JUMPING SPOON: The Place of Korean Cuisine
By Vickie Lewis
The catchy restaurant name, “Jumping Spoon,” was not an eating establishment I’d previously heard of in West Contra Costa County. My first thoughts were that this would either be a place to get Pho (Vietnamese soup) or possibly a new ice cream or gelato venue. I was surprised when I looked the name up and found that it was a new Korean restaurant in Hercules. My previous experiences eating Korean food were at Korean barbecue restaurants where customers cook their own meats on gas grills built into the dining tables. But this is not the case at Jumping Spoon—customers can simply sit back and relax in this contemporary, comfortable venue and enjoy authentic Korean cuisine prepared by experienced Korean chefs, and served by smiling, friendly staff members.
Jumping Spoon is located on the bay side of Sycamore Avenue in Hercules on the ground level of the Aventine luxury apartment complex. It is a desirable location, away from the traffic and bustle of the main Hercules business district. The ambience of the area makes the location perfect for a casual, but elegant venue like the Jumping Spoon. The business was opened on April 16, 2018 by owner Eric Kim, a local Hercules resident and long-time restaurateur. It was probably a bit unnerving for Eric that only two customers showed up for the grand opening that day! But with a little advertising and a lot of word-of-mouth testimonies, more and more people are discovering Jumping Spoon to be one of the area’s popular and classy restaurants boasting a wide variety of Korean cuisine.
Eric Kim learned many of his culinary skills from watching and assisting his mother cook Korean meals for the family as he grew up. When he became an adult, he pursued a non-culinary career; but, after working a traditional “9 to 5” job for a short period of time, he realized it was definitely not for him. Eric decided to go into business for himself leveraging his cooking skills. When he moved to Hercules from Orange County seventeen years ago, Eric opened Mongolian Barbecue restaurants at two local malls, including the one at Hilltop Mall in Richmond which he still owns and operates. Gradually, Eric realized that there were no Korean restaurants in the local community where he lived, which meant that those seeking authentic Korean cuisine had to travel to Oakland, San Francisco or Concord. Knowing his passion and skill and business acumen for running food establishments, Eric’s friends and family encouraged him to open a local Korean restaurant. Persuasion prevailed, and approximately 18 months after embarking on his venture, the Jumping Spoon restaurant became a reality.
So how was the name of the restaurant selected? Eric explained that Korean utensils include chopsticks and a long-handled, shallow metal spoon. The spoon is traditionally used for eating rice and soup, while the chopsticks are used for eating most everything else. When people are happy, they often “jump for joy”; Eric explained that he expects his customers to be ‘jumping with happiness’ over their dining experience. Hence, he chose the name “Jumping Spoon!”
On the Sunday evening we visited the restaurant, a prominent exterior sign boasting the name Jumping Spoon assured us that we had successfully reached our destination. As I was taking a photo of the sign and entrance, Eric welcomed us, and after introductions, he showed us to a table by the front window facing Sycamore Avenue. He provided us with sturdy, colorful menus, complete with photos of many of the dishes and descriptions in both English and Korean. We were initially served water and hot wheat tea (which was delicious!) to enjoy as we looked over the menu. Eric asked if we would like something else to drink from the menu, and suggested that we might like to try the Korean beer. Though we are not huge beer drinkers, we agreed to try it, and soon were served two different bottles of Korean beer. The first one we tried is named “Kloud” which was the darker and heavier of the two beers. The second is named “Hite”, a lighter beer. We shared both bottles and were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed the beers! The beers are imported from Korea, and they are available in both small and large bottles and are sold for $3.99 and $6.99 respectively. Two other beers, Sapporo and Asahi, are also available; but, we highly recommend the Korean beers based on our taste test!
Jumping Spoon’s menu is fairly extensive and listed many unfamiliar dishes. Having had limited exposure to this type of cuisine, my guest and I were uncertain of what to order. We wanted to try a variety of items; however, dinner entrees are large and are served family style for sharing. The appetizers pictured on the menu also appeared to be quite large and suitable for sharing among several people. The lunch menu includes individual “box” lunches, similar to Japanese Bento boxes, but these are not available in the evenings. Ultimately, we left our meal choices up to Eric, asking him to bring us shareable samples of some of the most popular entrees for us to try.
While waiting for our entrees, we were pleasantly surprised to have a tray filled with small bowls of “side dishes” brought to our table. We learned that these side dishes are served to all customers ordering from the dinner menu. When asked, the server explained what each bowl contained:
• Jap Chae (Clear yam noodles with vegetables and beef)
• Fried Fish (2 whole Croaker fish)
• Kimchi (Traditional Korean vegetable dish pickled by natural fermentation)
• Picked Radish Kimchi
• Steamed Broccoli
• Bean Sprouts
• Macaroni Salad
• Potato Salad
• Fish Cakes
• Roasted Seaweed
• Black Beans (made with honey and brown sugar)
Each of the side dishes was offered with unlimited refills (upon request.) We did not need to request refills on any of the items, as were will still sampling them by the time our very large, steaming entrees were delivered to our table! Favorite side dishes included the Jap Chae, broccoli, macaroni and potato salads, fish cakes, and the black beans. Neither of us liked the Kimchi (Eric told us that most customers either love it or hate it!) I preferred not to try the fish because it was cooked with the head on; however, my guest tried it and said it had a good flavor, although she didn’t like picking out the fishbones. The pickled radish Kimchi was good and had a different taste than the regular Kimchi. Neither of us tried the seaweed because we’d both had it before and didn’t like it. The black beans were good, but interesting, as they were somewhat hard and chewy. But the taste was very appealing. We were also served a small metal bowl of white rice to accompany our meals. The metal bowls were covered to keep the rice hot inside, and the outside of the bowls was surprisingly cool to the touch.
Eric ordered four entrees for our enjoyment, and each could have easily been shared between 3 to 4 people! The first entrée served was Jap Chae, a larger portion of the side dish, but served hot. The thin translucent yam noodles were plentiful, and were tossed with large slices of thinly sliced beef and vegetables, including carrots, onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms, topped with sesame seeds. We noticed on the menu that there is an option for customers to request varying spice levels when placing their food orders (mild, spicy, or very spicy.) I think the Jap Chae may have been a good dish to have added mild spice; however, even though it was not spicy, this hearty noodle dish was flavor-filled and very appealing.
The second entrée we were served was the Haemul Pajeon, a Seafood Pancake, one of the most popular items ordered at Jumping Spoon. The entrée covered the entire surface of a full-sized dinner plate, resembling a large pizza (but without marinara sauce.) But unlike pizza where the toppings are visible on the surface, all of the ingredients were cooked inside the pancake, similar to a frittata. Eric cut the pancake into slices like a pizza, and encouraged us to eat it while it was hot, saying that once it cooled, it would have an entirely different taste. The pancake was served with a small portion of house made Korean sauce for dipping. The sauce was very delicious, and was a good accompaniment to the pancake. The pancake did not have a fishy or seafood taste, however, as we indulged, we bit into something a couple of times that was somewhat hard and grisly, which looked like it may have been from an octopus or squid. We later asked Eric what type of seafood was in the Haemul Pajeon, and he mentioned squid, shrimp, mussels, and clams. Since I don’t typically eat any of these types of seafood (except the occasional shrimp), my guest continued to enjoy this item alone, and I was more than happy to allow her to take all of the leftovers home!
The next two entrees were our definite favorites, and apparently are also customer favorites of the Jumping Spoon. The first was Beef Bul Go Gi, marinated rib eye beef served on a bed of shredded cabbage and topped with sesame seeds and green onions. The second was Gal Bi, marinated beef short ribs, also served on a bed of shredded cabbage and topped with sesame seeds. Both of these entrees had exquisite flavor! The Bul Go Gi was an extremely generous serving, the plate piled high with thin, tender slices of perfectly seasoned and cooked beef. The Gal Bi seemed to be a smaller portion of thinly sliced, bone-in short ribs. We honestly couldn’t decide which of these two we enjoyed more, and continued to eat both heartily while still enjoying what was left of some of the side dishes. In spite of how much of the beef dishes we ate, there was still some for each of us to take home, and I can attest that both tasted just as delicious the next day.
When discussing Korean food with Eric, he explained that nearly every item requires many hours of preparation. Meat is marinated for many hours, Kimchi is fermented for long periods of time, and soups and stews, and black beans require many hours of cooking to achieve the exact desired flavors and consistency. Even preparing noodles requires several hours from the time they are soaked and then cooked to tender perfection. The head chef for the Jumping Spoon is a Scott, a native Korean gentleman who has over 25 years of Korean cooking experience, most recently in Los Angeles’ Korea town. He and Eric work together to ensure the highest quality and authenticity of the Korean cuisine served at Jumping Spoon. All items are prepared without Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), and all foods are prepared fresh every day. This includes all of the homemade soups, stews, and special Korean sauces that are served with the meals.
You’ll no doubt find dining at the Jumping Spoon to be a pleasant experience. As previously mentioned, the interior of the restaurant is very modern-looking. The high ceilings and the large windows on both sides of the restaurant create a very open feeling. The interior décor is fresh, clean and inviting, boasting beautiful floral paintings and suspended lighting throughout. There is table seating for over 60 guests, with plenty of room between tables to maintain privacy. On the wall visible from the entrance of the restaurant is a wall-sized replica print depicting traditional Korean life about 300 years ago. Eric plans to change some of the interior décor periodically to maintain a fresh and new look for customers’ enjoyment.
Jumping Spoon offers Happy Hour from 5–7:30 PM every day (except on Tuesday when they are closed). During Happy Hour, customers can enjoy discounts on beers, and also enjoy Soju, a traditional Korean alcoholic drink (described as similar to Vodka, but sweeter). Soju is available at Jumping Spoon in its original form as well as in several different fruit flavors. It is also used to make Soju cocktails in several different flavors. Cold and hot Sake are also available, as well as non-alcoholic soft drinks, iced tea and lemonade. A special food menu, “Jumping Special”, features smaller portions of selected food items that are perfect to accompany drinks during Happy Hour.
If you’ve never eaten Korean food before, put aside your reservations and visit Jumping Spoon. Eric Kim and his friendly staff are ready to serve you and to guide you through the menu to select items perfect for your individual tastes. The restaurant also happily accommodates vegans and vegetarians with any modifications necessary to the menu. Eric was a consummate host during our visit, and shared with us that one of his primary goals is to get to know his customers. He is most often moving throughout the dining room helping with service but also making sure that his customers are enjoying their food and their visit. Business is steadily growing since their grand opening, and there is already a following of repeat customers. On the Sunday evening of our visit, business was quite steady and several new customers thanked Eric on their way out saying how much they enjoyed their meals.
Eric Kim and his wife Jenny have two college-age sons—Edwin, who is a senior at University of California, Los Angeles; and Patrick, a junior at California State University at Pomona. I encourage you to visit Jumping Spoon at your earliest convenience to support this Hercules-based local business. Once you’ve enjoyed this healthy and authentic Korean cuisine, you’re sure to “Jump for Joy!”.