Cho Sun – Vancouver, BC
>Cho Sun B.B.Q. Korean Restaurant
Tel: (604) 434 1222
Original post below:
Second chances. Be it the delinquent teenager caught skipping class yet again, the friend who’s let you down after promising to do something for you, or a restaurant that has disappointed you on your first dining experience there… they all deserve one. In the latter case, I’m of the more generous type. By that I mean, I usually give restaurants the three-strikes-you’re-out policy, unless my virgin visit was insanely horrible in some aspect (food quality, service, etc.) and I cannot rationally justify in my own mind to ever go back. This has happened only rarely.
Although its a neighboring city, I don’t often travel to Burnaby from Vancouver. I have only a few friends who live out there and generally we meet somewhere in downtown Vancouver for most get-togethers, nor am I a SFU alum so I have no ties academically to the region either. Suffice it to say, I just think of Burnaby as being the place with “the mall”. But on the occasions that I do make the drive, I simply take the commuter thoroughfare known as Kingsway. It’s on these journeys that I randomly scan the sides of the road, seeing if there is anything that interests me from a food perspective. Indeed, through this method I have discovered some. I’ve written about a few already on Foodosophy and have a more in my personal editorial backlog. Suffice it to say, Kingsway is my little foreign silk road of wonder.
Through one of these travels, I had discovered Cho Sun B.B.Q Korean Restaurant about two years ago. With the objective to get some basic Korean-style barbecue meat, I ended up being unimpressed with the meal I had then. Sure, the smells were amazing as I stepped inside in the spartan decorated room, and the menu was fully loaded with the staple cuts of beef, pork and chicken, and there were Korean speaking proprietors running the establishment. But when it came to the taste, it was lacking. The marinade was marginal and came off as weak through the finished table-cooked product. Prices were a bit on the higher side for the same amount of meat compared to other Korean barbecue places in the city as well. It was not bad, just not enough to warrant a repeat.
Fast forward to this month, while driving on this same street and looking for a dinner location, I spotted the ever present sign of this restaurant once again. The small parking lot was full but I managed to see an empty stall so decided what the heck. I’d shunned them long enough since my first meal there, and felt it was time to step into the batter’s box as any true food athlete should. A smiling man was coming out of the door – who I later saw re-enter the premises and appeared to be the manager – so that struck me as a good sign. The incredible scent of cooking barbecue hit me like a tidal wave when I opened the door, which overwhelmed my senses and had me salivating immediately.
Seated in one of the partitioned booths with a ready-to-use grill cook top, my attention turned right away to the booth to my left. On their table was this large round stone hotplate, with nice thick circular shaped cuts of beef short ribs that was covered in a thick looking sauce. I knew I had to have this. But after reading the menu, I had no idea what it would be called. This was where my fortune turned, as my dining companion could read the Korean writing on a handwritten piece of paper that was hanging by the cash register bar. Maun Kalbijim, was a new menu item that could be ordered on this night (and not yet in the proper booklet). “Maun” means spicy, “kalbi” means “beef ribs”, and “jim” means braised.
Though I am not a fan of having my meat dishes in a Korean barbecue restaurant cooked for me in the kitchen instead of at my table by myself, this was an exception. Maun Kalbijim, needs to be slow cooked/braised over many hours, as the marinated beef short ribs need to break down causing the meat, fat and gelatin to tenderize and create the body for the sauce. A mixture of both sweet and spicy properties, this rich dark brown glaze, that appears as dark as a cola, is just packed with sugary flavor with the heat coming at the tail end on your taste buds after you’ve had a bite. This double-whammy of flavor from the sauce had me floored. The ribs themselves were very tender and you could easily separate it in a ring shape from the rib bone itself. We were required to order a two-person serving to get this dish and I could have easily eaten it all by myself. As I was finishing off my last piece, I had to restrain myself from scooping up spoonfuls of the delicious sauce to pour over what remained of my bowl of steamed rice. I even wondered out loud if they would sell me a bottle of this sauce. It’s been a long time since I’ve ever expressed something like that in a restaurant environment.
To compliment our meal on this cold rainy autumn evening, we ordered a single bowl of Soondubu. As easy as this dish appears to be, I struggle to find many places that do it well and to my liking. Often the problem arises from a general flavorless soup that is too watered down and not spicy enough, or an obvious restraint by the cook to fill it with good quality seafood ingredients to enrich the flavors, or just simple a poor consistency in the soft tofu. Unfortunately, the Soondubu at this place fell into the disappointing category. Perhaps it was just also overwhelmed by the incredible success of the Maun Kalbijim, but the gap in satisfaction we had between that dish and this Soondubu was enormous.
A sign attached to the wall of our booth showed that there are several lunch specials here as well, that look very appetizing. At a reasonable ten dollar price point, they look promising – though I have no idea of the quantity, especially of the meat component of some. The customers on this night were mostly Asian, and surprisingly virtually all were speaking Chinese. I think Korean-style barbecue is popular with this group, as there were multi-generation families there as well as younger couples and groups of friends. We were lucky to get a table when we did as the flow of customers inside well after 9pm was astonishing, many had to wait outside in line. Perhaps the word of this outstanding Maun Kalbijim had spread already, and I was one of the last to know. I’m just glad I did find out about it in time. A strong recommendation from Shokutsu here, you must try this dish! I am so glad I gave Cho Sun a second chance to impress me.
[October 31, 2008 Update: The Spicy Braised Beef Ribs is now appearing in the restaurant's menu booklet. Serving sizes for 2 and 3 people available.]