Every bite—first and last—starts subtly at KoMo KoMo, a new Korean-French eatery in Cary. The marriage of a heavy French culinary influence and the flavors of Korea launches us into uncharted gastronomic territory, at least for these parts.
One tradition, the indispensible basis for professional chefs and aspiring Julia Childs, is laden with rich sauces and laborious techniques. The other is revered as the ethnic fare du jour, noted for zesty, fermented condiments and fiery meat dishes. Can béchamel cream sauce really be happy atop crisp, piquant kimchi? Can bimbimbop and bouillabaisse fall—and stay—in love?
Yes they can. While the name KoMo KoMo—it combines parts of the words Korean and mosaic—suggests fusion in every dish, the menu offers a selection of both traditions, with the commingling of only a few items. An appetizer revealed the most obvious form of Asian-French fusion: cardamom sautéed shrimp with aged sherry vinegar, Thai red curry sauce and roasted beets ($9). If you love beets, this is a must. Very lightly sauced, a pile of lush beet chunks is topped with warm, tangy shrimp.
A bowl of parsnip soup with pear and cognac ($6) weighed in creamier than anticipated, though ultimately ambrosial in its decadence. A black truffle cream drizzle would normally have me groaning (the great truffle invasion of our generation, its debris scattered on every fine dining menu). The trickle over this soup, though, paired with parsnip chips and soft pieces of pear swimming in the bowl, was a welcome earthy contrast.
The choices derive from the dossier of chef-owner Jae Lee, a Korean-born chef who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and worked at some of the finest kitchens in New York City (Veritas, Danube). Here in the Triangle, Lee suited up as chef at the gourmet kitchens of the Washington Duke Inn and Fins.
Lee's wife, El Ryoo, was our waitress. A former school principal, she interpreted the Korean menu items. Per her suggestion, we tried the Gungjung TteokBbokki ($14), so popular in her native country that Ryoo dubbed it "like a Korean hamburger." The meal is nothing like a hamburger, though. Nor does it resemble what the menu translates it as—Royal Court Rice Cakes—though the dish nods to its history in Korean royal palaces. Instead of cakes are cylinder-shaped tteok rice noodles, looking like large pieces of gnocchi. With one bite, the fun, spongy texture sprang back into its shape slowly, like a Tempur-Pedic memory foam mattress. Stir-fried in a spicy red sauce, the noodles were best mixed with toppings: sweet, shredded Korean beef (bulgogi), green onion and carrot. The spice hit at the end of every bite, a subtle kick at the back of the throat.
Bulgogi Ssam ($11) is an amusing DIY-style meal. I stuffed beef bulgogi, kimchi and shredded root veggies into a steamed cabbage or lettuce leaf, topped it with the accompanying spicy red sauce and folded it like a tortilla. The dish was served with rice and miso soup.
French-inspired menu items that require a return trip include pan-seared ribeye with Medoc Bordeaux sauce ($25) and crab lobster ravioli with citrus beurre blanc ($17).
Lunch options are a steal, especially the $8 daily special, a choice of half a sandwich, soup and salad. I savored every drop of my generous portion of sweet potato leek soup with caramelized apple and dark rum. My interest piqued at the thought of the Meyer lemon chicken roll, though I found the citrus flavor crowded by too much mayonnaise in the chicken salad.
I did learn, though, that Meyer lemons are the native Asian yuzu, later renamed by explorer Fred Meyer.
Next time, I'll go for the tuna melt, as it should pair nicely with the simple organic green salad drizzled with a balsamic reduction. The chilled Asian noodle salad ($8) provides a cool, refreshing lunch with your choice of meat. As for the dumplings, stick with your favorites on the Chirba Chirba food truck.
Dessert elevated both meals and gave an impressive glimpse into Lee's creative vision. A crème brulée infused with ginger and lemongrass ($5) perks up the palate with a robust, clean, citrus flavor. The crackled sweetness in the charred sugar on top is an indulgence, as is the coconut rum raisin bread pudding ($6). A heavier dessert option, it contains rum-soaked raisins and coconut flakes baked into soft bread deluged in a proper crème anglaise.
KoMo also hosts a tea service, which includes a platter of three mini-sandwiches, three mini savory tarts and three mini desserts, with coffee or tea ($14).
I'd fancy a rendezvous back to Cary to try that. And the bouillabaisse, of course.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Parlez-vous fusion?"