Allow me to make something clear right from the start: I know pretty much nothing about Korean food. There wasn’t even a Korean eatery around here for the longest time, so the best you could do were things like the (admittedly awesome) fusion tacos at RiceWorks or highly questionable options like short ribs that occasionally show up on the menus of big bar and grill chains. I was excited a couple of years ago when K-Fusion Korean BBQ & Grill opened in Boise, but the reviews that came out in the beginning didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Between that and the fact that they’re not exactly conveniently located, I’ve never made it over there. In the meantime, several other Korean (or at least Korean-themed) eateries have come and gone, including one that only lasted about three months. Throughout this K-Fusion has endured, and even recently expanded. When the Meridian branch of Wingers made the decision to relocate from their spot near Fairview and Locust Grove, K-Fusion quickly moved in to fill the void. I never made it to K-Fusion, so K-Fusion decided to come to me.* I decided it was finally time to give them a chance.
*That was a joke. I’d like to think that most people have enough sense to realize I’m not actually that arrogant and delusional, but this is the Internet…
They got bumped up a little higher on the priority list when I received a message from one of my readers (a Korean herself, who’d have thunk it?) on Facebook telling me I simply had to try K-Fusion’s Bibimbap, ASAP. Since I’m currently living in Meridian and drive past the place all the time, ASAP was pretty quick.
At the risk of disappointing a reader, it was the buffet that I found the most intriguing while reviewing the menu, so that’s what I went for. I dragged Mom along, because frankly I think dining solo at a buffet is kind of depressing. It’s okay, I picked up the bill. Let’s take a moment to talk about that buffet. For those of you who know even less about Korean food than I do, it is generally served with rice and a variety of side dishes, collectively called banchan. These are a part of the meal, and are usually complimentary when dining at a Korean restaurant. Some of the earliest complaints leveled at K-Fusion were due to their not serving banchan with their meals. Well, they finally ended up fixing that issue. In a manner of speaking.
At the Boise location, there is a “Side Dish Buffet”. That’s right, they’ve turned small complimentary side dishes into paid AYCE side dishes. This is available for $10.99 at lunch or $12.99 for dinner (for side dishes, seriously), or you can add it to your meal for $3.99. You’re still paying for what most Korean restaurants would give you for free with your meal, but at least you get an entrée that way. As odd as that is, the Meridian location has put an even more unusual spin on it.
For some reason I haven’t been able to discern (city ordinance perhaps?), it seems like every Asian restaurant in Meridian has to serve sushi. K-Fusion is no different. It gets weirder. First of all, this focus on sushi seems to have come at the cost of half of the Korean menu options available at the original location. Second, while rolls are available for individual purchase, they are also a part of the buffet. What this means price-wise is that the buffet price is $15.99 for lunch and $24.99 for dinner. There is no option to do the banchan bar without the sushi. You can still tack the buffet onto your meal, but here it will cost you $5.99 and you can only do it at lunchtime. If you want banchan at dinner buffet is your only option, and it’s going to cost you. Now on to the important question: is it worth it?
For starters, ordering the buffet gets you…well, a starter. At dinnertime, at least. I don’t think it’s a full size appetizer for two reasons: 1) we saw larger portions being taken to tables that had ordered from the appetizer menu, and 2) you’re not going to stay in business long selling four thin tempura shrimp that are mostly breading for $5.99 an order, which is what it costs to order these. That being said, they were hot and had good flavor (I’m sure I tasted coconut), and are served with ponzu sauce for dipping.
The shrimp were Mom’s choice. For my appetizer I chose the fried chicken and a side of the Korean-style sauce. The sauce usually adds $1.25 when ordering from the appetizer menu but I wasn’t charged anything extra. Whether it was because it was “free” anyway or just an oversight, I don’t know. The chicken wasn’t as good as the shrimp. It was nothing like the menu picture, and while they state explicitly that the pictures are not of their food and are merely representative, I would have preferred a stronger resemblance between the two. The chicken in the picture was breaded and looked like a spicy version of KFC’s extra crispy. What we got appeard to have just been fried with the skin on. I have no way of knowing what specific method they use, but every single piece looked a little undercooked in the center. Like almost bloody in places near the bone. The sauce was good though, a nice combination of spicy, smoky and sweet.
What you see above is my selection from the banchan bar. Clockwise from top center, we have:
Cucumber kimchi – Nice, but I would have preferred the cabbage version, or maybe cucumbers that were more thinly sliced.
Mustard chicken – I actually really liked this, but there wasn’t really anything Asian about it. There was honestly probably more mayo involved than mustard. It felt like something you’d see at a potluck.
Pickled vegetable – Simple, and mostly cabbage. I liked it, because I like cabbage and pretty much love anything that tastes like vinegar.
Kimchee noodles – Imagine cold spaghetti that tastes like kimchi. Odd, especially because of the sweet component, but it grew on me as I ate it. The heat grows as you eat it, too.
Yellow curry – Not quite sure what to say about this. It was kept warm but was far too liquidy to be served on its own, as it would have just coated the entire plate. The only thing I could think of is that it was meant to be served atop the fried rice it was next to at the buffet. I didn’t eat the fried rice because peas. Seriously, FUCK PEAS. On its own, the curry just didn’t have a lot of flavor or substance.
So, on to the sushi. Honestly, a lot of it is variations on the California Roll. There are any of eight different rolls available on the lunch buffet, and another six added for dinner (though they won’t have all fourteen available at once). As best as I can recall, because as I said a lot of them are the same basic roll, this is what you’re seeing moving clockwise from the upper right:
Rainbow Roll – This was one of the only two options that had raw fish involved, various slices of it atop a California Roll (crab that I’m pretty sure was actually “krab” and avocado). Better than the sushi you’ll find at a lot of the Chinese buffets around town, but of course not as good as just ordering sushi from a real sushi joint.
Spicy Beef Roll – One of the more interesting fusion-type selections, consisting of ground beef, lettuce, egg, and Korean spicy sauce. I actually dug the flavor of this, but I’m not a big fan of the texture of ground beef. It would be a lot better if they just chopped up some bulgogi instead.
Ton Katsu Roll – Just as it sounds, breaded pork cutlet, lettuce, tonkatsu sauce (natch), with crunchy tempura bits on the outside. The thing I found off-putting was the sweetness of the tonkatsu sauce, which is traditionally more like a barbecue sauce.
Shrimp Killer Roll – According to the menu and the little card above the buffet, crab, cucumber, tempura shrimp, and topped with boiled shrimp. There was no tempura shrimp. I asked a waitress and was told maybe it’s minced up inside, or part of the sauce (tempura shrimp sauce?). Sorry, but no. You can see in the picture that it’s not there.
Avocado Roll – California Roll topped with avocado. Yup.
Spicy Tuna Roll – Minced tuna, avocado, chili sauce. Same as the Rainbow Roll, not bad but not sushi restaurant quality.
Philadelphia Roll – Salmon, avocado, and way too much cream cheese, to the point that it’s all you could really taste. Still, not bad.
Tuna and Cheese Roll – Dead center on the plate and by far the most perplexing of the bunch. It’s basically a tuna salad sandwich with rice and nori instead of bread. Lettuce, tuna, mayo, and cheese. About that tuna, if it’s not straight out of a can then they did a very good job of replicating the effect. It’s not something I mind on a grilled sandwich or in a casserole for nostalgia’s sake now and again, but it should be kept far away from sushi.
Wait, what was my point again? Oh yeah. Is it worth it? In a word, no. You’re basically paying $25 for a bunch of fermented and pickled veggies, and a sushi menu that’s about 25% variations on the California Roll. You can get a full Chinese buffet with a wider variety of sushi and a lot of seafood options at City Buffet for $13. Hell, for a buck less than what K-Fusion charges you can have dinner at Tucanos, with a plethora of freshly grilled meats and the best salad bar in town.
Okay, I know this is already ridiculously long and overly detailed, but please bear with me. Under normal circumstances I probably would have written the place off after that meal, but I still hadn’t tried any of their actual Korean food, and that’s what had been recommended to me before I got distracted by unlimited amounts of novelty sushi. So, I returned a few days later for Bibimbap (on Mom’s dime this time). A signature Korean dish of rice and veggies, and one of the cheaper main menu items at only $10.99.
The Bibimbap at K-Fusion is Dolsot style, served in a VERY hot stone bowl coated with sesame oil. The upside of this is that at the bottom the rice is crisping into a lovely, crunchy golden brown where it touches the bowl. The downside is that it keeps the food incredibly hot which makes for slow eating, and if you don’t keep stirring it at first you could end up with scorched rice. It makes for a pretty presentation with all the toppings (mushroom, lettuce, carrot, spinach, zucchini, sprouts, and raw egg yolk) and a very interactive eating experience since you’re basically monitoring the cooking of the food.
I took the recommendation to add a small portion of Bulgogi (marinated grilled beef), which was tender and flavorful but not exactly pervasive. Still, what can you expect for $1.50? As far as the rest of the dish goes, it honestly wasn’t particularly flavorful. This is where my lack of experience with Korean cuisine has me confused. Is this one of those dishes like traditional Pad Thai where you’re expected to season it yourself, or was this version just a little on the bland side? It doesn’t really matter I guess, because we were provided with a large bottle of spicy sauce to liven things up (sriracha and soy sauce are also available), and I made liberal use of it. Once properly sauced, this is a very good dish, one I expect to find myself craving and would return for. And less than half the price of the buffet.
So there it is. I would return, if only to explore the more traditionally Korean menu items. If I’m feeling particularly peckish, I guess I might even tack on the buffet and just make it a late lunch-as-dinner thing. What K-Fusion is trying in Meridian is a new concept for them, but I don’t expect it to be too successful in its current state. The buffet is simply too expensive, not available as an add-on during dinner hours, only available as an all or nothing proposition, and just not all that great for the money. I don’t presume to know the best way to make it work. Hopefully the Korean dishes will bring enough people in to keep them afloat until the concept can be more finely tuned.
Food: A real mixed bag, but there are a few gems and I expect that digging through the menu might yield a few more.
Value: Not bad, unless you’re talking about the buffet.
Service: They really shine here. The staff is incredibly friendly and helpful, you can tell they’re really invested in making the place work.
Atmosphere: An interesting mix of really muted colors and really bright lights. I was told that they play American songs sung in Korean, but I didn’t hear any during my two visits.
Final Grade: This is difficult. If I was rating just my first visit, it would be a C-. My second would be a B+. Let’s just average it out and say it’s a B-. Your mileage may vary.