B-Bim-Baap Restaurant Review Edmonton
Ok, I should preface this post by saying I'm new to the world world of BiBimBap and it's hot brother dolsot BiBimBap. It has been something that always intrigued me, even more so after seeing the meal in action on the food networks Food Safari. Really, how can you turn down such a beautiful looking meal in a bowl. However, for some reason Korean restaurants are rarely, if ever, on the top of our "to go" lists when eating out.
Rewind to last Saturday when my father and I went out for sushi after a day of heat and bad food at the Indy race. Hoping for something refreshing and light, we went to his fallback (Kyoto Sushi - 99 St) for supper. Having not been in a while, I noticed that the menu had changed and instantly picked up on a Sashimi BiBimBap (Hwe Dup Bab). The dish presented was colorful and balanced. Starting with the typical rice base it was topped with sprouts, cucumber, carrot, lettuce, mushroom, daikon and nice portions of tuna and salmon. On the side came a heaping bowl (almost the size of a miso soup bowl) of hot sauce. Now I enjoy hot food, but could never imagine anyone needing a fistful of sauce in any meal. Regardless, I looked at my first ever bowl and jumped in head first. A nice dollop of hot sauce and a good mix with the chopsticks, I began my meal. It was so incredibly delicious, with each bite containing so many different ingredients. Maybe it was my first experience with BiBimBap or my craving for something good after a weekend at the races, but I would have this exact meal for lunch or supper any day of the week.
Now, back to tonight. I knew after having the sashimi version I would have to buckle down and go for the original. After a long drive back from Medicine Hat today, I googled Korean restaurants and came across a website for B-Bim-Baap Restaurant and Lounge. It seemed like a logical choice, as it was on the south side and we were hungry. The restaurant itself is located in a light industrial area in a strip mall style setup. The website claims a long tradition in Edmonton (30 years), but only recently became Bi-Bim-Baap under "new management". While the interior has a few new perks, it definitely shows it's age (model wood panelling). We were greeted almost instantly, and taken to the far side of the restaurant. As we were walking across I noticed the lounge area was prepped with food (a 20-30 person party came in just after we arrived) and only one other couple was in the restaurant.
My GF and I both knew why we were there, so did not entertain the thoughts of koren bbq or hot soups and looked straight for the BiBimBap. After a quick consultation, my GF decided to get the original BiBimBap ($9.50) and I was going to get the dolsot version ($12.99). Even though we came for a reason, our road hunger got the best of us, and we ordered steamed pork and vegetable wontons ($6) for an appie. When our server came by, we placed our order and added pot of green tea ($1.99) and earl grey ($2.50). Within a few minutes, our tea was placed on our table along with two small dishes (one with kimchi, another with bean sprout salad). It wasn't long before a little bamboo steamer tray came out with 6 little wontons for us to devour! There were good, although a few suffered from thicker edges, creating a denser/gummier skin. After eating 4 of the 6 wontons, our food was ushered to our table. First the server placed my dolsot verison down, inquired about whether I would like hot sauce, and then proceeded to mix the whole dish together with a spoon and chopsticks. The heat was tremendous, and you could hear the sizzle when ever a new item touched the side. After she was happy with her mix of my bowl, she proceeded to go through the same routine with my GF. So how was it. Not as good as I hoped. Having looked into the dish before hand, and mentally confirming this with a picture of the dish on their website, I was expecting to have a raw egg placed on top. No such thing occurred, as I received the same fried egg that my GF's dish got. I also lost out on the opportunity to take in the colorful dish and mix it myself as our server started the mixing almost instantly.I soon also realized that not only was the rice going "crispy" as many descriptions of the meal state, but was turning black along with anything else that spent more than a minute touching the bowl. This made for some tough rice and took away from the dish in my opinion. My GF enjoyed her bowl, although she found the mushrooms to add a stronger than usual "earthy" taste which eventually got the better of her and she conceded defeat after finishing just over half of the bowl. At one point, she even mentioned that she wanted to eat more, it just lost the appeal.
To wrap this long story up - I don't know whether I didn't enjoy the dish as much as I hoped because of my highish expectations (which isn't fair, as my experience with this dish is so limited) or because I went with the dolsot style bowl. Either way, I look forward to not only ordering this dish again at another restaurant, but adding it to my home cooking repertoire. The service at B-Bim-Baap was snappy, although it is a pet peeve to get the main dish so soon after getting the starter, and we would both agreed to eventually come back around and try a few other items one day.
I'd enjoyed the hot spicy stews at Bi-Bim-Baap in the past, right around the time they switched to the new name (I think it used to be called Korean Gardens or something like that for the longest time). Never had the Bi-Bim-Baap though. It is indeed in an out of the way place, and the interior I guess hasn't changed much (same wooden look that reminded me of some outdoor patios or something, etc.).
My guess with the lack of raw egg topping was that more often than not, many people are afraid of the risk of contracting salmonella and they probably assumed you'd want it cooked (guessing you are non-Asian). Mixing the dish for you is often table side service that you receive in Korean restaurants both here in N. America as well as in Korea. In this case, I might guess the server thought you didn't know how to eat it (eg. its to be mixed and hot sauce added), not eaten in its presented form as brought to the table, with all the toppings orderly and laid out nicely. :)
As I ate the dish, I did come to the same assumption with regards to the raw egg. It's too bad I looked forward to seeing it cook in the bowl so much. Yes, I'm a non-Asian, and like I mentioned Korean isn't very high on the go to places (I'm more of a Sushi/Pho/Curry guy) so I was unaware of the table side mixing service. Is this something that could be requested, as I would really like the moment to soak up the beauty of this dish and then mix myself...or is that looked at in poor taste? When talking the meal over in the car on our way to get bubble tea we both agreed on trying the soups next time, so it's nice to hear you enjoyed it.
Hard to say, I've been in places where they immediately mix it up for you (along with cutting all your noodles for those dishes that contain them, cutting your long strips of barbeque meat, etc.) or just leave you to your own devices. Mixing in the amount of hot paste is left up to the customer though, as everyone has their own preference there. I don't see it being rude if you ask that they let you do your mixing on your own, try it next time. :)
High expectations are always fair. Be bim baap can have a myriad of stuff on top or just a few things but should be balanced and mix properly and be easy to eat with a spoon. The dol sot should make crunchy pieces; it shouldn't be burned. Send it back if it is, and ask for a raw egg if you want one. It doesn't take much to cool a dol sot to the correct temperature. The hwe dup baap that you had before is a completely different, though similar, dish - the seafood is the point of it.
It's a shame that really well done Korean food is hard to find locally; it's really wonderful when it is good.