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Bus tub buffet

New south end Korean spot defies table settings and dull flavors with traditional spicy spreads



It's a proud moment in my dining career: I'm eating off a bus cart.

We've ordered so much food that our wait staff has rolled the plastic shelving unit to the end of our booth for us to spill over onto. The rims of some 20 bowls and plates are literally touching or overlapping; a couple are even stacked. There are so many colorful and tantalizing options in front of my chopsticks that I find my hand meandering, hesitating, swooping in mid-flight for a spontaneous bite.

I love everything about Korean food: the red chili spiciness; the sharp tang of fermented veggies; the sweet soy marinade that tenderizes beef short ribs; the surprising, subtle roasted flavor of corn tea and sweet spice of a ruby-colored ginger cinnamon tea; and the fact that I'd only ordered four items and needed a freaking bus cart for space.

That, of course, is thanks to the banchan, the small side dishes set center-table to be shared in effect as condiments and accents between bites. Not to mention the individual rice bowls and miso soups.

The newly opened E Ado delivers a traditional and constantly rotating array, including on our visits: radish, cucumber and three cabbage kimchi varieties of varying heats; slightly sweet, cured black beans; a sesame-oil-dominant bean sprout mix; oily, whole anchovies with hot peppers; seaweed in hot sauce; whole mushrooms in hot sauce; and sautéed eggplant in a red chili sauce.

And the place itself is as colorful as the food it serves. Music seems to unify the décor, which includes random instruments set in corners and an array of outdated record covers (the likes of Carly Simon) tacked haphazardly to matte black walls. Green AstroTurf covers a central platform bearing a unit of booths, and a ceiling-hung television blares Korean programming for the customers. (We were the only non-Asians there during our visits.)

Matching the casual atmosphere is an extremely warm and accommodating staff, quick to dispense advice on the most well-matched selections. Press them for Korean menus instead of the more Americanized options, and ask for help from owner E.J. Ruchalski, who guided our order on our second visit.

At a previous lunch stop, we'd tackled what my guest, a bulgogi fanatic, called one of the best she'd had locally ($9.50), next to short ribs ($16) that were similarly flavored, delivered in a cast-iron pan, and cut into bite-size pieces by our kitchen-shear-wielding waitress. The thin, marinated beef strips on both plates brought that lovely sweet and salty flavor of soy and sugar paired with garlic, ginger and a bite of onion and bell pepper. A plate of seared duck hunks ($17.50), served with spicy mustard and straight salt dips, needed neither, thanks to its characteristic unctuous fattiness.

But back to dinner. Ruchalski has set us up with highly likeable, minced-pork-filled pot stickers ($7.50), a delicious house-made noodle and seafood soup ($9.50) and a seriously spicy surf 'n turf bulgogi ($13.99). The bulgogi bests the rest, with more of the sweet beef strips and chewy squid rounds sporting a red chili sauce that grew in heat after successive bites.

We feed three affordably and leave with two heaping to-go boxes — one more thing I love about Korean meals. E Ado will certainly show you an authentic one, bus cart and all.

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