Click on the image below to see it full size:
I've mentally batted around the idea of making my own kimchi Reuben before, so it wasn't completely surprising to see that someone else had thought the same way. Switching out the Reuben's classic sauerkraut for kimchi seems like a plausible move: kimchi is, after all, a distant, cabbage-y cousin of sauerkraut, so it wouldn't violate the Reuben's basic flavor profile.
I should note that I love Reubens, and also that I'm not closed-minded (the way some people are regarding grilled cheese) about what constitutes a "true" Reuben. Switch out rye bread for white-bread toast? Fine, as long as you use awesome bread. Switch out corned beef for pastrami? You're stretching things, but not by too much. There was a restaurant in Haymarket, Virginia, just off Route 55, that was named, appropriately enough, 55's. That place served one of the most ass-kickingly non-traditional Reubens I've ever had. The main departure from a classic Reuben, at 55's, was the use of thick-cut white-bread toast. That was fine by me, and everything else about that sandwich was picture-perfect: it came with plenty of corned beef, plenty of sauerkraut, and a goodly amount of cheese and dressing. Outstanding in every way.
Despite my avowed open-mindedness, I do have standards. I can immediately tell a bad Reuben from a good one, the most obvious clue being whether the kitchen has fucked up the bread. Because a Reuben is normally made with juicy meat and even juicier sauerkraut, restaurants that put together sloppy Reubens will normally ignore the gravity-assisted drippage of the meat and sauerkraut juices. These juices will soak right through the bottom slice of bread, turning it into mush. So the first test that any Reuben must pass is the grip test: if my fingertips come into contact with saturated bread, it's all over. I might still eat the Reuben so as not to waste my food, but the experience will be one of pure desolation, and I won't patronize that establishment ever again. A bad Reuben is a deal-breaker, as well as a sign that the restaurant just doesn't give a fuck about the food it's churning out.
So when the Suji's kimchi Reuben came out, I gave that sandwich the grip test... and it passed with flying colors. Suji's also has a regular, classic Reuben on its menu, and I might go back and try that one, too, despite how overpriced these sandwiches are (W14,500 just for the sandwich, some slaw, and a small pile of fries this evening; Coke was a whopping W4,000 extra). I'm now confident, thanks to the kimchi Reuben, that the kitchen at Suji's does indeed know how to compose a Reuben properly.
That said, I wasn't entirely happy with my first and subsequent bites of the sandwich, which were dominated, not by kimchi, but by the unwelcome presence of garlic and onion. Kimchi, when eaten alone, doesn't normally hit me with garlic and onion right off the bat, so I knew that I was dealing with extra garlic and onion. When I inspected the Reuben more closely, I saw that pan-fried onions had been added to the sandwich in a typically Korean attempt to enhance flavor (Koreans add onions to all sorts of Western food that shouldn't have them, such as pasta carbonara and pepperoni pizza). The presence of strong aromatics in my sandwich actually upstaged the kimchi, which should have played a strong supporting role right underneath the meat, sauce, and cheese, as the sauerkraut would have done. I found the aromatics way too distracting, and in the end, I had to give the sandwich a thumbs-down.
All the same, I look forward to Suji's classic Reuben. The kimchi Reuben got the basics right, and it looked good; plus, as I said, I'm confident that the kitchen knows how to compose a proper sandwich. Here's hoping they don't add extra garlic and onion to their classic Reuben as well. That would really be too bad. So while the kimchi Reuben was a disappointment, it got me intrigued as to what Suji's classic Reuben might be like. There's still hope.