spicy pork, "Galbi," marinated beef short ribs, and "Dakgalbi," sweet and spicy chicken. 

Customers can experience authentic Korean food through "Bibimbap," a combination of sushi rice, fried carrots, fried chopped radishes, shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, spinach, grilled "Bulgogi" and fried eggs.

"Gimbap," Korean-style seaweed rolls, another favorite in Korea, contains rice, eggs, spinach, pickled radish and fish cake.

“'Bibimbap' and 'Gimbap' are good food for vegetarians. We can exclude meat or fishcake for vegetarians, and they can enjoy eating 'Bibimbao' and 'Gimbap,'” said Mi Kyung Lee, who owns the restaurant with her husband, John Lee.

Bowls of sushi rice, a cup of Korean soup and sour slice-chopped radish are available, as well as "Su-jung-gwa," Korean-style sweet tea with cinnamon, for dessert.

John Lee and his wife wanted to open a restaurant to have a place for students in Columbia who need a space for group-studying and meeting. They also wanted to introduce Korean food and culture to residents.

The Lees immigrated to the United States in 1985 and lived in Los Angeles for 10 years before coming to Columbia.

“I saw that many Americans came to Korean restaurants when I was in Los Angeles," Mi Kyung Lee said. "They enjoyed eating Korean food even though it was completely based on traditional cooking methods.”

The interior design adds to the Korean atmosphere. Walls are ivory, an idea that originated from traditional wallpaper, "Chang-HO-JI." They are framed in wood, imitating pillars, or "Dae-Deol-Bo." Blinds, called "Bal," are used to block the sun.

“We want our patrons to feel like they are in Korea,” Mi Kyung Lee said.

The restaurant is already expanding. Currently, the maximum capacity is 28, but it could be 60 when construction is completed in mid-August. A conference space is being built into the new construction.

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