If Haroo were a man, I’d marry him. I’d learn to knit just so I could make him sweaters, and wake up early each morning to make him bacon cheddar biscuits. Why? Because I love Haroo. I love Haroo SO MUCH.
It’s a small restaurant on the second storey of a building on Alexandra Road, and is run by a husband and wife team; she prepares the food, and he serves. The evening I was there he wore a grey vest and had an endearing, apple-print apron tied around his waist.
Online, other reviewers had mentioned how the dining room feels like a home, and they were right. The wooden tables and chairs, frilly drapes pulled back from each window, and little cushions on my bench-seat DID make me feel warm and comfortable. I don’t doubt the place has become a second home for its regulars, since I already want to go back.
I poured myself tea from the thermos placed on my table, and looked at the menu; they offer a number of lunch specials, dinner entrees, and platters. I opted for the two most popular dishes mentioned online: the bibimbap ($9.95) and the Korean pancake with bulgogi ($17.95). It was far too much food for one person, and the man gave me a rather bewildered look as he set it all down on the table. I assured him I’d take the rest home for my roommates, but still ate too much. It was just so good.
The meal was beautifully-prepared, and an excellent example of why I love Korean food. For starters, they bring you about 101 little dishes filled with vegetables, pickles, cabbages, potatoes, and seaweed. Having grown up with the nickname “The Condiment Queen,” I obviously love getting to try such a variety of flavours – it’s the same reason why I adore Spanish tapas and Japanese izakaya.
Beyond the variety, the quality of Haroo’s food is superior.
Take, for example, the complimentary appetizers that came out first. One was a small bowl of sesame-covered rice porridge (very similar to congee), and the other was a lettuce salad with a carrot flower on top, some tiny dried fish, and a vibrantly-red dressing.
I was so impressed with the red dressing I asked my server what it was; he went and checked with his wife to get the English translation right, and told me it was a mixture of apples, pomegranate seeds, and beets. They’d all been pureed together (perhaps with a touch of garlic as well?) into one of the best dressings I’ve ever had.
Bibimbap, my entree, literally means “mixed rice.” It arrived in a scaldingly-hot cast iron pot and was filled with rice, various vegetables, thinly-sliced beef, and was topped with a gorgeous, sunny-side up egg.
There was also a bottle of spicy sauce so I could add to adjust the heat to my liking. I broke the soft egg yolk, added most of the condiments, and used my chopsticks to mix everything together. Then I pondered what the man had said as he placed it down on the table.
“Michael Jackson, he brought this dish here.”
Of all the things I’d expected my server to say (“Careful, it’s hot!” or “Have you had this before? It’s delicious!”), the last thing in the world I expected out of his mouth was a mention of Michael Jackson. Google! Help please!
Apparently, bibimbap was the pop idol’s favourite food in South Korea, and he openly voiced his admiration of the dish. I don’t know if we can single-handedly give him credit for having brought it to North America (I’m far more inclined to give credit to immigrants), but there’s a definite MJ-Bibimbap tie. Heck, there’s even art dedicated to The King of Pop and his love of mixed rice.
The Korean pancake, which I ordered with bulgogi in it instead of seafood, sealed the I-LOVE-HAROO deal. It was big enough to feed two or three people, and came on a sizzling cast iron skillet with a shallow bowl of pink, sweet dipping sauce.
The pancake was super-crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and filled with shredded vegetables and slices of bulgogi. I ate far too much of it, but it was just too good not to have that extra slice.
If I lived in the Alexandra Road area, and it wasn’t my job to eat at a different restaurant every day, I would be in Haroo ALL THE TIME. It gave me the same feeling I get when I go home to my parents’ house, get wrapped in a blanket, and get to eat my mom’s cooking. That’s an odd thing to say considering I didn’t even grow up on Korean food, but somehow it all felt familiar and comforting. I highly, highly recommend going home to Haroo.
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian options available