Jang Mo Jib (Robson) –
Dining at different branches of a restaurant that I’ve been to is quickly becoming a trend for my dining choices recently. First it was my back-to-back dim sum meals at the Richmond and downtown locations of Kirin. Then yesterday, I had an unexpectedly bad meal at the Kitsilano subsidiary of the usually excellent La Regalade. Today, I thought I’d take a risk by dining at the downtown branch of Jang Mo Jib, whose location in Burnaby gave my wife and I the single worst Korean food dining experience we’ve had since we moved here.
The food we had at Jang Mo Jib’s Burnaby location, along with being horribly unappetizing, could only be described as unsanitary. I won’t go into what exactly it was that we found in one of the soups we ordered when we visited the restaurant; I’ll just say that we found some sort of “organic” material that should not appear anywhere in a dish, plate, or bowl of food.
My wife called me deranged for wanting to visit another location of Jang Mo Jib after our first experience. I don’t blame her. Sometimes I just can’t help myself. I needed to find out if our previous experience was an isolated incident, if it only applied to their Burnaby location, or if it was a chain-wide problem.
It did take some convincing (about 30 minutes worth), but my wife finally did reluctantly agree to visit their Robson location with me for lunch today.
We were encouraged with what we saw when we entered the restaurant and sat down at the table we were assigned to. The interior of the restaurant looked brighter and cleaner than their Burnaby location, with a down-home, “every-man” (and every-woman) Korean restaurant ambience that was similar to some of the non-touristy places I visited on my trip to Seoul last summer. Everything from the bowls to the cups to the silverware looked cleaner and were arranged in a more orderly fashion than their Burnaby location.
My wife and I ordered three dishes to share. We were served four different banchan along with the items we ordred.
The four banchan dishes were as follows:
- The potatoes – These were cold potatoes sitting on top of sweet syrup. The potatoes had an enjoyable texture, with a consistency somewhere in the middle of the spectrum (the extremes of the spectrum are represented by mashed potatoes and raw, uncooked potatoes). The sweet syrup did seep through every cube of potato entirely, resulting in potato cubes that were consistently sweet throughout. I’ve yet to encounter either a spectacular or an unspectacular version of this dish. And the one I had today continued the trend.
- Spicy marinated daikon radish (turnip) – This was also basically similar to the versions I’ve had at every other local Korean restaurant. Its flavour was spicy and its texture was crunchy. The only difference with this version was that it was larger-sized than most other versions. This meant that it took my teeth and jaws a bit more effort to break down these spicy marinated daikons than other versions.
- Marinated bean sprouts – Again, these sprouts were typical of other versions I’ve had at not only local Korean restaurants, but basically Korean restaurants all over the world. The sprouts had a salty flavour while possessing crunchy and juicy textures.
- Kim Chi – This version had a rather mild spiciness. It was also pretty flavourful; I could definitely detect flavours from the components used to marinate/preserve the napa cabbage. At first, I had a hard time with the length of each piece of kim chi. Their fibers where rather difficult to break down and chew through in my mouth.
But when I looked over to the Korean diners sitting at the table within my immediate line-of-sight, I realized that I had forgotten to take a crucial step before I started eating the kim chi. I needed to cut the kim chi with the provided scissors like they were doing. Once I cut the pieces of napa cabbage, I no longer had any trouble with their lenghty, fibrous texture.
The first item from our order that arrived at our table was the Stir-fried Squid in Spicy Sauce.
My wife commented that the dish was rather simplistic and I agreed with her. It was basically vegetables and squid stir-fried with kochujang. The sweet and spicy flavours of the dish came entirely from the kochujang, and those were the only two flavours that both my wife and I could get from the dish. There were way more vegetables than squid in the dish, and the squid had an elastic, very-chewy texture that signified that they were overcooked. I liked the textures of the vegetables more. The thin sticks of zucchini were especially enjoyable. They retained some of their crunchy and juicy texture even after being cooked. I thought the texture of the zucchini sticks went great with the kochujang flavours.
The second item we ordered was the bibim naeng myun (spicy cold noodles).
This dish was excellent. Every component was well-executed. The noodles were ice cold, but not freezingly so. They included just the right amount of icy soup to create a nice, cool feeling in the mouth with every bite, but not too much to irritate the gum or teeth of the diner. The kochujang was adequately sweet and spicy and the vinegar and mustard from the included squirt bottles added an extra tanginess and headrush-spiciness.
The boiled egg white was bouncy while the powdery yolk became smooth when mixed with the noodles. The cucumbers were fresh and crunchy and the thin slices of beef added a much needed firm-but-not-chewy texture. The noodles were so teeth-bouncingly elastic that they required me to chew them over and over again to break them down. And the chewing process allowed me to savor the fresh, summery flavours and beautiful textural contrasts that came from all the ingredients of the dish. Korean cold noodles have to be chewy to be good, and these noodles were supremely chewy.
The third dish we ordered was the Galbi short ribs.
The thing I noticed that was different about these short ribs was that they were not cooked in the kitchen, but grilled outside with an outdoor grill. The advantage with the outdoor grill is that the smoke and aromas from the grilling process are allowed to recirculate when the cover of the outdoor grill is down, resulting in the meat having intensely smoky flavours.
Honestly, I did not detect a lot smoky flavours when I had my first bite of the meat. I actually did not taste a lot of anything at all. But that was because I had been eating the other two dishes and my taste buds were numb from all the spiciness. I realized this and took a huge sip of water to rinse out my mouth before taking my second bite.
When I took my second bite, I was definitely able to detect smoky flavours as well as the sweet, salty, and savory flavours of the marinade of the meat. The flavours of the short ribs were enjoyable, but they were not that much different from other versions of galbi that I have had at other local Korean restaurants.
The texture of the short ribs was a little disappointing when compared to the enjoyable flavours. The ribs were sliced thin, which made them susceptible to being overcooked. And to no one’s surprise, they were overcooked. They had a firmer and stiffer texture than I would have liked. But then the thinness also became their saving grace. If the ribs were any thicker, they would’ve been impossible to bite through. With the galbi being thin, I was able to bite off, chew through, and break down individual pieces of meal without exerting too much extra effort.
I would say that the food that my wife and I had today at Jang Mo Jib was above-average. It certainly was way better than the unsanitary and unappetizing excuse-for-food we were served at their Burnaby location. This meal both changed our perception of Jang Mo Jib (in a positive way) and confirmed our recently-acquired views that the quality of food at different branches of a restaurant can vary greatly…I’m going to have to visit some more branches of restaurants with more than one location to see if this is generally the case.