Variety Is The Spice of Lunch

Dae Bak Bon Ga-

Unlike my unplanned visit last night to Ramen Sanpachi, my visit to Dae Bak Bon Ga for lunch today was totally planned. I had planned on having a lighter lunch consisting of  a Korean soup or stew with some pickled veggies and a bowl of rice. I wanted to have a lighter lunch so that I would have enough room in my digestive system for my planned dinner a Fraiche tonight, which I presumed would be rather filling as I had my mind set on ordering their adventurous degustation.

I was surprised at how big its dining space was when I walked into Dae Bak Bon Ga with my wife, my daughter, and my son. It was filled with grill-equiped tables with matching hood vents extending down from above. For such a big restaurant, there were relatively few diners. We walked in with one other table occupied, and there were only two occupied tables when we left the restaurant after we were done with our meal.

Their menus were really confusing. We were given a full menu and a sheet each for AYCE options and set menu choices. The main menu consisted of several pages that were filled to the corners with words and pictures. The words were in a really chunky font and everything was single-spaced. The Korean words and English words were so stacked on top of each other that they almost blended into each other. I had a hard time trying to find and decipher where their lunch specials began and where their other specialties ended. My wife was equally frustrated with trying to make sense of their menu. To make matters worse, our server kept hovering over our table waiting for us to tell her what we wanted to order (it must be noted that she went about it in a very polite and non-intrusive manner).

After we wasted minutes staring blankly at the menu, my wife took the initiative and said that we should just order either the AYCE from sheet one or the Deluxe Set B for three from sheet two. It took us barely a second of mental calculation to come to the conclusion that we would be able to get more meat at a lower price if we went for the all-you-can-eat option (they don’t charge for kids under 4, so we only had to pay for two adults and a child). But since we came in with the intention of having a light lunch, we opted for the seemingly more varied but also portion-restricted Deluxe Set B for 3. Experience told us that the four of us would get a meal that satisfied our hunger but didn’t make us full if we ordered a meal intended for three adults for the four of us.

I was dead wrong in my assumption of their portion sizes. The dishes just kept coming and the banchan seemed to refill themselves. Just when we thought we were so full that we could not possibly eat anything else, we were served another dish. There was so much food that, barely halfway through the meal, I pulled out my phone and cancelled our dinner reservations at Fraiche.

Here’s what we had:

The Meat.

There were three different kinds of meat included: marinated beef (bulgogi style), spicy marinated pork, and spicy marinated chicken. The kids don’t like spicy, so they shared all of the beef. I surveyed their opinions, and they both liked the beef. They said that the meat was tender, easy to chew, and had a nice sweet flavour that went well with rice.

My wife and I had the spicy pork and spicy chicken all to ourselves. The chicken was the better of the two. It had to be grilled the longest, and it was the only meat that had any charred flavours. The charred flavours went very well with the sweet spiciness of the marinade. The charred flavours were also the only flavours that I could detect from the pieces of chicken after they were wrapped with lettuce, combined with the pieces of raw garlic, and dipped in the spicy bean paste.

Even though it was grilled the longest, the texture of the chicken was not tough at all. It was still relatively tender and it was a pleasure to chew with either the bitey and chewy grains of rice or the crisp, fresh lettuce.

The pork was also pretty tasty, but because our server advised us to take it off the grill way before the chicken, it did not have the charred flavours that were so enjoyable with the chicken. Both my wife and I also thought that our server told us to remove the slices of pork from the grill a little too early. Some of the pieces felt like they were undercooked. It was really difficult to tell their doneness by looking at the pieces of pork because they were all so thoroughly marinated that there was no distinction between the redness of the marinade and the redness of undercooked pork.

Other that it being potentially undercooked, the pork tasted pretty good. Since it probably had the same sweet spicy marinade as the chicken, its flavours were as enjoyable as the chicken. The cooked pieces had soft and tender texture that also made them a pleasure to chew and break down.

The Banchan.

  • PotatoesThese potatoes were marinated or cooked in sweet sauce/syrup, and I felt that sweetness was perfectly controlled. The texture of the potatoes was actully different than regular sweetened potatoes served as banchan at other Korean places. These potatoes had a harder center scetion which, although harder to bite through, created a firmer and almost crunchy texture that I liked. It might be the case that they were simply undercooked, but it was undercooked exactly to my liking.
  • Kim ChiMy wife and I have different opinions about their kimchi. She thought that they were a little too bland and not spicy enough. I liked their crunchiness, juiciness, and also the slight briny/fishy flavours I detected in them. They actually resembled a variety of jarred supermarket-bought kimchi that I used to eat all the time when I was a teenager living in Toronto, so my opinions towards the kimchi might be biased. I would say to go with my wife’s opinion on the kimchi because her perspective is more neutral and objective.
  • Seaweed/KelpThe kelp was perfectly seasoned, smooth and oily, bitey, crunchy, and a little slimy. In other words, it was damn good. It was a hit with all four of us, which is not small feat.
  • Green SaladThe lettuce was fresh and crunchy. The dressing was spicy and tangy, which was essential if its flavours were to stand out among the bold, rich, and spicy flavours of the meat and the soup.
  • Shredded Cabbage SaladLike the lettuce in the green salad, the cabbage was fresh, crisp, and juicy. The dressing was a surprise; it was quite different from any other kind of dressing I’ve had with shredded cabbage. It was candy sweet! It was different and it appealed to both my wife and I.
  • Bean sprouts 

My daughter monopolized the bean sprouts. She said that she liked them a lot, but then she also liked every single plate of marinated bean sprouts at every single Korean restaurants we’ve ever been to.

The Seafood Pancake.

This seafood pancake was very thick, thicker than every other local Korean seafood pancake I’ve had. It was extremely crispy on the outside and supremely soft and creamy on the inside. There was plenty of seafood interspersed with the batter and they created a sea of textural contrasts with the crispy skin and the creamy innards. I liked the doughy and briny flavours of he pancake batter and the seafood filling, but I thought that it was lacking in saltiness. Luckily, they gave us a dish of soy sauce-based sauce that provided the much needed saltiness.

The Japchae (Stir-fried clear noodles).

The japchae was adequate. It wasn’t one of the better japchae’s that I’ve had, but it played its role as a component of the set. The noodles were chewy, the veggies crunchy, and the beef plentiful. The sauce used to fried the clear noodles with was a tad too sweet for my liking, but it was otherwise pretty flavourful.

The Soy Bean Paste Soup (Daeng Jang Jigae).

This soup was pretty basic. It had relatively few ingredients compared to the soy bean paste soup at other Korean places, but it wasn’t lacking it flavours. I couldn’t get enough of its eathy and slightly briny flavours. Even though it only had a few slices of mushrooms, five tiny cubes of tofu, and one mussel/osyter in it, I ate it up like it was nobody’s business. It was that good. I felt like I was transported to a street stall in rural South Korean having a pot of burning, comforting daeng jang jigae on an extremely snowy and bitterly cold day.

The Soft Tofu Soup (Soondubu Jigae).

This soft tofu soup was not nearly as good as the soy bean paste soup. Like the soy bean paste soup, it was pretty lacking in terms of ingredients (other than tofu). It was also pretty lacking in terms of flavours; It was not as rich as soft tofu soups I’ve had at other Korean restaurants. The broth gave me the feeling that it was made by simply adding Korean paprika powder to a pot of boiling water. The positives with this soup were that it came boiling hot, had an adequate amount of tofu, and that it was satisfyingly spicy.

The dumplings.

The dumplings were deep fired. They had skins that were thick and pretty tough to chew through and fillings that were equally thick and substantial. The most prominent flavour that I detected with these dumplings were that of chives. It just so happened that chive-flavoured dumplings were my family’s preferred type of dumplings, so we had no trouble ignoring the tougher-than-cowhide dumpling skin and focusing on the substantial amount of aromatic chives included in the filling of each dumpling.

Although there were some not-so-good components in the Deluxe Set B we ordered today, I would say that we wholeheartedly enjoyed our dining experience today at Dae Bak Bon Ga. We got the motherload when we thought we were ordering a meal for three that would in no way be too much for the four hungry members of my family. Most of the food was tasty, and the variety and quantity of the food was simply overwhelming. Whenever any one of us tasted something we didn’t like, we just moved on to another dish that we did like. And there was plenty on our table today for us to like. The meal we had was so satisfying that I did not regret not being able to experience the menu degustation that I was supposed to have for dinner at Fraiche today. One satisfying meal is enough for today…becasue tomorrow, I’ll probably be having TWO satisfying and calorie-laden meal as my father’s day lunch and dinner.

Dae Bak Bon Ga on Urbanspoon

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About dontcallmeafoodblogger

Just like most people can think of a song that perfectly fits the mood of a moment or a particular situation, I often think about meals or dishes that would be perfect for a specific moment. Most of my thoughts are about food and I think in terms of food. To me, food is much more than something you ingest, desire, crave, or dislike. It relates to culture, to family, to politics, and to every other aspect of my life. I admit I might be a little obsessed and maybe even addicted to food, but I've been afflicted all my life. I was born with it and with this outlet for my food thoughts, I'll have a chance to run wild with it.
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