Today we couldn’t just go to a restaurant, we had to travel across four cities, to only end up at a place I have already been to a handful of times. After attempting dinner at two other places, that proved to be a bust; I wasn’t willing to leave my meal to chance.
This is one of my favourite Korean restaurants. So when looking for a sure fire meal, I knew I was in safe hands here. What I have yet to figure out is the theme of the place and why it exists. For those who have been it is easily described as, “the one with the basketball theme”. You either get it or you don’t. We didn’t, but we liked the food just the same. I imagine the decor as part of the owner’s personal memorabilia collection. But either he ran out of showcase space at home, or his wife demanded that he find a new place for all his action figures and jerseys. Either way, they found their way here to be admired and appreciated, and expanded upon. To give you a taste: Kobe Bryant cut out greets you mid dribble at the door, spot lit Michael Jordan posters hung over the coffee bar, NBA branded showcases were home to high tops and ball caps, and we were seated under the net of a court regulated basketball hoop. Even the washrooms were themed. The divide between men’s and women’s was “NBA” and “WNBA”, with balls crowning the individual stall’s toilet, and posters and decals covering its walls.
Seeing as they seemed to be Michael Jordan fans, my guest wondered why there was no mention of the role he played in “Space Jam”? And he felt that given the decor, they were better dressed to offer stadium fare like hot dogs and hamburgers with fries, instead of shaved ice desserts, rice cakes, and hot and spicy soups. But if that was the case, we wouldn’t be here.
As is common with a Korean restaurants, calling for help is as easy as pushing a button. The red one at the edge of each table triggers a light above the kitchen to illuminate with your designated table number. Typically a free server will approach you to help or answer any of your queries. However, they seemed especially busy this Saturday night. We had arrived just before the dinner rush, and mid way, our steady meal with attentive server was quicken by abrupt communication and the increase waiting for dishes to trickle to us. The manger seemed apologetic as he rolled up his sleeves and helped the floor in his high tops. Although our female server seemed annoyed at all the questions we were asking her, surrounding the menu. It made sense given the big rush that entered all at once, and the lack of a hostess to greet and maintain the flow of traffic by the door. There was no one to set the pace and give the kitchen time to prepare in between seatings. With only tree bodies working the room, tables were also left un-bussed and eventually the people who were waiting at the door seemed annoyed that the staff we not able to seat them. It also didn’t help that a few patrons were lingering, and others left the restaurant to smoke, only to come back and reclaim their seats.
But at least the menu was straightforward and inviting. We were able to order what we wanted visually, and knew exactly what we would be getting.
Our table was dressed with metal utensils and metal serve ware. We were equipped with a metal canister of water and our own metal cups to pour into. Metal spoons and chopsticks followed, and somehow the latter felt more sanitary then the lacquer chopsticks used elsewhere.
We began with some of their specialty lattes. The “Black bean latte” turned grey from the inclusion of the milk. It was slightly salty, but mostly sweet. Like a red bean brewed drink with the added flavouring of black sesame. I wish my local coffee shop offered this, or that they were part of my commute, I could see myself order this daily, if either of the above came true. We had a similar appreciation for my guest’s hot beverage choice below.
His “Purple sweet potato latte” took longer to come. When we inquired about the pause, we were formed that this was prepared in the kitchen, with the boiling of the yam, and then purée-ing it for the drink. Like the black bean it was a lighter purple with the addition of milk. It tasted a lot like the hot version of taro bubble tea, equally starchy, but a lot smoother. There were no lumps, and what you had was like drinking velvet. Though given both latte’s beauty in flavour, we wished for some latte art to finish them off with. Especially given how everything else they served was so ornate.
It was a colder evening and I wanted the warmth of some hot soup. The “Spicy seafood hot pot”, served in a cast iron, single serve bowl was the ticket. It was a bold orange broth covering a collection of mussel, squid, scallop, shrimp, and tofu; and a soft boiled egg with runny yolk. The soup was plenty flavourful and spicier than we thought. By comparison, the boiled ingredients settled at the bottom was bland and on the tougher side. A side dish of hoisin sauce or a garlic based dip would have been ideal and helpful to rejuvenate it. But the bowl of rice and chilled vegetables made available were appreciated. Although, given that the soup was already spicy, more heat in the sides didn’t exactly help to change the flavour of the dish. Though the pickled tang of the cucumbers were a nice refreshing touch. The purple rice was a nice visual, but I found its kernels hard, and would have opted for a nice bowl of tender white steamed rice instead.
My guest literally ordered the exact same meal and drink combination, as I did during my first dinner service with them. The “marinated beef rib patty wrapped in rice cake bento box” was exactly as I remembered it to be over six months ago. It was a unique dish, I have never heard of rice cake being stuffed with beef or anything else, anywhere else, it was an interesting combination that just worked. The salty garlic sauce just tied the hamburger meat, cabbage, rice cake, and purple rice together. The chewy and gummy texture of the rice cake had an opposites attract relationship with the gritty minced texture of the dry beef. The meat was on the chalkier side, but the pool of sweet and tangy sauce at the bottom was helpful in improving this. The box set was served with a green side salad, and the same side of cucumbers in a light vinaigrette, spicy jalapeños, and purple rice; that my combo above came with. Though during my first taste of this dish a spoon of kimchi and a bowl of miso soup was also included. Each side acted as a great break in between bites, to keep the meal interesting. This was a combo that grew on you the more you ate from it.
In hindsight, I wish I allowed my guest to tap into his Italian side, in order to have the “Rice cake pasta with a tomato meat sauce”. He was curious of this dish, that I wouldn’t otherwise think of trying myself.
But he did stay true to his childhood with the “banana split” for dessert. It was just a regular banana split, but green tea ice cream instead of strawberry, with the scoops of chocolate and vanilla. And it had the inclusion of rice cakes, along with the banana, strawberries slices, blueberries, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce. It tasted exactly like how we expected it to be. It was good and he enjoyed it, where I couldn’t help but question his choice given the authenticity of this Korean restaurant, and the ability to order rice cake desserts, that they specialized in.
That is why I went for the “Red bean fondue with three kinds of rice cake”. This took a while to come. The red bean was a hot dip, with a few lumps from the whole beans left in tack. I found it too sweet, and the rice cake better on their own. Especially as they were already flavoured in powder: green tea, black sesame, and roasted grain powder (which tasted a bit like ginger). My guest loves red bean, so ended up pouring the rest over his sundae like an additional topping.
Had we had more room I would have also liked to try the “Grilled ricecake with cheese”. The photo in the menu showed a cheddar and parmesan mix, topping a white sheet of rice cake. But based on our server’s facial expression, this might have been a good one to miss. My guest thought it sounded gross, I considered it more like Korean crazy bread (“crazy bread” is the Parmesan cheese covered bread sticks from “Little Caesar’s” pizza that is best when dipped into ranch dressing)
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I love rice cake, and with some many more rice cake inspired dishes to try, I can definitely see myself returning here for another guaranteed good meal. Definitely one of my favourite Korean restaurants to recommend and go to. Don’t deny your cravings.
4501 North Road, Burnaby BC, V3N 4R7