I acquired the taste for Korean food while I was living in Cambodia, partly due to friends. There was a number of Korean restaurants in Phnom Penh because there was a growing community of Korean expats in the country. One of my favorites was this particular place run by a Korean family who turned the ground floor of their home into a small restaurant that sits about 20 people. There is no menu because the mother cooks whatever is fresh in the market. The price of the meals is also fixed at (if I remember correctly) $11, $15, and $18, depending on how many courses you can eat, excluding rice and the six types of ban chan. My Korean friend recommended this place to me because he said the food here reminded him of the food that his own mother cooks.
However, since coming back to Manila, I haven’t had the opportunity to explore Korean restaurants because no one in my family wants to try Korean food. The only Korean food they have tried is the Korean Chicken Stew that I have made once or twice, which was always met with a tepid response. When I was enrolled in grad school I tried a couple of places near the university. One was a food court stall while the other was a small restaurant, similar to the homey atmosphere of my favorite Korean place in Phnom Penh. However, the food from both places tasted too tweaked for the Filipino taste to be considered authentic.
I rarely eat out these days so when I do I make sure to eat somewhere I hadn’t eaten before, or eat something new. Yesterday I had an after-lunch meeting at Makati so while waiting I looked for a place to have lunch. It was a toss-up between a restaurant that served modern Filipino food and one that served Korean food. My craving for Korean food was rekindled and being in the mood for casual dining, I chose Bulgogi Brothers, the Korean restaurant from the Bistro Group.
From the menu, I saw that Bulgogi Brothers didn’t specialize in a particular Korean dish or a specific method of preparation/ cooking. There was a wide selection of dishes. However, most of the portions were for sharing. If one is dining alone, the choices are somewhat limited. I decided on the Bulgogi Brothers Bibimbap and some interesting-looking Tofu Steak.
The ban chan were tasty enough. I had kimchi, sweet fried dilis, pickled kangkong, and some romain lettuce tossed in a chili-based dressing. The one I liked most was the plate of sliced cobs of steamed corn and boiled sweet potato. Throughout the meal I alternated bites of the soft sweet potato as a counterpoint to the spice in the Bibimbap, which was just right for me.
It was not the best Bibimbap that I had but it was good enough. The rice was cooked perfectly, the vegetables were as fresh as they should be, and the sauce had a rich and complex taste. What I was missing was the egg (either fresh or fried) on top of that steaming mound. I think I was too hungry to ask my cheerful server but that was a bit of a bummer.
Good thing I ordered the Tofu Steak. Though battered soft tofu can be found in other Asian restaurants, Bulgogi Brothers’s version was made richer by its sesame flavored sauce, and that huge mound of sprouts and thin slices of tender beef. The 6-piece serving is enough for 2 people. I actually ate 4 pieces, but only because I was very hungry.
In my past experiences, service is consistently great at some of the Bistro Group restaurants that I have tried (TGI Fridays, Italianni’s, etc). Bulgogi Brothers offer the same kind of attentive and efficient service, which contributes to a positive dining experience. The price, surprisingly, was affordable if you think of the quality of the food and the service. So over-all, I enjoyed my lunch at Bulgogi Brothers.