What to do when plan A fails, plan B goes to the crapper, and there’s no plan C? Visit somewhere reliable and familiar, of course. Of course, the most familiar eatery on this particular block of Robson for me (and probably everyone else) would be Japadog. But I wasn’t much in the mood for a Japanese hot dog…or the bahn mi served next door. I was in the mood for some grilled meat on rice, and the galbi don that is on the menu of Gyudonya totally fit the bill.
Visiting Gyudonya for a quick (Japanese) galbi fix would normally be a no-brainer because it was a known quantity. The galbi they serve is nowhere close to the best galbi in town – probably nowhere close to being authentic either – but it does usually provide me with an enjoyable and acceptable meal experience. Authentic or not, I actually like the flavours and textures of their boneless pieces of short ribs.
But since the restaurant’s ownership change, and the subsequent menu tweak, I’m not so sure about their food anymore. The one time that I got takeout from the place for my son after the ownership change, I thought that the galbi don looked different. I didn’t get to try any of the galbi before my son finished the whole thing, so I wouldn’t know if it tasted different.
I guess there was actually a silver lining with my dining plans falling through today; I was basically forced (by my debilitating hunger) to see if the food really did taste different at Gyudonya at the helm of its new owners.
Today was actually the first time that I sat down and dined at the restaurant. All of my previous experiences with Gyudonya have been takeout affairs.
Once My wife, my son, and I sat ourselves down at the counter directly below the windows, one of the servers came to take our orders. My wife ordered the gyu-men (ramen) and my son ordered the grilled pork don. I came here for the galbi don, and that was what I ordered.
I went all out and ordered the large galbi bowl combo. The combo added a bowl of miso soup and a little plate of kimchi to the galbi don. The kimchi plate consisted of tiny bits of chopped up napa and a few minute cubes of spicy marinated daikon. There was so little of both the kimchi and the daikon on the plate that I thought it was laughable. I wouldn’t even pay fifteen cents for such a tiny potion size, so the $1.95 they were gouging me for the kimchi and the bowl of generic miso soup seemed like a really bad deal.
The portion size of the large galbi bowl also left a lot to be desired. There were, at most, 9 rather small pieces of so-called “short ribs” in the bowl. I finished all the meat and half of the rice in four bites, and then I finished the kimchi dish with a bit of rice for my fifth bite. The amount of beef included in the bowl was so pathetic that I couldn’t believe that they had the gall to call this a “large” serving of galbi. I remember the amount of meat that came with the large galbi bowl before the ownership change, and it had about triple the amount of meat of the large galbi bowl I had today. I probably got less meat today than I would have gotten if I ordered the mini-sized bowl with the previous operators of the restaurant.
I would’ve probably walked out of the restaurant if they changed the flavours of the meat along with changing the serving size. I was relieved that the meat tasted pretty similar to the meat served by the previous regime. It was sweet and salty, but not too sweet nor too salty. It didn’t have quite the same complex flavours as a well-marinated Korean galbi, but it did its job in combining with the rice to create a nice, enjoyable bite.
The meat was also pretty tender. It was more tender than I remembered it to be. In fact, it was so tender that I had a lot of trouble chewing through two of the nine total pieces. I’ll spare you the details of what exactly happened, but let’s just say that a bit of further “examination” to the two pieces of chewy beef revealed that they were severely undercooked.
The only component of the bowl to be free of deficiencies was the rice. There wasn’t a lot of it, but what was there was pretty well-executed. It was slightly firm and each grain exhibited an ever-so-subtle elastic texture that was a pleasure to bite through. Each individual grain of rice was also discernible to my palate. It’s too bad that the well-cooked rice was not nearly enough to salvage the undercooked meat and the inexcusably tiny portion size.
Like the large galbi don that I ordered, the regular-sized grilled pork don that my son ordered was also portioned for an 80-pound model with a eating disorder.
The amount of meat included in the bowl was not enough even for my 3-year-old son. My son finished all of the meat while eating only a third of his rice. He was so hungry after finishing all the meat that he actually ate another full meal after we left the restaurant.
I actually exchanged two pieces of my beef for one piece of my son’s pork so that I could have a taste of it. The pork was firmer in texture and more thoroughly cooked than the galbi. It was paper thin, and that was unforgivable given that there were already so few pieces of the meat to begin with.
The grilled pork also seemed to have the same sweet and salty flavour as the galbi. I wouldn’t be surprised if both were marinated with the same marinade.
The gyu-men that my wife ordered was something that we have never ordered before at Gyudonya.
There bow of ramen could be ordered either spicy or not-spicy, and my wife got the spicy version. My wife said that the broth did not taste spicy at all, it just looked spicy. Although the broth was not spicy, my wife complained that it was almost unacceptably salty. It was so salty that my wife didn’t take any further sips of the soup after her initial sip.
My wife also thought that the boiled slices of beef in her bowl did not go nearly as well with noodles as they do with rice. She felt that the textures of the beef and the noodles were so similar that they were almost indistinguishable from each other.
The noodles were simply too limp, too soggy, and too mushy. Normally, ramen is supposed to be cooked to a slighty chewy and teeth-bouncing consistency, but the texture of my wife’s ramen today indicated that they were way overcooked.
The gyu-men was an utter and total disappointment for my wife.
The whole meal was a disappointment to all three of us. Not only was the quality of the food substandard, the quantity of food that we were served was so minuscule that it was insulting. I expected the food to taste different after the change of ownership; what I didn’t expect was for them to go el cheapo by reducing the amount of food they serve by a half or more. I guess reducing the portion sizes also reduced the number of regulars at the restaurant. There were much less diners in the restaurant than usual when I visited it today. At the rate they’re reducing their portion sizes and clientele, I would not be surprised to find the restaurant completely empty and to see the large galbi don containing one measely piece of (so undercooked that its raw) beef the next time that I walk into the restaurant.