Yet, somehow, there’s a segment of the Lansing market that is seemingly not content with what’s here — and it took someone with a unique vantage point to discover it. That is, a vantage point all the way from metro Detroit.
Kevin Choi, 48, was born in Seoul, South Korea, but grew up in Japan, spending his summers working at his uncle’s restaurant in Kyoto. In 1997, after obtaining a business degree, he moved to southeast Michigan and started working at a Japanese restaurant. Soon after, he opened two of his own places: a Korean restaurant in Novi and a Japanese restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor. But he noticed something interesting about a large segment of his clientele.
“I was getting a lot of customers from East Lansing who were telling me that there was no fine Korean dining in their area,” Choi says. “(Michigan State University) has many Oriental students, and I thought it was too bad they were making that long drive to Novi. So I decided to move to them.”
This week, Choi is putting the finishing touches on Bulgogi Korean Cuisine, which opens Jan. 31 in the slot formerly occupied by Mumbai Cuisine in East Lansing. Choi has completely overhauled the space, which he’s leasing from the Christman Co. He´s added a brand new kitchen and a totally remodeled dining room that accommodates special tables outfitted with bio-ceramic grills. That’s right, no more complaining about cold food — at Bulgogi, your food cooks right at your table.
“This is a style of dining called yakiniku, or Oriental barbecue,” he says. “Traditionally, it’s supposed to be with charcoal, but these grills are special — they actually cook the meat from the inside out.”
The grills do that through the use of infrared energy, which cooks faster, cleaner and safer than gas or charcoal grills. Bulgogi has 11 of these tables, or about half the restaurant. The menu is beef-heavy, with rib eye, short ribs and brisket leading the pack. There’s also a full selection of chicken, seafood and vegetarian dishes to choose from, as well as a children’s menu that lets kids grill their own Kobe beef burgers. Choi says that after you order, servers will bring the marinated meat or vegetables to your table, remove the grill’s protective covering and take care of all the food preparation for you.
“This is extremely popular in other cities — I’m surprised nobody’s done this in Michigan yet,” Choi says. “I was actually thinking of taking this idea to Chicago, but when (this location) opened up, I decided to do it here.”
More traditional menu items (i.e., ones cooked in the kitchen) include hot pots, shabu shabu (think Asian tapas) and noodle dishes. Bulgogi will also eventually have a full bar featuring American and traditional Korean beers and liquors, but Choi is still waiting for the liquor license to be approved.
And, fortunately for Bulgogi’s built-in fan base, the drive home will be much shorter.
Bulgogi Korean Cuisine
Opens Jan. 31
340 Albert Ave.
11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily