Fine American steakhouse done the Korean way opens this week in Chattanooga

Barry Courter, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
·3 min read

May 4—Stephen Chandler has made a career of the food industry working in steak and ramen restaurants that specialize in the total dining experience in Colorado and Nashville, so when the opportunity to join Eunice and Carlos Kal as general manager of a new venture in Chattanooga, he jumped at the chance.

Zaya Korean Steakhouse opened this week on Cherokee Boulevard and Chandler said it is unlike anything else in the area, and said COTE in Miami is the only similar one in the country.

"It's a fine-dining American steakhouse with upscale service mashing in traditional Korean barbecue food," he said.

The Kals also own Rodigio Grill in East Brainerd and Totto Sushi & Grill nearby Zaya's on Frazier Avenue, and Eunice said her husband has always wanted to take meat to the next level. Both were born in Korea, though he grew up in Brazil.

"He has been wanting to open a Korean barbecue restaurant for a long time but when we started building this we felt like the city needed a beautiful upscale restaurant with a Korean touch," she said.

She pointed out that many other Korean restaurants focus primarily on unlimited all-you-can eat meats, and don't carry dry aged or high-end prime rib cuts, as Zaya does.

"My husband loves meat right off the grill but he wants to cook it himself at the table. Here, the servers will cook for you or if you are confident, you can cook it yourself."

Chandler said the menu, pricing and level of service would probably be most comparable to that of a Ruth's Chris.

"It's very high end."

He said diners can either order dishes a la carte or they can choose the han-sang path, which is essentially family style where the sides, which are prepared fresh everyday and therefore change, are served family style. Ordering can be for two to four people and diners can choose combinations of meats including dry-aged rib-eye, top sirloin, bulgogi, galbi or a strip. Sides will include seasonal vegetables and Ban-Chan, red leaf luttuce, ssamjang, savory egg souffle, Zay Hot Sauce and kimchi stew.

"It is very old-school and traditional," Eunice Kal said, "and it requires lots of hands and time to prepare, but everything, except the kimchi, is made fresh."

Because of that, the restaurant will be only open for dinner for the time being.

Chandler also said guests will immediately noticed the specially designed area where meats are dry-aged for 45 days in-house.

"It's really cool," he said. "Its like a biology project and it is happening in front of you."

Zaya's also has an extensive wine and whiskey list and will specialize in cocktails made with soju, the world's best- selling rice-based Korean alcoholic beverage.

Everything is designed for what Chandler said is a "highly interactive experience that is perfect for a special date night or business meeting.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.