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Dae Bak Bon Ga Korean Restaurant
201 – 1323 Robson Street
Perhaps a little lost amid the growing epicenter of ‘Little Koreatown’ on Robson Street, I would say more so for the fact that this establishment is not on the ground level and accessible from the sidewalk as many of its nearby competitors offering Korean food, is Dae Bak Bon Ga. With some warmer weather hitting Vancouver of late, I was in the mood for some refreshing and light mul naengmyon (buckwheat noodles in a cold beef broth). This summary is based on my one and only visit that took place recently.
Marketing itself as a mix of a restaurant slash karaoke place, I was pleased to see the karaoke section was in the back, and not overly visible upon walking in and being led to a table. Going in around 6:30pm on a weekday, it seemed the karaoke crowd was not yet around – I assume things really heat up after 10:00pm (every day) when the late hour happy hour menu comes into effect (40% off!). The space had an open feel to it, high ceilings and the uncovered pipes, vents, etc. made it have a cold industrial feel that was tempered by the rich browns and dark tones of the tables and chairs. Overall, very comfortable and reminded me of a few places I had been to in Seoul over the years.
The room was more than half-full as we were led to our four-seater table, coincidentally one that didn’t have an exhaust vent hanging from above – fortunately, barbeque was not in our plans on this night as my heart was set on the noodles. Originating in what is now North Korea, traditionally mul naengmyeon is served in a stainless bowl (I assume partly to help retain the cold temperature) and decorated with toppings such as thin slices of cold beef, half a boiled egg, and uncooked julienned vegetables, and slices of Korean pear. As additional flavorings, bottles of mustard and vinegar are brought to the table, to be added according to your own personal preference. As well, a set of kitchen scissors are used to help cut the lengthy strands of naengmyeon into more manageable portions.
Mul naengmyeon, despite its simple appearance, is really hard to get ‘right’, as more often than not, the soup broth will be ‘off’, and this happens even in Korea. So with a bit of doubt, I ordered the dish hoping that this would be a positive case. And as luck would have it, it was! A very authentic tasting broth, nicely chilled with ice, and the noodles were the right texture and silkiness that one seeks in this dish. I will definitely be back when I have another craving for it – listed menu price of $9.95.
The other dish that came to our table was the stone pot bibimbap ($10.95). I know, a big contrast to the cool mul naengmyeon. Bibimbap simply explained for those unfamiliar, is a dish that consists of a bowl of steamed rice that is topped with various ingredients such as beef, egg, sautéed vegetables and of course, gochujan (chili paste) for the spicy zing. It comes spread out evenly on top, and is visually a very pleasing dish to behold as its brought to one’s table, and before you mix it all up to incorporate the entire range of flavors into every mouthful. The hot stone pot variety gives it the added twist of making the rice hidden below a bit crunchy and adds a somewhat smoky flavor to it, and I prefer it to the standard version that is served in a regular bowl. The version at DBBG was nicely put together I thought, perhaps a bit more beef than I would normally like (I know, some of you will say how can you turn down meat in a Korean restaurant), and a bit less rice that I would have hoped.
Other thoughts on my visit include the ‘warning’, that during the busy periods of the dinner rush, you should expect perhaps less than attentive service. There were simply not enough servers to cover all the tables, and I could see they were always busy rushing around. Just bringing the dishes to tables is not all they had to do, as for some dishes that were actually helping grill, cut, and mix things together for customers, thus taking their attention away from the main floor. You’ll often find, here in North America and even in Korea, that really fake smiles and ‘let me get to know you’ attitude does not really exist among waiters/waitresses, so for those unfamiliar, you may feel that the service is cold and perhaps even business-like, but I can assure you its not the case, its just the norm. Throw in the fact that its likely the servers are mainly students here on short-term stays.
The starting quad of banchan (side dishes) did not get the meal off to a terrific start, as the kimchi and cubes of potato were not so good – the kimchi being much too sweet and totally adjusted for North American tastes. Usually its a bad sign when the opening freebies are bad, but that said, I was pleased with the two main dishes we had, better than other Korean restaurants I’ve eaten at on this same strip. Who knows, next time with a little soju in me, I might just wander into that karaoke room…