Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Dae Bak Bon Ga

Dae Bak Bon Ga has been around for ten years, a whole decade. The restaurant is huge and occupies the second floor of Robson Plaza, serving traditional Korean food, offering all you can eat barbecue, and providing karaoke rooms. Dae Bak's AYCE Korean barbecue is different than other restaurants too because they serve meat in unique marinades such as curry or matcha.

After having lunch at Damso and being disappointed that the restaurant no longer serves bossam, I had major cravings for Korean style steamed pork belly and had to try Dae Bak on the following day! Every time I pass Dae Bak, I find the prices fairly high for their all you can eat menu. I personally only enjoy galbi (not LA cut ribs) and pork belly when having Korean barbecue, but Dae Bak only offers galbi on their priciest AYCE menu which is $45.00/person (actually, it may even only include LA cut ribs).

$45.00 is pricey in my opinion because a whole strip and a half of galbi is good enough for me and usually it costs $30.00 for an order at most Korean restaurants, which includes a couple of strips. Other than Dae Bak's all you can eat menu, their lunch specials catch my attention too. $13.00 for a plate of bossam? Yes please! The bossam looks really well seasoned, tender and fatty in the photo too.

During the lunch rush on a weekday, the restaurant was not very busy so there was only one server at the front. She was really friendly, but it was hard to find her because for some reason we were seated in a hidden corner. The seating arrangements at the restaurant are pretty private depending on where you sit because there are plenty of divider walls. But towards the middle end of the restaurant, it is all open space.

Rating: 4/5.
Wow, this is the best banchan I have had in a very long time. Actually, Dae Bak serves one of the best banchan I have ever had. 
Starting with the soft potatoes, the sauce has a nice thickened consistency and a medium level of sweetness. Following, the bean sprouts taste vey fresh and have a nice kimchi flavour along with some sesame oil. I especially enjoy the addition of kimchi rather than having generic poached bean sprouts with only sesame oil. Just as I thought nothing else could get better, the kimchi tastes really good. The kimchi has plentiful layers of flavour; tasting fresh, flavourful, tangy and spicy. Last up, the seaweed tastes fresh and is dressed in sesame oil.

BOSSAM, "Steamed pork belly served with spicy seasoned radishes" ($19.00)
Rating: 1/5.
Dae Bak offers a lunch special for Bossam at $13.00, but lettuce costs an extra $2.00 so we decided to order the dinner portion which includes lettuce. The bossam is very disappointing because it looks nothing like the advertised photo outside or on the menu. The slices of pork belly are not too thick and the fatty portion tastes tender, but the lean meat is very dry. Furthermore, there is no flavour or seasoning and the pork belly is literally boiled in only water.

The spicy radishes however, save the bossam! The radishes are a 4/5 and taste fresh, sweet, spicy and tangy. This is actually really good. Really. When paired with the pork belly and wrapped with lettuce, there is plenty of flavour and deliciousness! I still wish the bossam was properly prepared though.

Rating: 3.5/5.
A choice of Spicy Tofu Stew or Soy Bean Paste Stew is included with the Bossam and we chose the tofu soup. Usually I am not a fan of tofu soups because I like meat a lot more, but Dae Bak's tastes pretty good. The soup base is very flavourful and there are plenty of tofu along with mushrooms and onion. The soup does not taste too salty as well and is far from bland.

Rating: 3.5/5.
Another item included with the Bossam is gyeranjjim, a Korean steamed egg side dish. The silky smooth and soft custard is well seasoned without tasting salty and has a nice egg flavour. Think tofu pudding, but with an egg taste.

GAMJATANG, "Spicy pork back bone stew" ($9.00).
Rating: 3.5/5.
Why go to a Korean restaurant without trying gamjatang?! The gamjatang has a medium rich pork broth and lots of kimchi powder which tastes great. There are also the usual perilla seeds which some restaurants cheap out on, but overall the gamjatang could use more spices. There is a mild level of spiciness too but the highlight is definitely the meat, tasting tender and flavourful. Dae Bak's meat paired with Damso's broth would be a great gamjatang, like close to a 5/5.

Rating: 4/5.
The mackerel tastes very juicy and tender, while exhibiting that natural salty flavour. Moreover, the fish is perfectly cooked and is a Top Five on my list.

Rating: 0/5.
As for the Doenjang Jjigae included with an order of Grilled Mackerel, the soy bean paste soup is inedible. Some people like Korean style miso soup salty, but this is too extreme. Usually the miso soup tastes salty and spicy, but the doenjang paste is honestly overwhelming. Despite that there is way too much doenjang paste, there are plenty of tofu and the restaurant does not cheap out.

DAE BAK LUNCH BOX, "Marinated chicken bulgogi, deep fried dumplings, japche, lettuce salad, kimchi pancake, miso soup and rice" ($9.95).
We were on a good roll at Dae Bak until the soy bean soup, but we should have stopped there because the Lunch Box is horrible. Our server mentioned that the Lunch Box is usually bigger but because we were out of table space, the kitchen made a smaller version for us (which is appreciated!).

BEEF BULGOGI, Rating: 1.5/5.
I ordered the Chicken Bulgogi and received the Beef Bulgogi instead. How does Chicken Bulgogi make sense too by the way? LOL. I would like to assume that Korean restaurants use "bulgogi" on their menu to refer to meat or shredded meat. So about the Beef Bulgogi, I asked our server if she wanted to remove the portion since I did not want the food to go to waste (and thought the kitchen could have it or something). She took the box back to the kitchen but brought it out and said it is fine, because the rest of my food will get cold by then.
So obviously when the Lunch Box was brought back out, I had to try some of the beef. The beef tastes sweet and lacks a barbecued flavour, but also tastes chewy. The meat is cut in large chunks and there are not many too.

JAPCHE, Rating: 2/5.
The good portion of japche lacks a caramelized flavour and tastes salty instead of sweet. Moreover, the onions are still raw in the centre. As for the rectangular piece of rice, it is one of the only items I finished in the Lunch Box. The rice tastes very soft and there are bits of seaweed and Chinese mushroom in the centre. I feel like a child because I enjoyed the shape and "surprise" filling. For the other item I finished in the Lunch Box, it is the croquette. The croquette is cold but is a generic filler so I do not mind. The sauce has a nice thick consistency and a medium level of sweetness, not bad.

Rating: 1/5.
The kimchi pancake is probably the first item that was cooked because the slices arrived cold. The limp and soggy pancake has a slight kimchi flavour and visually has a nice char, but no charred flavour. As for the fried gyoza, the Lunch Box includes three pieces which arrived cold but have a crisp exterior (unlike Hwasarang's).

The Chicken Bulgogi arrived on a separate plate and the stir fry includes onion, carrot, green onion, sesame seed and a very little amount of diced chicken which tastes really dry. The chicken has a sweet marinade, but lacks that barbecued flavour and char.

TOTAL: $54.55 + TIP $9.45 = $64.00.

For a restaurant that has been around for a decade, Dae Bak has kept their establishment well maintained. The large and spacious restaurant properly maximizes their seating arrangements and the ladies' restroom looks nice. I wish the ventilation above our table was turned on though because we left smelling like the three soups at the table. With regards to the food, the major disappointments are the Lunch Box and Bossam. The Lunch Box at $9.95 is a very good value especially when considering the amount of food included, but the execution can be better and appeared half assed. I think we were missing an order of soup too with the Lunch Box, but not like the two of us needed more soup anyways lol.

- Friendly server
- Extensive menu
- Large restaurant
- Great and fresh banchan
- Reasonable prices (especially considering how much their lease is)

- Horrible lunch box
- Bossam can improve

Food: 3.5/5
Service: 3/5

201-1323 Robson Street Vancouver, BC V6E 2B1
Telephone (604) 683-9298

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