Off the beaten path, Japanese and Korean dishes rule

By Paula Johnson

LA love

After taking in the film “City of Gold,” a documentary about Pulitzer-Prize winning food critic Jonathan Gold, it was a given that I was going to eat somewhere. The film is basically Gold’s love letter to his city of Los Angeles and its melting pot of ethnic neighborhoods. Much of the film is spent in Gold’s pickup, tooling around the streets and stopping at taco stands, food trucks and modest immigrant-family run restaurants (instead of the white tablecloth fine dining establishments of which LA has plenty). After two hours of watching food being cooked and consumed on the big screen, I had to pick a place that could quell my craving for something delicious. I was inspired to ask WWJD—what would Jonathan do? Or perhaps, where would Jonathan eat? The answer was clearly something small and ethnic and family run. So with “City of Gold” as inspiration, PIP (Palate In Progress) and I set off to Song’s Sushi, a small Korean and Japanese restaurant located behind a Speedway gas station near Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Run by Korean natives Song Amburn and Sun Reed, the restaurant was opened in 2014 and has been getting positive buzz around town.

Song’s Sushi is intimate in terms of space, with a tiny sushi bar to the left of the entryway, and a dining area on the right consisting of a wall of booths and not much more. The menu is more extensive than the space suggests, however. Teriyaki, katsu, tempura, hibachi, udon, soba and ramen are all represented in the Japanese portion of the menu, along with sushi and a considerable variety of rolls. (The night we visited, Song’s was featuring a buy one get one half-price special on all rolls.) The Korean side of things really had me enthused, particularly after the film. Dishes like Gome Taang (bone broth soup with beef and clear noodles), Doenjang Jingjae (bean paste soup with tofu, clams and vegetables) and Altaang (spicy fish egg soup) beckoned. But I love me some Korean BBQ, and when I spied it on the menu, I knew that was it.

Superior sushi

PIP and I both wanted to begin with some sushi. We’ve been eating sushi a lot lately, trying out various places as PIP has developed quite a taste for it. He chose the Nigiri Sampler ($9.95) and I picked a few a la carte pieces to try. What makes good sushi? You’ve eaten it, you know you like it, but just what are you looking for when you try to decide if it’s good? There are a few things to consider as you pop that next piece of hamachi in your mouth. Primarily, it’s that elusive combination of properly prepared rice and freshly and expertly sliced fish. So simple, yet incredibly difficult to do well. The rice should be barely warm, not packed too tightly, but just enough to hold together, and you should taste subtle notes of sweet and vinegar. And the fish? Obviously, there should be no fishy smell. As for mouth feel, some types of fish should be buttery soft, while others will be slightly chewy, depending on the kind of fish and where the piece is cut from. That’s the advantage of ordering a platter, which will allow you to experience a range of tastes and textures. PIP and I both felt that this sushi held up well on all counts, and ranked at the top of what we’ve sampled here. I plan to return to Song’s to experience a meal at the sushi bar with their itamae (sushi chef).

Go for the Galbi Gui

Now on to the Galbi Gui ($19.95). Galbi is sometimes spelled kalbi, and it isn’t always followed by the word gui, which means grilling. The work galbi means rib. The dish is made with marinated beef (or pork) short ribs in a Korean soy sauce, garlic, sugar and sometimes mirin, or fruit juice. The result is a rich flavor and caramelization when the meat is grilled. The pieces are cut across the bone with a few inches of the sweet and smoky glazed meat attached. The meat itself is beefy, fatty and rich, and not at all fall off the bone soft. It’s chewy, in fact, but in a good way, served mounded on a platter and sprinkled with scallions.

Besides being quite satisfied with the meat, what made this dish even better was that it was served with banchan. (I’ve ordered Galbi at a few other local Korean places and haven’t been served banchan elsewhere.) Banchan is quite literally translated as “side dish.” In this case, side dishes—six of them to be exact: cold boiled bean sprouts with sesame oil, julienned strips of mild white radish, sliced coins of bright yellow vinegary pickled radish, fried tofu, spicy kimchi and a Korean green vegetable. Picking up a piece of rib and chewing on the meat, spooning up the fluffy rice and flitting back and forth from one side dish to another in this colorful constellation of little bowls—feeling and tasting the clean astringent taste of one, the softness of another, the vinegar and heat of another, each one part of this lovely experience, and as Korean and authentic as you could hope for.

I’ve already said I want to return to sit at Song’s sushi bar for a more complete sushi experience. I will also return to delve deeper into Song’s Korean repertoire. But whoever accompanies me will have to order the Galbi Gui, so I can taste it again.

Song’s Sushi is located at 5516 Airway Rd. in Dayton. For more information, please call 937.254.8989.

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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Paula Johnson
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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