“It looks like we have a hubcap in our table.”
Welcome to my first experience at a Korean BBQ restaurant. A few days ago I was thinking about what kinds of food I haven’t yet tried in Richmond, and realized Korean was one of them. I’m not well-versed in this cuisine, though I do have friends who’d swim across an ocean just for a jar of kimchi, and I figured my friends’ good taste + my curiosity are the only pre-requisites I need.
My friends Kyle and Sally joined me in this venture, which was also their first time trying Korean BBQ. I chose Dai Jang Kum, which is just east of Bridgeport Station (forgive me for the lack of exterior shot – it was pouring!).
We were seated in a booth with a grill in the center of the table, which truly does look like an inset hubcap. Our servers weren’t terribly friendly, but they were extremely efficient; when Kyle dropped his fork, there was a new one for him almost before it hit the floor.
We ordered the seafood pancake ($16.95), and the BBQ combo for two ($41.95) which included beef shortrib, chicken, bulgogi (thinly sliced marinated beef), a seafood hotpot, and a huge variety of accompaniments.
They first brought the side plates filled with bean-sprouts, wasabi-marinated radish, plain radish, kimchi, marinated cooked potato, steamed broccoli, fish cakes (which are a common side dish/snack in Korea), and salad. We spread them out around the grill, which our server lit before bringing out the meat platter. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a plate of raw, juicy meat sitting in front of me at a restaurant before, but this is all part of the experience. It comes uncooked, and you grill it on your own, personal BBQ – fun! Unless you have a BBQ alpha at the table with you, which we fortunately did not.
Our servers helped us out a bit, showing that the hottest spot on the grill is at the very center and checking to ensure we didn’t overcook our thin slices of shortrib (I have a tendency to chat a LOT and sometimes get distracted from what’s happening in front of me). We each received a small metal container of rice, and with all of our fixings we set to work grilling, grabbing condiments, mixing, scooping from the hotpot, and eating, eating, eating.
Between the three of us we had the perfect amount of food. Sally eats seafood but not meat (proving this meal can be enjoyed by pescatarians, too) and Kyle and I finished all the meat between the two of us. I especially enjoyed the bulgogi mixed with rice and wasabi radish. With Korean BBQ, everyone’s meal is distinct depending on what they’ve assembled on their plate and how they mix all of the different foods.
The seafood pancake (Haemul Pajeon) was one of our favourites – crispy on the outside and filled with various kinds of seafood fried in a thick batter. The seafood hotpot (with mussels, crab, octopus, enoki mushrooms, and fish) was a little trickier to navigate.
The slices of fish were full of bones (not a criticism, just a tricky reality when eating), and the octopus was tough to chew. The broth was nice, though I probably wouldn’t order the hotpot again.
Though the meats were tasty, my favourite thing on the table was the kimchi. This is an absolute staple of Korean cuisine and while there are many kinds, cabbage kimchi is one of the most common. It’s a mixture of fresh cabbage, garlic, ginger, chili, fish, and salt that’s jarred and left to ferment. Here’s an interesting blog post on how it’s made.
I don’t have a very high tolerance for spicy foods, and some kimchi I’ve tasted burned a little too much. This stuff, however, was just right. It was spicy but also smoky, with a rich flavour I found addicting. I’m craving it right now just typing about it.
The pickled ‘wasabi radish’ (daikon) was also wonderful; cut into thin rounds, it was a pale, minty green from its wasabi marinade. The cooked potatoes had a sweet dressing that offset the saltier dishes, and the fresh salad and steamed broccoli lightened everything up. It was a nice balance between flavours, and fun to ‘manage’ the meal ourselves.
Because I’ve never eaten in this style before, nor am I yet very familiar with Korean cuisine, I can’t say where Dai Jang Kum ranks on the list of Korean restaurants in Richmond. I can say, however, that this is a fun meal to enjoy with friends, and I’d definitely do it again. It’s as much about the experience as it is the food, and you won’t be bored! Just try to talk less than I do and focus on the meat.
I’d also suggest following up your meal with a Skor blizzard at Dairy Queen, because they are delicious and taste like summer. Thanks for a great night, Kyle and Sal – Kimchi/Skor forevs!