TOWN OF NIAGARA – When we were served our orders at Kim’s International Café, the four of us almost concurrently remarked that we’d have plenty of leftovers for the next day’s meals, because the plates were so steaming and teeming.
When they came to collect our dishes, we felt sort of sheepish that not a speck remained – of anything. And that includes one of us who was served a second helping – gratis, no less – because Kim had some left over.
We’ve eaten at Kim’s several times now, and we have never been disappointed in this essentially one-woman operation.
Everything from fish to burgers to the awesome Korean barbecue beef dish bulgalbi (or bulgogi) has been awesome. Oh, and do yourself a favor and be sure to try some of the soup – not to be missed!
Kim’s – or more fully, Kim’s International Café at the Gate – is a little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it place at the corner of a tiny plaza just outside the main gate of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. Station personnel have already discovered its merits, making it a regular stop at lunchtime.
Things have been slow at the dinner hour, however, and that prevents the overworked-yet-amazingly-friendly chef Kim Rubino from hiring a little help.
It’s a small wonder that she can do what she does without assistance, manning the grill, the steamer, some other cooking device – everything – on her own and still turning out some of the best meals this side of Silk Road, all in a timely manner.
This lady, of Korean extraction, has Seoul and plenty of it, and it comes through loud and clear in her cooking. You can tell that it is a passion. And the best part is, she makes you feel as if you’re having a meal with Mom, chatting, checking to make sure everything is OK or to ask whether you’d like a little more. And if you do, chances are it will be on the house – really, it’s happened to us twice now, being given extra portions at no extra charge.
Kim’s bulgogi is simply classic. Consisting of thin slices of tender beef marinated “Ganjang style” (in Korean soy sauce, garlic, sugar and other ingredients) and lovingly grilled, it is to die for. A plateful, served with grilled assorted veggies and sticky rice, will run you $13.95, some of the best money you’ve ever spent.
“Ganjang style” makes you wonder if one of these days you’re going to see Kim don a pair of dark sunglasses and start hopping around while slapping an invisible horse, a la that Psy guy. She’d probably have to charge extra for that, though.
Kim’s Korean-style ribs are on the same order as the bulgogi. For $14.95, you get a dozen or more slices of beef short rib, thinly sliced and cooked to perfection. They’re a little on the fattier side of the bulgogi, a little chewy, a little more work, but every bit as good. They also come with veggies and rice.
Like I said, we’ve been there several times now and have sampled almost everything on the menu. Things like the sweet potato noodles with rice and veggies ($10.95), or the fish fry with Korean seasonings ($9.95), or the spicy Ramen soup ($6.95), or the signature “Gate Opener” burger ($8.95).
Oh, I could go on and on ... but let’s talk some details.
The ”Gate Opener” is guaranteed to make you drool – a half-pound handcrafted burger seasoned with a blend of spices and “secret ingredients.” It is served on a “flavored” roll and topped with cole slaw, American cheese and a fried egg. A mouthful? You’d better believe it. And mouth-wateringly good. It doesn’t even need any condiments, it’s so tasty on its own. Comes with fries or rings.
The fish fry – heck, even the baked version – was so tasty with the Korean seasonings that tartar sauce wasn’t even a consideration, and I am a big fan of tartar. The side salads are just as tasty.
The spicy Ramen soup was served in a gallon pail – I’m kidding, of course, but it wasn’t far from it. So, too, is the rice cake, dumplings and egg-drop soup ($6.95), which is a meal in itself. And if you’re still hungry afterward, Kim will probably give you an extra portion, as she did us.
The soup is literally thick with chewy, glutinous rice cakes and thick, tasty dumplings in an egg-drop base. It could have benefited from a dash of the spice from the spicy Ramen but was still quite good and extremely filling. Same for those cellophane-like sweet potato noodles.
Kim offers traditional breakfast dishes and lots of lunch specials of the Asian variety, ranging from $6 to $9 – sweet and sour, stir-fried, teriyaki, you name it. And it’s all made fresh from scratch, right in front of you. That’s because Kim’s Café is only a tad bigger than mom’s kitchen and probably not as quaint. But are you going for the ambience, or the food?
This is no-frills, no-regrets dining in the finest Korean-American tradition. Whether you’re after roast beef or Texas hots, chili or that dumpling egg-drop soup that is traditionally served at the Korean New Year celebration, you will not be disappointed. Kim will personally see to that.
Apparently Korean moms are the same as Polish moms and Italian moms and all other moms for that matter – they just want to see that you get enough to eat and that you’re happy.
For that reason – and so many more – you just gotta love moms.