PUBLISHED: 4:09 PM on Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Japanese-American café offers some fresh flavors

Photo by Abby LaForce
  Chef Joon Kim, whips up Japanese and American entrées in the Twin Lakes Café kitchen.
Juneau may be a small town but culinary discoveries can still be found. Restaurants are popping up from the valley to the downtown area. Tucked away in a surprising location, is the Twin Lakes Café. For people looking to grab a satisfying and quick bite, this bustling café is the spot.

Located in the large, tan-colored Vocational Training & Resource Center, 3239 Hospital Drive, it's right on the way to or from downtown. The café is open only for lunch from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

The atmosphere is comfortable, the seating isn't too cramped and the café itself is extremely clean. The café seating, which holds about 30, is partly situated in the hallway but doesn't hinder traffic flow throughout the building.

"The food is wonderful and the owner is always very pleasant," said customer Marianne Jacobs, who works in the neighborhood.

Main customers include Department of Transportation workers along with locals in the Twin Lakes area.

The leased café is operated by Joon Kim, 42, who has 20 years experience in the restaurant business. Hard-working with nimble hands, this chef is friendly yet humble.

Two other employees include his wife, Hye Kyung, who is his business partner and cook, and a waitress.

Originally from Seoul, Korea, Kim said this is something he always wanted to do. He worked at various restaurants in Seattle, Wash. before moving to Juneau.

He explains that he enjoys using his own creativity. Previously, Kim worked at several local restaurants including The Island Pub and used to own the Moveable Feast food cart located downtown.

In addition to his full-time job as an entrepreneurial chef, he is deli manager at Fred Meyer.

Believe it or not, the café has been in business since 2003.

"My marketing has been word of mouth," Kim said.

Based on Japanese cuisine, Kim adds his own style of fusion cooking throughout the menu. The simple menu offers traditional Japanese

Udon noodle soup with various protein choices including a seafood blend of shrimp, scallops, mussels and halibut. The Udon soup is a big bowl of love with a mélange of vegetables and herbs-a meal in itself.

Another treat is Donburi or rice bowl, noodles and vegetables simmered in a tasty sukiyaki sauce served over rice with protein choices.

"The most popular item is the Bento Box," Kim said. Bento, which means "take out" in Japanese, features a protein such as spicy beef and paired with sticky rice, salad (with a tasty creamy dressing), pot sticker and even a cream puff for dessert.

For people craving a juicy burger, it's also available along with other American choices such as Philly steak sandwich. Kim's special touches on the menu include hand-cut French fries, hand-squeezed orange juice, fresh herbs and local seafood when available.

Watch for specials such as chicken with fresh basil, seasonal stuffed king crab with artichokes, vegetables and flying fish eggs or his hand-made coconut prawns.

Café prices are moderate and similar to other Juneau lunch spots, ranging from $7.50 to $13.95.

The lunch rush is usually from noon-1 p.m. with people dining in and also waiting to pick up their take-out orders.

"He certainly has a following of people who are faithful in being here every lunch hour," said VTRC director Archie Cavanaugh. He also said Kim's food is very delicious, presentable, and that he continues to improve with each year.

Kim said he is working on a new menu that will be available sometime in the next two months. The improved menu will include more selection, Asian-European fusion dishes and possibly a few Korean entrees.

"As long as (I'm) making good food and giving good service, people will come back," he said. He said his business grows 20 percent each year.

Kim also offers catering services for meetings and functions, up to 80 people.

Sharing his love for cooking is what this chef is all about.

"I'm really happy, this is my baby," Kim said.

For future customers, don't be afraid to ask for his special warm banana crepes, a lovely dessert indulgence.