Before Sean Kim opened his first restaurant, he knew very little about the industry. He was a tech and finance guy, opening some of the Carolinas’ earliest cell phone stores, back in the flip phone days.
But Kim saw a gap in the Korean-American food scene.
All-you-can-eat Korean barbecue places often used less expensive meats like pork belly to increase profit margins, he says. And when he thought about the other Korean options, very few were right for special occasions or a business meeting.
So Kim went back to school in 2016 to learn more about hospitality and restaurant management. Then opened 929 Kitchen & Bar in downtown Columbia, South Carolina.
This week, Kim opened his second restaurant, MOA Korean BBQ & Bar in Uptown on the first floor of First Citizens Plaza. With tabletop barbecue, MOA joins Charlotte’s relatively small, but sneaky good Korean food scene.
The elegant restaurant with royal blue velvet seating and gold light fixtures is large at nearly 5,000 square feet, but the dining space is broken up into different rooms so it still feels intimate. Kim compares the atmosphere to the classic Uptown steakhouse, but with Korean cuisine.
Most tables have a grill on top where a server will cook your choice of meats such as prime ribeye, prime beef brisket, or pork belly.
Location: The exact address is 128 S. Tryon St.
The menu: In addition to the tabletop barbecue, there’s a number of a la carte dishes like bibimbab and Korean tacos. Plus, there will be banchan sides like kimchi, seaweed salad, and steamed egg. Here are some highlights:
- Bibimbab ($13-$19) – crispy rice on the bottom of a stone bowl with six different veggies and your choice of meat.
- Korean tacos ($11-$13) – served with parmesan truffle fries.
- Korean chicken wings ($9) – six-piece Korean-style fried chicken wings in two options (sweet and spicy or soy garlic).
- Kimchi Bulgogi Nachos ($10) – Korean-style marinated beef, pan-fried kimchi, house pico de gallo.
- Banchan sides – kimchi ($2), seaweed salad ($2), corn cheese ($3), scallion salad ($3), braised lotus roots ($4), kimchi stew ($5), steamed egg ($4), and more.
The barbecue: Many Korean barbecue restaurants charge an all-you-can-eat rate, but MOA has listed prices for each type of meat. This allows them to get higher-quality cuts like prime ribeye and prime beef brisket. You can buy the meats a la carte ($20-$50) or in combos ($80-$200, feeds 2-5 people and includes sides). Then your server will cook the meat in front of you.
Cocktails: MOA has a full bar with a list of 12 specialty cocktails, plus wine, sake, and soju.
Layout: The 4,900-square-foot restaurant consists of three main dining areas, a full bar with seating, a mezzanine for cocktails and small plates, an outdoor patio with barbecue tables, and a lounge area with a meat display. They’ll also have two private party rooms — one for 25 seats and the other for 60 seats.
Safety measures: One of the first things you’ll see when you enter MOA is a high-definition TV with a heat sensor that automatically takes the temperature of anyone entering the restaurant. If someone rings in above 100.4 degrees, staff will be notified. This will be used for staff members, too. It’s similar to the technology South Korean businesses are using to keep coronavirus under control; the country has had one of the most effective responses to slowing the spread of the virus.
Let’s take a closer look around:
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