Kangsanhanwoo – Gyeongju, KOR

220 Shinpyong-dong, Gyeongju City

North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
Tel. 054-776-9200

Okay, now we’re finally getting to the literal ‘meat of the matter’ from my trip to Korea this past summer.  One of the key locations on our hit list was this Korean barbecue joint recommended by many Seoulites to us.  Kangsanhanwoo was situated in its own large building at the intersection of some major roads in this resort town, with its brightly lit signage there was no trouble in finding it.  A huge parking lot directly in front provided ample spaces as well, as we made our way in after nine pm and a long day of sightseeing…

While most of the diners were already fully engaged in their meals and were Koreans by and large, we did spot a few tables of foreigners so its appears this is on the international food lovers’ radar when one comes to this popular tourist location of Korea.  To aid everyone coming in, there is a large display case of various types and cuts of beef, much like a butcher shop, immediately as you come inside.  I’m sure there is a lot of pointing and gesturing to get what one wants when language is an issue.  All part of the joys of international travel I say.  With the hot temperatures and the air conditioners running full blast, there was a huge barrier of condensation on the glass, which the two fellows behind the counter would wipe across with a hand-held windshield wiper like tool (similar to those you see at gasoline stands) to give you some visibility.

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Mavericks – Calgary, AB

Mavericks Dining Room and Lounge
Calgary Stampede Grounds
Calgary, AB
(403) 261-0108

Large scale gatherings and events of the commercial variety are usually an impersonal affair.  Interacting with strangers, in big crowds amid long hours of making introductions and face-to-face networking result in meals being forgotten about until your stomach growls in protest.  Fortunately (or perhaps not) often tied to these shows and meetings are facilities to feed countless individuals on-site, mainly latching onto the captive audience who is seeking out convenience in order to get back to the work at hand.  At a recent one, I was faced with this dilemma of being shepherded into the closest and easily accessible mass feeding zone on the Calgary Stampede Grounds.  For $21.95, the lunch buffet at Mavericks drew a long lineup through the 11am – 1pm time period, resulting in at least a ten minute wait time just to get to the front of the line and seated.

On this particular day, the all-you-can-eat menu was: soup, salad, AAA carved Alberta roast beef, penne chicken alfredo, barbecue beef ribs, Swedish meatballs, teriyaki chicken, and baked lasagna.  After being led to our table and announcing that we were all-in with the buffet, we made our way down to the main floor and got into yet another queue for the feast.  Given the huge dining contingent, I would have figured they would have expanded to accommodate at least a pair of routes through the heated-up food pans, but alas it looked like how it is set up on a normal capacity day.  I think this helped explain why there was a lineup to just get in, despite the obvious sight of unoccupied tables.

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Toe Dam – Coquitlam, BC

Toe Dam Korean Fusion BBQ
#250-329 North Road
Coquitlam, BC
(604) 939-5515

September 2010 re-visit post here

Original post below:

The further and deeper that I explore Coquitlam’s exploding community of Korean restaurants, the more I realize there are still hidden spots yet uncovered and also some that I’ve seen many times but have yet to venture inside.  Toe Dam Korean Fusion BBQ was one of these latter types, until I finally made a dinner visit this month after missing the dinner cut off time at nearby Mi-Ae Deli (another recent favorite haunt of mine here)…

It is located in the same shopping complex as the mega H-Mart grocery store, as well as a few other places reported about here on foodosophy.  So parking is generally ample, if you make your way further down into the lot away from the entrance of H-Mart and avoid the many shoppers there.

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Potter’s Garden – Burnaby, BC

Korean BBQ Potter’s Garden
5599 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 431-0208

December 2010 re-visit post here

Original post below:

Now we’ve all heard of “restaurant makeovers”, but how about “restaurant takeovers”?

Without delving deep into the ownership connections behind a restaurant, either through direct questioning of the proprietor or through word of mouth from those in the know, its often difficult to know who’s in charge and their story behind running a place or buying into one. With so many places to eat out, its this sometimes unique background that intrigues me. So when I noticed that Potter’s Garden had morphed out of the exact same location as another previous Korean cuisine restaurant, I wanted to see what was up.

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Blue Stone Grill – Burnaby, BC

Blue Stone Grill Korean Barbecue
4501 North Road
Burnaby, BC
(604) 415-3443

For those readers in the greater Vancouver area, what a great sunny pre-spring day we had today!  As the old joke goes with Canada having two seasons – winter and patio – I was completely in the mood for being outside in nature and thus spent the majority of the day in the mountains.  And then had a craving for some barbecue action later in the night.  Perhaps in preparation for what I hope will be a wonderful summer…

With most of my familiarity of the Korean restaurant zone along North Road being more on the eastern side, this time we visited a location in the shopping area on the opposite direction.  Nestled in the far end corner of the second level of this complex, is the Blue Stone Grill.  Parking is quite dicey in the day time as the area also houses a popular grocery store, but in the evenings you have a better chance of securing a spot on the upper floor parking space.

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Nando’s Chicken – Burnaby, BC

Nando’s Chicken (Burnaby South location)
5761 Marine Way
Burnaby, BC
(604) 451-0020

It was out in my familiar Kerrisdale neighborhood where I first saw the sign for Nando’s Chicken.  At the time, I was completely unaware that it was a chain of part dine-in, part take-out food enterprises.  From the outside, that particular outlet on W 41st Ave. looked to me like  a regular restaurant and so it wasn’t until I saw it later in a few other places that I began to wonder about its setup.  As an aside, a visiting friend from the UK told me upon seeing the store front that they have these in the UK and he was surprised to see them here as well.

The south Burnaby franchise where I had my first ever Nando’s meal is in a shopping area along Marine Way, which bears a striking similarity to the commercial area known as South Edmonton Common in the provincial capital of Alberta.  Kind of lost amid the big box stores and rows of business, it has set up shop in a smaller part of the strip malls in the area, with a Starbucks (surprise, surprise) nearby as well.  Getting a quick meal while driving in the region, I got caught up in the obvious lunch hour rush of customers, and was surprised to see a decent crowd eating inside as well as those waiting for take away orders.

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Gaucho Brazilian BBQ – Calgary, AB

Gaucho Brazilian BBQ
Review @ 3605 Manchester Road SE
New location @ 100 – 5920 Macleod Trail SW
Calgary AB
(403) 454-9129

I remember one of the first times I went for Rodizio. I spent the entire day sitting in a dark, curtained off room, drinking water to expand the stomach (it doesn’t work in case you’re wondering), playing xBox to keep my mind off the impending gorge.  All you can eat. Meat. Churrascaria. We rolled in at prime time, 7:30pm, and ate a few nibbles of Pao de Queso, and called on the meat. Needless to say, 4-5 lbs of meat later, we had the sweats, a stomach ache, and were barely able to roll ourselves back home. Thanks so much Fogo de Chao.

Needless to say, I’ve grown up significantly since then. But I did learn several things from that experience – primarily, Rodizio should be about the selection and the quality of the meat, period. Side dishes, salads and salad bar, and other filler are nice touches, but don’t add much to the experience. And if i have a choice, i’ll sacrifice some selection to get the quality i need.

Gaucho Brazilian BBQ is one of three Brazillian BBQ, and one of two Rodizio restaurants in the city of Calgary. Based on how busy both Bolero and Gaucho are, there is no doubt Calgarians like their meat.

Churrasco involves barbecuing meats on skewers over open heat. They are rotated slowly to ensure even cooking, and racked based on cooking time and where they are in the cooking process.

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Bada E-Yagi Korean Restaurant – Burnaby, BC

Bada E-Yagi Korean Restaurant
6408 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 432-9342

This stretch of Kingsway has several Korean restaurants in relatively close proximity.  Bada E-Yagi is one of them.  The ample parking lot right next door perhaps aids in drawing visitors to come inside.  I’d also remembered seeing it when I was in the area last year visiting Posh…

Arriving for an early afternoon weekday lunch, the place had a few other customers, a mix of both Korean speakers and non.  Immediately inside the front door, I noticed a large refrigeration unit, presumably they also sell food items to customers who are interested.  I neglected to take a real close look inside, so cannot comment on just what things they were selling.

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Choon Ha Choo Dong – Vancouver, BC

Choon Ha Choo Dong
36 East Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 874-4131

Prepare for a volley of posts on local Korean restaurants dear readers, it seems yours truly has been on a big kick lately for the spicy, bold flavours that are associated with that peninsula from the Far East…

Choon Ha Choo Dong (the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters results in the English: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) could easily be one of the hardest to notice or even find, Korean restaurants in Vancouver…

First off, its not in the downtown west end which is fast becoming the Korea Town of the city.  Instead its situated on the second floor of a plain looking building on East Broadway just before Main Street and the exterior facade isn’t modern but has a different kind of character about it.  I’ve driven by it countless times but its only recently that I’ve actually gone inside.

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Seoul House Royal – Vancouver, BC

Seoul House Royal
1215 W. Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 738 8285

Seoul House Royal Korean on Urbanspoon

Are there places in your hometown that you’ve passed by countless times, so many that its impossible to mentally tally, but have never had a real chance to check out for whatever reason.  For me, as I traverse across West Broadway on an almost daily basis, it was the Seoul House Royal, until recently.

As our hardcore readers may note, Korean cuisine gets heavy rotation on Foodosophy.  I can honesty go for the wide assortment of staples dishes in such restaurants on a regular basis.  From steaming hot pots filled with spicy stews, to bowls of noodles or rice topped with various ingredients, simple grilled fish and rice combinations or do-it-yourself  barbecue, its easy to say that I really enjoy my Korean food.

To begin, I hadn’t heard a lot of positives when it came to this restaurant.  Perhaps it was the location, along a busy stretch of road and the inconveniences that go along with it – but I discovered they did have customer parking in an enclosed lot directly behind.  Others have told me that the food hasn’t lived up to their expectations for some reason or another.  Had it been around too long and gotten complacent, despite the fact that competition in the Korean restaurant genre is really heating up and there are many strong contenders in the Greater Vancouver Area now?  Change in management that hadn’t made the necessary changes that had driven some customers away?  Or were the rumors just simply that, and everything was fine and dandy?  Frankly, these were all hearsay to me, so as always, I knew I had to check it out for myself.

A big bright menu booklet showed that here, as in other Korean places I am slowly discovering around town, Seoul House Royal is melding their offerings with both Japanese and Korean flavors.  But I knew I was here for one thing and one thing only – the Korean-style barbecue.  So the decision was made to get two orders of the premium beef short ribs.  Those red rolls of marinated carpets of beef always look so tantalizing when brought to the table, and here was no exception.   With the grill hot and ready on standby, the cooking began as did the flow of saliva from the ducts in my mouth.

My decision to not partake in my favorite beverage when eating barbecue – beer – perhaps played a factor in my lowered enjoyment of my meal as the night wore on and cut after cut of sliced beef was deposited into my belly, along with a heavy dose of cabbage kimchi, sprouts, daikon, cucumbers and potatoes… all coming from the fresh banchan.  Not to mention the envelopes of lettuce, filled with sliced garlic and spicy kochujan that served as the most popular vessel for the barbecued beef as I ate.  Beer & barbecue… its a habit I’ve picked up from many Korean barbecue meals in Seoul and Tokyo over the years, and I realize that having car to drive home can be a detriment to having a fully enjoyable meal.  Who knew?

In my opinion, and a humble one in that, Seoul Royal House served its main purpose for me on this night.  A relaxed, well paced meal of flavorful meat, with attentive service from a pair of waitresses who were not overly pushed by a large customer base that night, who brought out refills of the banchan and fresh grills for the barbecue.  With its convenience location for me in Fairview, and a large selection of tables to choose from, I am registering this place as a place to note when I have the craving for barbecue again knowing that space will not be a factor in getting a table without a wait.

Seoul House Royal Korean on Urbanspoon

Insadong – Coquitlam, BC

Insadong Korean Barbecue and Seafood Restaurant
403 North Road
Coquitlam, BC
(604) 936 3778

Vancouver is blessed with a myriad of choices when it comes to Korean cuisine. Already, I’ve personally visited a selection of them, with related reports posted here on Foodosophy. By no means is this a complete listing, as many other known establishments such as Book Kyung Ban Jeom, Norboo, Seoul Royal House, etc. have yet to be visited and reviewed. In time, I will no doubt get to them.

Some background (and please, take it with a grain of salt – I am no demographer or population sociologist, so spare me any diatribe or anal nitpicking of the data)… the ethnic Korean population as noted in the 2006 census for the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) of Vancouver was published as being between 1% ~ 2%. This is the case for other ethnic groups as well, such as ‘Southeast Asian’, ‘West Asian’, ‘Latin American’, and others (with the largest communities being identified as ‘Chinese’ at 18.2%, followed by ‘South Asian’ at 9.9% and ‘Filipinos’ at 3.8%). Thus as you can see, they are not a large piece of the ethnic pie, so to speak.

On my recent visit to the neighboring city of Coquitlam when I dined at the satisfying Blue Sea, I spotted Insadong at the intersection of North Road and Lougheed Highway, as I was making the return drive home. If you’ve ever been to Coquitlam, perhaps you’ll feel as I did and think that a large part of this reported Korean population in the Vancouver CMA is all based here, given the prevalence of so many Korean businesses and signs in Hangul. Frankly, it could easily rival the likes of the Wilshire/Hancock Park neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and the Shin-Okubo area in Tokyo, for having a densely concentrated Korean community that manages to exist in its own little bubble all within another country’s society. A bit surprising, considering the small percentage of the population that are Korean.

Incidentally, Insadong is actually a neighborhood in Seoul that is best known for its drive to preserve Korean culture, with shops selling old antique wares and classic buildings such as tea houses that serve it in the old ways.  I’d visited one of these many years ago on one of my earliest visits to South Korea and found it to be an enlightening experience.  I think the operators of ‘Insadong, the restaurant’ have tried to incorporate some of these elements, with some Korean-themed artwork displayed in the glass cases in the front of the house.

Stepping inside the entrance that is situated on the side of the building that does not face Lougheed Highway, you are immediately drawn into a deceptively large space (if you were to envision the size from just from the exterior of the building)  From this waiting area, you can see the various tanks of live seafood (fish, crab, and lobster).  Upon being seated, I could still see the tanks from my table.  There are also several private rooms in the back of the restaurant which you pass by on the way to the restroom.  I think these are used most often for parties, celebrations, etc. and not something that you can use unreserved.

Completely famished, I went off the board and picked a non-traditional item as an appetizer in the sweet and spicy glazed, deep fried chicken wings.  They were larger than the standard size ones you get at say a local Canadian pub during happy hour, and thus a good amount of meat was on the bones, all encased in a nice crispy crust.  As expected, these wings got my taste buds yearning for a nice cold Korean beer.

A short while ago on a repeat visit to DBBG with some other friends, including one who had lived for a few years in several parts of Korea as a student, he had ordered this dish which intrigued me.  Not normally a big fan of bulgogi, as I prefer my meat to be seasoned more savory than sweet, I had not seen it done like this in a Korean restaurant before, soup-based and almost like a Japanese sukiyaki.  The broth was neither too light nor too heavy, and the slices of beef combined with the onions melded well in the sweeter flavored soup.  I would not say this dish blew me away, but would see it as a heartwarming meal as the days get colder in Vancouver’s autumn.

I’m beginning to sense that since the beginning of Foodosophy, that I’ve written about soondubu frequently.  The reason being, it is perhaps my most favorite spicy Korean jjigae (stew) dish.  In Insadong, I think I have discovered the most flavorful and authentic tasting version in the GVA.  The rich seafood flavor that is infused into the spicy gochujang-based soup was the best I’ve had outside of Korea.  The soft tofu was plentiful and combined with the green onions and mushrooms, made for a complex texture medley bite after bite.  I always prefer to eat this with a side of steamed white rice, scooping a spoonful of it into the broth.

I’d heard rumors that Insadong is quite popular and respected in the Korean community, with immigrants/new Canadians and short stay students alike, as well as with local media publications (e.g. ‘best Korean’ in the 2008 Golden Plates Readers Choice Awards by the Georgia Straight).   Word-of-mouth has been my introduction to this place, and I must thank those who recommended it to me, despite the needed drive out to Coquitlam.  I am sure there are other Korean gems in the neighborhood, as it has now been two-for-three in terms of satistifying dining experiences (the lone disappointment so far being the House of Tofu Soup).  If any readers have other suggestions in the area, please feel free to leave a note in the comments section.

Insadong Korean BBQ and Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon