Up until last week, I was never able to provide my wife a reason as to why we should visit Norboo for a meal. There never seemed to be any diners inside whenever we happened to walk or drive by the restaurant, and its interior looked extremely worn-out and run-down on the instances when we stopped and peeked inside. None of what we observed suggested to my wife that the restaurant was one that was worth visiting.
Being someone who is always curious about the restaurants I have not seen but not visited, the need to try out the restaurant grew stronger each time that I pass by the place (and I pass by the restaurant on a regular basis). Not a month goes by without me suggesting to my wife that we should visit the restaurant. My wife is a strong-willed woman, and it takes a lot to change her mind. That “a lot” came when my most recent suggestion for us to visit the restaurant coincided with my son’s constant nagging that he wanted to have Korean short ribs. My wife finally caved and reluctantly agreed to visit Norboo.
She actually changed her mind again as we were about to enter the restaurant; my wife just couldn’t get over how poorly-maintained the restaurant was. As she turned away from the front door of the restaurant, my wife’s eyes met with the display right outside the restaurant that showed their lunch specials. She saw that an order of Korean short ribs could be had for less than $9.00 (or was it $8.00???). That’s a full $15.00 less than what the restaurant next door, Sura, charged for an order of short ribs. She immediately turned towards the restaurant and walked in.
The restaurant was every bit as run-down inside as it looked from the outside. The tables were sticky, the booths were smelly, and it felt like something in the restaurant was about to fall apart real soon. Fortunately, the service was quick, friendly, and attentive (probably because we happened to be the only patrons of the restaurant). We got our menus quickly and placed our orders even more quickly.
We were drawn in by the cheap short ribs, and that was the first dish that we ordered.
At Norboo, low prices do not equal small portion sizes. There was a lot of short ribs on the sizzling plate. There were too many pieces of ribs for my son to finish on his own. Both my wife and I shared a few pieces of the kalbi. The sauce used on the short ribs was simplistic and sweet. In fact, sweetness was about the only flavour that I could detect in the short ribs. The sweet flavour was accompanied by a bitey-but-not-chewy texture which indicated that the meat was well-cooked. It was neither overcooked nor undercooked.
The sub $10.00 price they charged for an order of Seafood Pancake was also the lowest we’ve seen locally. We had to order one to see if there was actually any seafood on it.
There was seafood in the pancake. Although I wouldn’t call the amount included generous, there were definitely enough bits of seafood included to give me the impression that there were more than a few pieces in each slice of pancake. The pancake itself was rather forgettable. For all of the seafood and veggies in it, there was not a lot of detectable flavours. The pancake was also lacking in enjoyable textures. Its outer surface was stale and limp, while its innards were mushy and unpleasantly doughy. This pancake was one of the least enjoyable Korean pancakes that I’ve had locally.
My wife ordered the spicy rice cake with ramen
My wife said that the there were only two flavours that she detected from the dish: sweet and spicy. Of the two, the sweet dominated the spicy. The sweetness not only dominated, it overwhelmed. It made the dish unbearable to my wife after her fifth bite. The rice cakes were chewy thoughout, but they were not teeth-bouncingly enjoyable enough for my wife to overlook the sweetness of the sauce. The ramen strands were limp and soggy from being drowned in too much sauce. The few slices of fish cakes included did not have a recognizable flavour because they were overwhemled by the sweetness of the sauce. This dish was about 10% as tasty as the version of the same dish my wife and I sampled from a food truck (food served out of the flatbed of an Asian pickup truck) when we visited Seoul two years ago.
I ordered the “spicy intestines soup”
The “intestines” turned out to be intestines stuffed with glass noodles and coagulated pork blood. In other words, this soup was a spicy ‘soon dae’ soup. The soon dae played its part as the tastiest element of the soup. The casing was snappy, the glass noodles were even more snappy, and the coagulated pork blood was squishy and somewhat snappy. The three elements combined to create a very interesting trifecta of snappiness that was very pleasing to the bite. The bean sprouts and other veggies included in the soup contributed a crunchy texture that worked as a worthwhile textural sidekick to the snappy sausage. They gave substance and variety to every bite, which allowed my jaw quite the workout. The soup was the least interesting component of the…”soup”. It was one-note spicy. I could taste no flavours other than that of Korean paprika powder. The soup tasted like an overdose of paprika powder in hot water. I could not detect any hint of a meat or vegetable or fruit soup base. None whatsoever.
As is customary at Korean restaurants, we also received complimentary side dishes.
There were four side dishes: Kimchi, marinated bean sprouts, pasta salad, and potatoes in sweet sauce. The potatoes were nice and warm. They had a not-too-mushy texture along with flavours that were not too sweet. The bean sprouts tasted like they were left in the fridge for much too long. The pasta salad was cool and fresh, with mayo flavours dominating above all else. The kimchi tasted like factory produced kimchi, which I happened to not dislike.
If there was one overarching theme to our meal at Norboo, it would be one of value. Every dish we ordered was inexpensive. The soup and rice cake dishes that my wife and I ordered cost us a dollar or two less than what other Korean restaurants charged for the same dishes. The seafood pancake at Norboo was at least $5 cheaper than their competitors. The short ribs were at least a whopping $10 less. I guess that they had to make sacrifices in terms of flavours to achieve this “cheapness”. Every single dish that we ordered had flavours that were too unenjoyably simplistic. As much I would like to embrace a place that places value above all else, I can’t in this case. The food served at Norboo is simply too boring for me to even consider revisiting it. I would much rather shell out the extra buckaroos for better tasting food elsewhere.