On my search for the best Asian cuisine in Syracuse, I recently made a stop at the tiny, Fayette Street Korean restaurant, Chorong House. A friend told me about it a year ago and while I’ve been a few times, I haven’t yet made it official with a Guru Review. Well it’s about that time because as it turns out, Chorong House is the ultimate hidden gem in Syracuse’s culinary scene. Somehow it remains a bit of a secret among the likes of local chefs, hardcore foodies, and critics so I figured it’s time the humble little restaurant got the attention it deserves.
Located on 1121 East Fayette Street (not far from Spark Art Space and Badlands), Chorong House isn’t just easy to miss, but blends into the general dilapidated area surrounding it to the point that you might drive right by. Pump your brakes and keep a lookout. The building is very old and it’s somewhat hard to even identify if the place is occupied or not. Aside from the several cars that always seem to be in the parking lot, it’s not surprising more people don’t know about it. Anyway once you’ve made it past the test of “Is this even a restaurant?” you’re in for one of the smallest interiors in ‘Cuse. While the back room is larger the front is just a kitchen, a glass door fridge and four or five tables. That’s it. Not big on ambiance, that’s for sure–but when it comes to authentic Korean cuisine unlike anything else in ‘Cuse–who really cares about ambiance anyway?
You’ll be greeted by one of two older Korean women shortly after you sit and handed a menu filled with Korean classics including soups, seafood, and much more. I was under the impression that Chorong House doesn’t serve alcohol, but you can actually get Corona, Budweiser, or Heineken. So that’s a good thing. The menu can be intimidating when you see $40 soups for two, squid and clam stew, and classics like bibimbap but it needn’t be. You’ll want to be in an adventurous mood, but that’s not to say you won’t find simple items anyone would enjoy. Let’s get to the food!
It took us a long time to decide on entrees so we started with some appetizers. It was empty on my visit so unfortunately we couldn’t smell the amazing aromas from other diner’s orders as we tried to decide. That’s how close the kitchen is. We went with Mandoo (Korean dumplings–I think these were beef) and the Kim-chi pancake to start, along with a few beers. As usual in Korean restaurants, we were served Banchan: usually 2 to 12 small sides including Kim-chi, tofu, cucumbers, and more. Being a huge fan of Kim-chi and small side dishes in general, I loved this detail. The Mandoo as well as the Kim-chi pancake arrived sizzling hot with incredible, distinct aromas. The pancake was an orangey-reddish color and resembled a large potato pancake cut four ways. The edges were browned and perfectly crispy but the Kim-chi pieces weren’t dry at all. After it cooled a bit I grabbed a piece and dipped it in the dark colored, spicy Korean sauce and took a bite. The perfect crunch and the soft, warm center, the spicy, vinegary Kim-chi, and the rich pancake dough is an absolutely stunning experience. It may be an expensive appetizer, but it’s definitely my favorite menu item IN CUSE. Period. Next came the Mandoo, which are essentially the Korean equivalent of dumplings. These were quite a bit larger than what I’m used to, with a very fresh and delicious flavor. When combined with the chile-tinted ginger dipping sauce, the flavors simply explode. That artificial, MSG taste of most Asian restaurant’s dumplings wasn’t there at all. These were handmade, homemade dumplings with the perfect filling and spice. You’ll love them.
Since our apps were far more filling than we expected, we only got one entree to split. While I can’t recall the Korean name, we went with the squid stew. Brave I know, but Chorong House has some legendary seafood–especially when it comes to the more interesting stuff. Like many Korean stews and soups, the portions are tremendous. The squid stew was no exception. It arrived in a stone bowl and was boiling when our host put it on the table. It was a stunning red reminiscent of Sriracha topped with a generous stack of a lettuce-like veggie I couldn’t identify (I’ll pay more attention next time). With the metal chopsticks and really long soup spoon (?) I managed to scoop a little of the steaming hot, bright red broth for the first taste. A fiery burn slaps you across the face followed by an intense, full-bodied and amazing seafood heaviness. There’s just so much flavor, I couldn’t process it all. The spiciness is brutal but fades almost instantly as the flavors of squid, clams and other seafood flood the palate. I don’t want to give you the impression that it’s fishy–fishy means not fresh. This seafood flavor comes from high-quality seafood at the peak of freshness and is not something you can find anywhere in Syracuse. Think of the best Manhattan clam chowder you’ve ever had, then multiply the flavor by fifty and add in Sriracha chile fire. Absolutely delicious. The pieces of squid were so tender and flavorful that it was like eating it for the first time. After figuring out how to actually make progress eating this huge soup, I started scooping from the bottom of the bowl. A whole open clam shell with the meat came up on the spoon. The clam was so tender, perfectly fresh, and a special surprise in something called squid stew. The next scoop brought up another one. It’s not often you find a menu item so far beyond just being food. At Chorong House everything is an experience and that’s what I love most about the amazing hole-in-the-wall Korean joint.
There are all kinds of other equally unique, interesting and even challenging items on Chorong House’s menu. Combine that with the amazing service, extremely welcoming owners, and the feeling that you just stumbled upon Syracuse’s best, most off-the-beaten-path dining experience and you’ve got a winner with Chorong House. Go ASAP and let me know how you liked it!
I’m going with:
1121 East Fayette Street
© 2012, Syracuse Guru. All rights reserved.