At the new Ember Korean Steakhouse in Fort Myers, my dining companion and I leaned close over the grill sunken in the middle of the table as our waiter cooked a wagyu rib-eye that he promised would be “like butter.” As the beef ($48) sizzled and steamed, he laid three slices of pork belly ($25) across the fire and set to work separating the flesh of a lobster tail ($18) from its shell, up next on the grill. My companion and I eyed each other over the flames in a state of delighted wonder. We’d already experienced a Korean feast, and we weren’t even to the main course.
We’d started with an order of pan-fried kimchi dumplings ($13) and a vegetable-stuffed pancake ($13), both astonishingly good. And each meal is served with a sesame-ginger-dressed salad that I’m still obsessing over; a spicy vegetable and tofu soup with a kimchi base; rice; and Korean sides dishes, or banchan, that include pickled radishes, kimchi, deep-fried sweet potatoes, onion salad, zucchini salad, chilled Korean mashed potatoes and sautéed red beans.
In addition, the menu also features a full sushi bar, with both standard and chef’s rolls, as well as familiar Korean dishes like bibimbap. There are also some inspired Anglo-Korean fusion options like the Galbi Jim Poutine made with Korean braised brisket, hand-cut fries, cheese curd, gravy and pickled onions.
Ember had opened formally just two weeks before our meal, so there were still a few details that needed ironing out. It was surprising how little most of the staff knew about the food being served. My friend and I were curious about all of it—the types of mushrooms in the soup, the kind of sesame-sprinkled beans that arrived as part of the banchan, the filling in the vegetable pancake—but when we ran our questions by several of the servers, no one knew the answers. And there were some oops moments, like the second High Five IPA ($7) that took multiple requests and wasn’t delivered until we were about to leave, or the way the waitstaff horsed around at the entrance to the kitchen, which happened to be next to our table (and was, not to mention, incongruous with the nightclub-chic ambience).
But all of that, I assure you, was worth wading through for the food. The wagyu rib-eye, as promised, was as tender as butter with an exceptional taste. We loved the way our waiter snipped the meat into slices with a pair of hefty scissors, a Korean custom, he explained, because knives were traditionally forbidden at meals. He suggested we wrap bites of the beef with slices of pickled radish, and that proved to be fantastically flavorful.
We were so stuffed at the end of the meal that it was a relief to hear that Ember doesn’t offer dessert, though it’s something they planned to have in the future. Our server suggested specialty dessert cocktails instead, but we happily passed.
I hope that the quirks of this particular dining experience will be smoothed out over time, because the food at Ember is both unique and delicious, and I’m already craving more.
Ember Korean Steakhouse
7091 College Parkway, Fort Myers, 771-8818, facebook.com/embersteakhousefortmyers. Open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m.; and Sunday, 4 p.m. to midnight. Wheelchair-accessible. Reservations recommended.