Sunday, 21 September 2008

A Taste of Korea in Winnipeg

I'd discovered a Korean restaurant while scrounging through a Winnipeg restaurant guide some time ago, and more recently this year I'd wanted to try the restaurant called Be One. However, for the life of me I couldn't seem to find the restaurant, nor the Korean grocery store near it, down the commercial stretches of Portage Ave. both east and west of Century St. (i.e. Route 90). Finally, last month during the afternoon of another daytrip I'd discovered both businesses located in a row of shops just a few blocks west of Century, which allowed me the opportunity to try dinner last night.

The restaurant's outdoor facade was quite unassuming that one wouldn't have expected a nice looking restaurant inside, but indeed there was one. However, I quickly noticed that this restaurant space might not have been originally designed for a Korean restaurant in mind; the picture in the entrance hall of what could be the Rhine, the wall-mounted gas-lamp-like candleabras, and the varnished wood panelling had me wondering if I'd made a mistake trying this place. Fortunately, I was quite reassured as soon as I saw and heard the staff at this place; this Korean restaurant was being run by Koreans, which meant that the chances of them offering authentic (i.e. not Canadianized) cuisine, though not guaranteed, was higher. My taste buds were not disappointed at all from what I was served.

Though I managed to eat all that you see in the picture, in hindsight I could've dropped the Japchae if only not to be slightly overstuffed with food. I was originally waffling between either the Bibimbap or the Bulgogi, but at the advice of the staff I went for the Bulgogi, which came with a miso soup (not shown), a bowl of rice and a four-dish all-veggie Banchan (side dishes). As you can see, it looked like I was dining like a mid-level Imperial government official! (Of course, I do work in a government, but I digress...)

I was first served some miso soup, which I know is a Japanese dish. That said, Be One's version is not like the miso soups you'd normally find in Japanese restaurants; this one was darker in colour and richer in flavour. The japchae I had was served warm, stir-fried to a nice finish. The cellophane noodles were cooked to the right texture, the pieces of beef weren't overdone, and the red and green peppers still retained their crunch and rare sweetness while the onions were cooked just enough to be rid of the raw zing. The flavouring of it was just right, accentuated on the savoury side by both the beef and the slices of shiitake mushrooms.

The bulgogi was also nicely prepared, though this restaurant's version was likely pan-cooked rather than grilled. Just enough soy sauce was used to marinate the meat to ensure that it wasn't too salty.

The banchan were simple yet refreshing interludes between bites of the bulgogi. In the picture, from left to right along the top were:

  • Kimchi, arguably one of the best known Korean dishes around the world. This version was, at least to me, not too spicy, and in spite of the cabbage having been pickled in brine during the preparation of kimchi, it surprisingly didn't have a distinct salty taste that one might experience with some other pickled dishes from around the world;
  • Sliced potatoes in a sweet soy marinade;
  • Bean sprouts with sesame oil (kongnamul), by far my favourite of the banchan dishes tasted so far in my life (I have a particular weakness for the aroma of sesame oil); and
  • Garlic-flavoured slices of zucchini. Obviously zucchini's not an ingredient one normally finds in Korea, but here in Canada, where multiculturalism thrives, fusion cuisine abounds and situation substitution is sometimes necessary due to what can be found locally, even an Italian vegetable can find itself a home in Korean cuisine.
Overall I enjoyed the dining this place had to offer. The food was nicely done, and, compared to some other restaurants I've tried and reviewed to date, the price range is definitely more accessible; considering the quality of the food, I found it to be a deal as well. Unfortunately, fate had me trying this place when they were short on waiting staff, which meant the remaining staff at the restaurant were scrambling about. Give them credit, though, for keeping their cool and the smiles on their faces. Also, I noticed that some notable Korean dishes appeared to be missing on the menu, especially galbi (grilled beef short ribs)... how can a Korean restaurant not serve beef short ribs? (OK, I'll admit I've an affinity for beef short ribs, as my family can attest.)

Hopefully, the next time I'm there they'll have everybody accounted for... and perhaps they will have renovated the interior to better reflect the style of cuisine they offer.

Name: Be One
Address: 1811 Portage Ave., Winnipeg, MB
Cuisine: Korean
Price Range: Dinner $15-$40
Accessible: Yes

1 comment:

  1. Andrew, if you ever visit Muskoka you must visit Bracebridge and go to Wabora . It is the BEST Asian restaurant around here in WASP land! Unlike the resort Taboo, where we dropped $25 on coffee and a glass of is a great spot.