Red Chicken Korean Restaurant
833 Bute Street
Korean cuisine is diverse and full of rich history, but in many circles it is known for one major characteristic – it’s heat! And one of the hottest and spiciest dishes is buldak – literally ‘fire chicken’.
Reminiscent of the dominating red colour that flooded the streets of Seoul during that country’s incredible run to the final four at the 2002 World Cup, the signage at Red Chicken Korean Restaurant in downtown Vancouver shouted out at me. Earlier this year, I had previously been invited to dine at this place and try their renowned fiery chicken, but finally I was able to join a group outing recently to try it for the very first time.
With large glass windows facing the street, the natural lighting in the space is very pleasant, and once the sun sets, the lights are lowered a bit, giving a more intimate feel inside. The mood changed dramatically once it got dark, from friendly, casual restaurant to more drinking-spot kind of vibe. The flood of teens and twenty-somethings all enjoying their food and conversation certainly helped to create this boisterous atmosphere.
The menu featured a well rounded selection of dishes that one typically finds in Korean restaurants in the Lower Mainland. To start, a few of us ordered our own dishes, with the intention of sharing the chicken as a group.
Seolleongtang (ox bone soup) is really not much to look at, I realized as I was processing this image. I really must remember to take a shot of dishes like this with the hidden contents exposed as well – in this case, some steamed rice dumped inside. I did manage to get a few spoonfuls of the broth just to be able to make some mental notes. Nothing off about it, not overly salty or pungent with poor quality pork stock. Lately, with take away food, I’ve been able to snap off photos one-handed, while holding up a fork or spoon with my free hand. I suppose this could be done in restaurants too, but perhaps that’s just one step beyond weird (when I see some photogs snapping shots at other tables, some of them make me laugh or just cringe at their awkwardness; or piss me off like this one fellow who had a huge DSLR and using their flash constantly, all amid the small cramped and dark intimate space of La Buca the other night and annoying everyone in the space. I suppose some people don’t know the meaning of etiquette. I’m all for photographing food but there is a time and a place for when its okay).
My dolsot bibimbap was decent, nothing extraordinary about it in terms of balance of flavours, and at the same time not horrible by any means. Photo taken above was before the gochujang (hot pepper paste) was added and it was all mixed together. I admit, I wanted something on my own with some substance, in case the chicken would get the better of me later on in the meal.
As an aside, I noticed a young woman next to our table ordered the same thing and it was brought to her table at roughly the same time as mine. BUT, she made no attempt to add the gochujang condiment AND ate it unmixed. I felt like leaning over and saying to her, that’s like eating spaghetti noodles without any tomato sauce, or a hotdog without ketchup and mustard. It was at this moment, that I realized the value of some Korean restaurants in town that will provide the added side table service of doing this adding and mixing for you. Otherwise, for those who have no clue, they will probably forever eat this dish incorrectly.
And the main event. Between the five of us, we ordered two full plates. Good mix of pieces, smoky char and completely grilled skin. Fighting through the blasts of heat was surprisingly less painful than I expected. After a piece or two, I was totally into the well marinated chicken meat and brushing off the spiciness in my own mind. Some of us fared better than others. All the more for the rest of us who were game to have more than their fair share. Not for the faint of heart or those who are too wimpy when it comes to spicy food. Diners beware.
As a place that holds a unique niche with this buldak, I’d have to say that Red Chicken does have an edge. Too many Korean restaurants in town just offer pretty much the same menu. Of course, some do some dishes better than others. But the originality is lacking. So on this point alone, I’m sure that I’ll be back to try something that I can only get here (unless any of our Vancouver readers can point me in the direction of another establishment, but I’m pretty sure I’ve covered the vast majority of Korean cuisine-serving places in greater Vancouver).