Mr Kim’s in Portsmouth

A lab for Korean-inspired meals

Note: As of Monday, March 16, Gov. Sununu ordered that all restaurants shift to takeout and delivery services in an effort to curb the growth and spread of COVID-19. For the time being, Mr Kim’s decided to close entirely. We hope this story inspires you to dine at Mr Kim’s the moment they reopen their doors! In the meantime, don’t miss our list of restaurants, breweries and even some wineries that are offering takeout, curbside pickup and delivery. It also includes a number of gift card specials, a great way to support local businesses in this uncertain time. 

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With dark, moody jewel tones, playful framed art and the slogan “positive vibes only,” Mr Kim’s restaurant in Portsmouth provides a unique backdrop for exploring Korean dishes. Suggest this restaurant to your friends, and you may be the hero of the night. Or maybe you’re looking to learn a little more about your date — there are plenty of chances to see if they’re game to try something new, like yakitori, bibimbap, banchans or mochi.

To spot Mr Kim’s from the street, look for a corner building with a bold orange-red door and a white pointillistic Korean tiger mural spray-painted on the black brick façade. Amidst the prolific Colonial-era red brick that makes up most of Portsmouth, Mr Kim’s stands out.

It took four visits for me to fully understand what makes Mr Kim’s special. The first trip I went solo — I sat at the downstairs bar and talked with the bar manager Kevin Walsh. He recommended milk punch, pork dumplings ($11) and the dessert option at the time, the chocolate mochi cake with raspberry sauce. It was a perfect small meal.

I suggest going back a few times and easing into the menu. With Chef Gary Kim’s range of influences and scope of culinary skills, it can take a few attempts to match your tastes with his dishes. And sometimes, his drive to create new dishes means a few things need a little more perfecting, though they are certainly worth trying if only to be part of his ongoing effort to achieve culinary perfection.

Mrkims2On a cold January night, I brought a friend for a second visit. We both ordered full entrées, tempted by the promise of comfort foods to shake off the cold. Both dishes had elements that were excellent. My friend ordered a delicious bolognese with slow-cooked tender meat. It was just a bit too heavy for him to finish.

So, why did I keep going back for a third and fourth time? Because this restaurant is interesting and I wanted more. Each element is made incredibly well because Kim is a talented chef.

On my fourth visit, there were a number of times during the meal when I laughed out loud. For instance, nestled into a bowl of charred broccoli, Japanese eggplant and candied almond slices, I discovered a bright orange orb — carrot mochi ($11). With the prongs of my fork, I poked the dumpling. It gave a little. I broke its skin and stretched the carrot purée up, up, up, until it snapped back into place. I tasted the lovely flavor and laughed. I hadn’t known what to expect — I’d never had mochi like this before. It was delicate — rich in flavor, like a carrot soup made somewhat solid in form. Delight followed surprise, as Kim had intended.

Lamb is one of Kim’s specialties, so I recommend the spicy cumin lamb bibimbap ($17), a mixed rice dish with cumin sauce, herbs, sichuan oil, a sunny-side-up egg and crispy steamed white rice. The slow-roasted lamb in this dish takes two days to prepare. Dig a little. It’s fun to crack through the browned rice shell and build a bite to crunch into.

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Spicy cumin lamb bibimbap

The menu changes frequently, but the Korean rice cakes are a staple, with different dressings at each evolution. As of my last visit, the cylindrical and bite-size Korean rice cakes ($10) were served with caramelized onions, roasted celeriac root and Gruyère cheese — a combination inspired by the flavors of the age-old French onion soup.

“The menu draws from all my experiences working at various restaurants and from traveling to different countries,” Kim says. Over the last few years, he has experimented with nontraditional dining experiences, hosted local pop-ups, and taken over popular area kitchens for special events. His relentless enthusiasm to innovate on traditional Korean-style meals means he is regularly rethinking the menu, braiding new and old elements into complex dishes.

I recommend visiting now because two things often happen with this type of unbridled creativity — either it burns out after a few years of heavy output or the menu narrows in scope and the staff stick to “safe bets.”

I can’t promise you’ll love everything you try, especially with ingredients that may be unfamiliar, but I can promise your palate will expand and you’ll be in the presence of one of the most fearlessly creative chefs in the state.

Kim’s skills shine through in his artful plating of each dish. Check out his Instagram @MrKimsRestaurant, where you can see overhead shots of plates that showcase his attention to aesthetic details. The dishes that leave the kitchen look like contemporary art. Cubes of tofu stacked in towers, bright beet-colored sauces splash across the plate, noodle bowls presented in rich broths topped with 6-minute eggs splayed to mirror slices of Long Island duck breast — absolutely beautiful.

Wait Until You Try the Dessert

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Mochi cake

After so much spice and crunch and flavor, the anticipation for something sweet builds with each dish. Plated beautifully, the tres leches mochi cake ($8) is presented in a line of six staggered rectangular cubes of soft mochi cake topped with a marshmallow fluff draped in chocolate ganache and miso caramel.

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Try the delicate homemade sodas crafted by bar manager Kevin Walsh. The lavender soda ($4) is flawless. It comes in an amber bottle with a small gold sticker featuring Mr Kim’s iconic tiger. Pop the cap and pour the tinted purple drink into a crystal high glass and enjoy a fancy nonalcoholic drink.

Don’t miss the milk punch ($11). It takes three days to build flavor through an infusion of melon, lychee, lime, green peppercorn, cardamom and vanilla. The infusion is then clarified by adding milk. The lime citrus causes a reaction that separates the mixture, which is then strained to become a milk-washed punch. It’s mixed with Soju (a colorless distilled beverage popular in Korea) and sake to create the cocktail.

See more photos of Mr Kim’s below. All photos by Jenn Bakos.

Categories: Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews
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