When I went by Shin Jung on June 27, 2019, a day after a fire had swept through it, I look at the damage and thought, “No way they’ll reopen here.”
Shin Jung has reopened there.
The building, a converted original single-family home, perhaps the only one remaining within miles in either direction on Colonial Drive, has a new look, one that is more open and brighter, thanks to new picture windows on the front and side.
A canopy across the front makes it look less housey. There’s even a new side patio for outdoor dining.
It’s a transformation for the better – the last time I was in the old place I found it dark and dank and in need of tidying.
The food has been popular with locals since the restaurant first opened in 1993 when it was only the second area restaurant to serve an exclusively Korean menu. (Korea House in Longwood was first.) (Trivia: The restaurant that occupied this space before Shin Jung was called Chubby’s.)
Shin Jung specializes in kalbi and bulgogi, the popular Korean beef dishes, hence the logo with a steer’s head. It offers tabletop cooking, though I would imagine they’re wary of errant sparks. (The 2019 fire started after hours and was deemed by the Orlando Fire Department to have been caused by an electrical problem.) In its first few weeks or reopening, the restaurant had been operating for takeout only but has begun to allow on premise dining.
For an appetizer, I selected the kimchi pajun, a Korean pancake with fermented vegetables as filler. It was substantial for a starter, enough to serve as a main course, and it was priced simiarly, too, at $15. (More about pricing in a moment.) It was thick and a bit too cakey, but I liked the flavors of the kimchi.
I chose the L.A. style kalbi, an obviously Americanized version (the L.A. gives it away) of the short rib dish, distinguished by the cross-section cut of the rib. That means the bones are attached and really the only way to eat the meat is to pick it up by the bone and gnaw it off. The marinade is a big part of what makes kalbi distinct. There is a dominant soy note but also sweetness, from brown sugar, as well as rice wine, garlic, pepper and onions. The ribs are sliced thin to shorten grilling time. The portion here was ample enough and the flavors were good. And the meat was tender, even though there was the inevitable bit of gristle now and then.
It was served with several Korean side dishes, including fermented radishes, cucumbers, beans and a potato salad with a slightly mashed consistency.
I got my bulgogi in the japchae, a dish of clear potato noodles. Along with the marinated beef the noodles were tossed with chopped scallions, shredded carrots and mushrooms and dotted with toasted sesame seeds. The dish was served piping hot, but I can tell you the flavors were just as enjoyable cold the next day.
There wasn’t a lot of meat in the japchae, but then it was priced at $16. The L.A. Kalbi was $26. And while that seems (is) a lot, it represents current conditions. Restaurants are paying more for ingredients, especially beef, and for payroll. Higher prices from what we remember before the pandemic will be with us for a long time, perhaps forever. It’s the cost of going out to eat.
And I have no problem paying a few extra dollars to support an independent restaurant, especially one that has been through tough times and still offers a quality product.
Shin Jung is at 1638 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando (map). It currently is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. The phone number is 407-237-0451.