When Char Korean Bar & Grill opened for dinner last week at Inman Quarter in Inman Park, the liquor license still hadn’t been approved. But that didn’t stop big crowds from convening around the bar to wait it out for a table.
The much anticipated restaurant from Richard Tang, who helped debut Craft Izakaya at Krog Street Market, features the kind of Korean barbecue unseen inside the Perimeter. And Tang’s traditional-meets-irreverent takes on atmosphere, service and drink have stirred a buzz.
The dramatic contemporary space, which is decorated with mythological Asian murals from Atlanta artist Brandon Sadler, aka Rising Red Lotus, features custom fabricated steel and wood furnishings and gas-powered tabletop grills with vents suspended from the ceiling.
The menu from executive chef Ryan Catherall and sous chef Shaun Byun offers an array of marinated and grilled meats, including bulgogi, short rib and pork belly, plus banchan side dish trays.
Improbably, barbecue combos are named for Kim Jong-un and other North Korean political leaders. And you’ll find bar bites and small plates, ranging from simple puffed shrimp chips and saucy fried chicken wings to spicy veal brain spread.
One afternoon last week, while Tang, Catherall and Byun were getting ready for another busy night of service, they talked about the ideas behind Char.
“I wanted to bring authentic Korean barbecue to intown Atlanta, and I also wanted to be able to offer great service and a great beverage program with all the amenities of an American-style restaurant,” Tang said. “But I didn’t want to take it too seriously or be pretentious.”
For their part, Catherall and Byun said they are sticking close to traditional Korean recipes and flavors while injecting some seasonal ingredients, especially in the side dishes.
“We’re trying to keep things really traditional,” Catherall said. “Obviously, there are some things on the menu that are aimed toward American tastes. But Shaun even has some things that are from his Korean grandmother, that’s how traditional we’re trying to keep it.
“And since we have everything from brains to oxtail, I like to say we’re a head-to-tail restaurant, utilizing every part of the pig and cow. But it’s all presented in a fun environment. I don’t think you can go to another Korean restaurant in Atlanta and get a Moscow Mule.”
Of course, Hannah Leonard, who is in charge of the bar, makes her Mule and other house cocktails with Asian ingredients such as shiso and spirits such as sake and soju. And she names many of the concoctions after Korean punk rock bands or songs.
“I did some research into traditional Korean drinks and flavor profiles and took those and tweaked them and made them my own,” Leonard said. “Ginger is really prevalent, of course. But I tried to use some more unusual things, as well.
“For instance, in a cocktail called the Geek, I use roasted rice soda. And in the No Brain, I use byejoe, a red sorghum-based Chinese spirit which has some spicy flavors. But overall, I think that’s a good representation of what we’re trying to do with the menu as a whole.”
299 N. Highland Ave. Suite S, Atlanta. 404-525-2427.
More images from a First Look at Char Korean Bar & Grill.