You haven't lived until you have heard Besame Mucho sung in Korean at a nightclub in Fridley on a Saturday night -- and maybe not even then.
At King's Fine Korean Cuisine (formerly King Club), the music starts at 9 p.m., and that's when the partiers start to arrive, mostly tables of Korean men who order Chivas by the bottle ($90). A few brave souls venture onstage early on, but it takes until about 10:30 for the Chivas to kick in, and that's when things get interesting.
Most of the singers and most of the customers are Korean, but the song book is in Korean and English; the best performance of the night was a Korean customer's rendition of Elvis' "[I Can't Help] Falling In Love With You," worthy of the King himself. By 11:15 p.m., the strobe lights have been turned on, along with the rotating colored balls of light, and everybody is on the dance floor -- customers, waiters, even the owner, who dances atop a padded bar stool in her high heels.
Actually, the karaoke is just a bonus at the King Club -- for serious eaters like myself, the bigger attraction is the cuisine. I'm not sure I would rate King Club above Hoban in Eagan or Shilla and Mirror of Korea in St. Paul, but after three visits, I give it pretty high marks.
Some Korean dishes are not for the squeamish -- for example, the octopus and beef intestine casserole ($24.95). Other dishes, such as the kim chee and tofu soup ($8.95), may be too hot and spicy for most American palates. And I'd advise against the seafood casserole ($24.95), which contains forms of marine life that I hope to never encounter again.
But there are a lot of dishes on King Club's menu with very wide appeal. Many dishes combine hot, spicy and salty, with seasonings of soy sauce, hot peppers, sugar and toasted sesame. If you like teriyaki, for example, you'll enjoy the similar but more subtle flavor of the bulgogi ($12.95), thin slices of grilled marinated beef, and the kalbi ($12.95), grilled short ribs. Morsels of beef also season the chap chae ($10.95), a stir-fry of vegetables with flavorful cellophane noodles.
If you can tolerate a little more heat, the stir-fried squid and vegetables (onions, peppers, carrots and sliced zucchini, $10.95) is spicy but delicious. Also delightful is the haemul, a pancake-like dish of shrimp and squid fried with egg, grated turnip, green onions and onions ($10.95). A soup of shredded beef, tofu, egg drop and onion in a spicy red broth ($8.95) was spicy but not overpowering.
All meals are accompanied by half a dozen side dishes, including both spicy radish and cabbage kim chee (pickled vegetables), and mild but savory dishes of marinated radishes and sesame-seasoned bean sprouts.
Even if you want to stay for the karaoke, I recommend arriving before 9 p.m. and ordering from the dinner menu. After 9 p.m., only the more limited and pricier nightclub menu is available, which features items such as sashimi ($32.95), lobster ($29.95) and a fresh fruit platter ($25.50).
If you are in Fridley around lunch time Tuesday through Friday, the buffet ($7.95) offers a good overview of Korean cuisine. On my last visit, the options included spicy broiled pork, stir-fried spicy squid, a spicy tofu dish and several milder dishes, including Chinese sweet-and-sour pork, Japanese vegetable tempura, kimbop (the Japanese version of sushi, but without raw fish) and some of the traditional side dishes.
Alcoholic options include the traditional Korean rice spirit, shoju ($15), as well as wine, beer and a full bar.
The Japanese may have invented karaoke, but the Koreans have embraced it with a passion. At the nearby Taiko Sushi Bar (1437 Silver Lake Rd., New Brighton; 651-636-9869), the menu may be Japanese, but the clientele is mostly Korean, and the song book is bilingual. Not much in the way of atmosphere, but the sushi is a bargain. (Very limited hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday and Friday; dinner Thursday 5 to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to midnight.)
Hoban, an excellent Korean restaurant in Eagan, (1989 Silver Bell Rd.; 651-688-3447) doesn't have karaoke on the premises, but its owners operate the DoReMi karaoke studio a few doors down, where you can caterwaul in sound-proofed rooms in your choice of Korean, Japanese, English, Chinese or Vietnamese.
There's no karaoke at the Mirror of Korea (761 Snelling Av. N., St. Paul, 651-647-9004) or Shilla (694 Snelling Av. N., St. Paul, 651-645-0006), but both offer excellent Korean cuisine.
-- Jeremy Iggers is at firstname.lastname@example.org .