Mr. Kim’s Dishes Out Modern Mochi Worth Obsessing Over

We’re starting off with a bit of a confession today: I’ve never been a big fan of mochi.

Those little spheres of ice cream enrobed in rice shells weren’t ever something that I wanted to put in my mouth. The chewy exterior reminded me of Play-Doh, and I constantly found myself wrapped up in the urge to scoop out the filling and discard the rest. Perhaps the idea of needing to chew ice cream was what turned me off.

Clearly I was in the minority though, as mochi is among the very few post-meal delicacies with Asian-origins to succeed in the U.S. However, there is much more to mochi than the icy dessert beloved by many.

On a recent visit to Portsmouth, I strolled by a little Korean restaurant called Mr. Kim’s. I scanned the condensed menu of modernized Korean classics, with dishes ranging from Barbecue Beef (Bulgogi) sliders to Pork dumplings with black bean mole and candied garlic.

The dish that caught my attention was the “Carrot Mochi.” Confused, I shifted my attention to the concise glossary toward the bottom of the menu. “Mochi: Japanese term for ‘Dumpling,'” was what I found.

In other words, mochi ice cream is not the only type of mochi, not by a log shot. In fact, there are many varieties made with multiple fillings and formed into numerous shapes. They originated in Japan, where they are covered in toppings, added to soups and even grilled.

Additionally, making mochi the traditional way is backbreaking work. A special type of rice, mochigome, is soaked overnight before being cooked. It is then placed on a mortar and smashed into oblivion with a wooden mallet until a sticky mass forms. That’s some major dedication; the person in charge of the pounding must have killer mochi-vation. (sorry)

Upstairs at Mr. Kim’s

Anyway, back to Mr. Kim’s. The petit, two-level eatery dishes out creative Asian cooking from the mind of Gary Kim, the founder of Anju Noodle Bar in Kittery, ME and Son-Mat Foods, Southern Maine’s first artisanal kimchi company.

Each menu item is tempting in its own mystifying way. In many instances, despite the aid of the glossary, you’re not fully sure what you’re ordering or how it will be presented. Trusting the expertise of the kitchen is key. Case in point, the carrot mochi shattered my initial expectations.

The bright orange, perfectly spherical mochi were sticky and chewy, but not gummy, with a mild carrot flavor that serves as the perfect foil for the components surrounding them. A bed of cooked green beans (unexpected) and grilled eggplant below the mochi served as a filling base, with the fresh crispness of the beans contrasting with the tender eggplant.

The beans, eggplant and mochi come doused in a miso-tahini sauce, which is where the true brilliance of this dish lies. Whoever decided to blend fermented soybean paste with pureed hulled sesame seeds deserves all the accolades, as the combination is amazing. Surprisingly, the intensely salty, umami-rich miso does not overpower the nutty tahini. Rather, the result is a balanced fusion of Japan and the Middle East.

The finishing touch is a sprinkle of almond gremolata. The toasty nut mixture adds a toothsome quality to the dish and ensures every bite includes a bit of crunch.

Mr. Kim’s is all about positive vibes, and it’s hard to not feel the positivity when eating these mochi. Add a cocktail, house-made soda or yuzu lemonade, and all of the day’s problems drift away.

Mr. Kim’s is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday-Monday. As a special bonus, they offer late-night yakitori (Japanese barbecue) every Friday and Saturday from 10-11 P.M. in their upstairs dining area. Get some at 107 State Street in Portsmouth, NH.


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