I have been attending large scale media events lately, so today it was nice to be able to sit down with three other tell-it-like-it-is food bloggers to enjoy some Korean cuisine and conversation. I was invited by Sherman of “Sherman Food Adventures” to join “Grace Cheung 604“; Amy, ” The Food Queen“; and himself for the soft open of “Yook” on Nanaimo. This would be the only Korean representation in the highly trafficked area.
Getting to it was easy enough, and pin pointing the building on the drive to was even more effortless. They advertised with a large corner sign, and stood out with their all black exterior and newer finish, on a street lined by older buildings. And parking was a breeze with plenty of street side and back alley spots available.
Inside, the restaurant had a very modern look. All new decor and furniture from that of the Vietnamese restaurant that existed in the space once before. The setting was simple and clean with black chairs and white tables, a mirrored wall on one side and tiled panels on the other for decoration. There was no look into the restaurant, nor did you have the ability to enjoy the light from outside streaming in. You couldn’t see much through the black blinders, but they added enough mystique to have those passing by, popping in to see what this new addition to the area entailed.
Planters partitioned with real calla lilies, creating some cover and privacy between rows of longer tables. Each setting was equipped with a buzzer for the calling of staff. This was especially useful if you needed some help during a busier service, and it proved difficult to track down a server; as was the case a few times during our stay.
There were no table-side coils or ventilation fans above for the self grilling of marinated meats at each table. Something I assumed would be included when reading their subtitle: “Grilled BBQ & Bistro” on the restaurant’s door and on each of their menus. All the barbecuing would be done at the back of the kitchen, and then served to order.
The modern aesthetic of the place was furthered by top 40 pop songs in Korean and English playing overhead. It went from the bubble gum girl bands of k-pop to Beyoncé in a smooth transition. It also made the place feel more like a lounge, or an after dinner spot, instead of a restaurant where we would be able to enjoy a traditional Korean style meal. More a place for Chinese style desserts, bubble tea, or even tapas style small plates for snacking and sharing. We would later learn that we would be right in our first blush impressions.
As for the service itself, everything felt precise and exact. From the way the black stone dishes and metal chopsticks were laid out strategically before us, to how the server poured the tea into each metal cups and placed the pot gingerly at the end of the table for self serving after. There was even a perfectly polished, yet casual air to the general manager that received us. I liked how she and her staff made us feel in this comfortable and inviting space.
We asked for the general manager’s recommendations, but ultimately pooled our collective food blogger experience, to select a few dishes to give us a better understanding of what they offer. This would prove to be a wrong decision.
It is worth nothing that during our visit, it was only their second day that they were open to the public. And that they planned their grand opening to be on the day after. This is a rarity. Where most restaurants rather give themselves a month or two before entertaining any plans to advertise to the public and/or host media to review. As a new business you want to work out the kinks of the kitchen, service, and cuisine fully and you need time and experience to do this. Whereas the service was well run and the food came out in a timely manner, what we were served lacked excitement. Some more time collecting feedback and applying it would have helped in presenting a much more memorable meal today. None-the-less, let’s begin.
When it comes to a media tasting: plating and portion size may be gussied up and/or paired down, and the service will usually be top notch. Though I can at least paint you the most accurate image when it comes to the food and the setting, as how I interpret it. But as always, these are my opinions and you need not take them as fact. Unless you have my exact background, have lived my exact experiences, and we possess the same tongue; no one can truly taste and appreciate as you do.
The “Bossom” came highly recommend to us. This is tender boiled pork wrapped in radish kimchi. Despite what the menu advertised, the meat and kimchi were presented separately. And without instructions when serving, we assumed we were to take the grey pieces of pork and wrap them with the thinly sliced rounds of pickled vegetable, and enjoy them with the other spicy pickles vegetable. It was just okay this way, but I much rather prefer each element eaten alone with one riding the flavour coat tails of the last. The colour of the boiled pork wasn’t the most appealing. It was salty and fatty, relying on the sauce dish provided in conjunction for flavour, and pickle on the side for freshness and the missing zing. All in all this was cold pickles and room temperature meat.
Theirs’ was a unique interpretation of Bibimbap, a popular Korean mixed rice dish. They had their rice and its toppings served separately, in separate containers; and no egg to pull it all together. “Gochujang samgyup bibimbap” with Gochujang marinated pork belly. The dish was bland with flavourless crisp vegetables and dry crumbles of meat. There was no way I could tell pork belly was used in this. Disappointing as I love a good rice dish.
At least I got some of the carb-y rich chew I wanted from the “Dduck mandu gook”. This was rice cake and dumplings in beef bone soup. The former two offered a nice chewy texture in the thicker murky broth. Although stuffed full, I wasn’t a fan of the taste of the overpowering herbs used in the dumpling’s filling. But, at least it offered more flavour where the soup they sat in fell short. I would have liked a brown salty and sweet sauce to dip everything in to, to treat the ingredients more like a hot pot.
Similarly, the “Ddook baegi haemul soondube jjigae” lacked depth of flavour. This soft tofu in seafood stew had the colour of spice, but its chillies only when surface deep to give you a tingle of spice. Each bite starts off and ends the same; one boring, tangy taste through out. And the chopped jalapeños added nothing to help.
The tables’ favourite was the only grilled dish we ordered. It came sizzling on a cast iron plate. The “LA Galbi” were thin cut ribs in a sweet soy. The meat was served in large bone it strips, and we were given cooking shears to cut them down to size ourselves. Points for presentation and making an entrance. In hindsight, considering the word “grill” is featured in their title, we might have been better off following the manager’s suggestion and only ordering the pork and beef off their “off the grill” section of the menu. It seems like their specialty. And everything above fell short.
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Allow @shermansfoodadventures to serve you some short ribs. One of the features of dining with him is you always get everything perfectly shared between all those attending. #magmeieats #dinner #media . . . . . . . #food #foodie #foodblogger #foodporn #foodlover #foodlove #instafood #yummy #nomnomnom #eat #eating #instagood #foodstagram #foodinsta #foodgram #vancouver #vaneats #vancityeats #vanfoodie #vancouverfoodie #yvrfood #vcbfood
And despite this being the best dish of our meal, I am still not without critique of it. I had three pieces, and each was dry and hard to pry meat from bone. Whereas the others found cuts that were more tender. And when I tried one that “looked tender”, it proved to be just flaps of fat in my mouth. So I gave up. The sauce at least tasted good, although I wanted more flavour and seasoning from it too.
With all of this we were also given a bevy of traditional Korean spicy, cold, and pickled sides. However I didn’t have much of any, and was told the kimchi, wasn’t all that exciting. Just as well, as I am not a fan of stewed cabbage any way. I was told by my co-diners that it was all pretty average.
After trying everything, I didn’t know what to go back for. I wasn’t excited for seconds. Sadly, nothing felt like it was worth revisiting, there was nothing I wanted more of. I struggled yet found myself still picking because there was still food in front of me. In short, I liked the newness of the space more than the food within it.
Would I come back? – No
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
As is, I cannot see myself returning. Not the worst, but below average. What we assumed would be traditional Korean style meal might actually be a listing of fusion Korean, given the way everything tasted. Softer approaches and milder flavours for those unfamiliar with Korean spices and its bold flavours. They certainly would make a great safe space for first timers to the cuisine, or those with particular palettes. Yet their menu didn’t cater to this, or speak to this experience. It was all written, each option came with its Korean names and a brief description in English. There weren’t high resolution photos to help a novice navigate the ordering terrain. Overall, have some work to do to align themselves and set up their business. The space would do better as a after dinner spot in my opinion, some thing the area also lacks. Don’t deny your cravings.