No sooner did the chic Korean barbecue spot Miyagi's open in the heart of NoDa, in late 2012, than it started getting criticism from folks who deemed it less "authentic" than they had hoped. Owner Raymond Dover describes the restaurant as a blend of "Korean barbecue, sushi, and Asian fusion." Staples of Korean cuisine, including six different barbecue types — kalbi (grilled beef short ribs), bulgogi (thinly sliced Korean-style ribeye steak), spicy pork, dak bulgogi (grilled chicken), as well as barbecue shrimp and salmon — are on the menu, which also includes appetizers, sushi, rice and noodle dishes. Dover, who is Korean-American, trained his kitchen staff using old family recipes.
Dover has previously worked at Suite, Mez, Dog Bar, BMG and Harpers Restaurant Group, among other Charlotte venues. "Just using all the skills I ever learned — all the background, all the schooling, the accounting and the graphics and arts degree — I decided to put it all in one basket and do what I know best," he says.
Creative Loafing: Bibimbap is such a signature Korean dish. Can you tell me about how you prepare it at Miyagi's?
Raymond Dover: It's basically a rice bowl with several different sides of vegetables, usually seasonal. We do carrots, bean sprouts, cabbage, and yellow and red peppers. It's always traditionally served with ground beef but people can get different options with chicken, shrimp, tofu and pork. It comes with cucumber kimchi and regular kimchi and is topped with a soft fried egg and also served with a thing called gochujang, which is a Korean pepper paste. What really makes the dish is when you add the paste, the sesame oil, and the sesame seeds and you crack the egg and mix it all together. The egg softens it all up and gives it a rich texture. Sometimes people misunderstand the word bibimbap to be dolsot bibimbap. Dolsot bibimbap is actually the stone bowl that most people get excited about and see in big cities. Those bowls are coming, we're just making a little more room in the kitchen.
There's a pretty extensive list of appetizers on the menu. What are some of your favorites?
I always try to recommend the tuna nachos to people. They look really neat and they have a butterfly look to them. We give them a nice, good portion of tuna and avocado. The tuna is tossed in a scallion sauce to give it a little bit more of a flavor and then we put a wasabi and spicy aioli on top of it. It's a nice, light dish. And of course our crab Rangoon is a pretty stellar one as well.
Miyagi's doesn't have table grills, a staple of Korean barbecue restaurants. How come?
We don't have them currently. North Carolina has so many strict laws on what you can do and what you can't do. We were trying to work around it because it wasn't coming together as fast as we wanted it to. The idea was to get open. We would like to launch them in the spring or the summer. We're getting five six-foot tables and three two-foot tables. The grills, straight from Japan, have a downdraft system. What I never wanted was a big bulky grill above every table. We've still got to get everything locked in and get the engineers working with the city to make sure everything is in compliance. That's what we're waiting on.