Dineout reviews: Toronto Korean edition

I feel so rubbish at figuring out where to go eat despite all my interest and being subscribed to so many food blogs. Apparently it goes in out ear and out the other. But one source of reliable, delicious, and fairly priced fare is Korean food and there is a Korean area (and it’s not even Koreatown) just south of the apartment that we’re keen to explore to find the best bibimbap and tofu soup. Lil Sis’ is all about the bibimbap while I’m all about the tofu.

It seems that 25 restaurants have been categorized as “Korean” and in “North York” and 22 of them are between Steeles and Sheppard, of which 17 of them are between Finch and Sheppard. A quick glance at the names of the top 10 and some or obviously (?) not Korean but I have a feeling that by virtue of being in the area and competition, they might not be so bad.

urbanspoon north york korean restaurants

Kenzo Japanese Noodle House

#1 on Urbanspoon North York list

Although this restaurant topped the list it was the last of these restaurants I went to. Why does a ramen shop from Japan end up on the Korean list? And while there, I only had Japanese food so you can proceed to the next restaurant if you wanted to read about Korean food.

Kenzo is located quite a bit north and off the “Korean strip” on Yonge and as a consequence, they were really quiet on a Friday night near closing time. I also observed a faint mouldy smell. I hate it when I get a whiff of that in a restaurant wondering if there wasn’t a sewage or bathroom leak. It also sets me immediately less comfortable.

I went with a clear shio ramen that was not bad. It was not prepared with thin ramen, not my favourite, but it was reasonably chewy and the broth was good, not overly rich or salty. MY wanted something spicy so she ordered the orochong ramen which in the photo didn’t look as red as the other spicy ramen. It was also listed as a favourite dish of “Japanese youth and Korean” so we were intrigued. It was so spicy! Not being a fan of kimchi, I wouldn’t normally get a kimchi broth in a Korean restaurant and that is actually what orochong was. I only had a taste and it nearly made MY keel over. I think she is happier for the experience but it was crazy spicy.

 

Oh Geul Boh Geul

#3 on Urbanspoon North York Korean list

My cousin, WC, is the best, and he and his wife, Sarah, are perfect together. They graciously let Lil’ Sis live with them for nearly a month when she didn’t have a place to stay and she reports how they have impeccable taste exemplified in their home decor that includes unique, stylish, and functional Japanese designs. So, we could certainly trust their recommendations for which Korean restaurants to try. Of the three Sarah listed, two were in Koreatown (Bloor & Christie area) and we didn’t want to head further down when it was already 10 p.m. so we went to another hub of Korean businesses in North York, and we were not disappointed.

I have a feeling Lil’ Sis will know her Korean cuisine quite well but for now, it was quite adorable how she read the description of bibimbap stone bowl and thought it sounded quite nice. (Of course! It’s a great dish!) We were first presented with a chewy onion Korean-style pancake and devoured it, especially enjoying the more crispy regions. Then we clapped our hands in delight when we were presented with ten banchan(what I call the complimentary “appetizers” when I forget the Korean word). We hardly get more than five of the most boring varieties at our favourite Vancouver Korean restaurants so I was happy to see zucchini, a herby mashed potato salad, chilled tofu with green onions and chili, and potato noodles!

Since Lil’ Sis does not like tofu, I manoeuvered the tofu banchan close to me to have the chilled dish next to the hot bowl of tofu soup I ordered. I have had tofu soup three times within the past month and never tired of it.

Owl of Minerva

#5 on Urbanspoon North York Korean list

Ack, blame BlogTO.com for letting me know about Owl of Minerva. I thought it was the most uniquely named Korean restaurant such that when we were cruising down Yonge Street (yeah, I know), I would not have known it was Korean except for accompanying Korean characters. There are several locations around town and I heard the Bloor location isn’t actually legit but the owner doesn’t have the time/heart to go after them!

Owl of Minerva is famous for being open 24 hours and their pork bone soup so pork bone soup I ordered. What a deal for just $6.99. The banchan did not arrive until the food did so I didn’t have time for it and they were not my favourite ones in the least. The place is busy and untidy and we enjoyed the food with a few flies drifting around, not my favourite either.

But let’s concentrate on the food? As we waited for our dishes to arrive, Lil’ Sis came to realize that everyone was ordering the pork bone soup. I only knew from reviews it was the favourite so she had me choose from a few dishes she narrowed down and I unwisely choose the sweet & sour pork claiming, “It might be Korean style.” The pork bone soup came first and I shared one of the four bones that looked like they came from the spinal region with meat that just melted. The broth was also really tasty from the pork and spices, different from the tofu stew broth I am so familiar with. We devoured the steamed rice in a metal bowl we each were served “flooding” it with soup with each rice bite.

 

A $9.99 plate of sweet & sour pork was massive and completely unlike any of the usual Korean dishes we order and I picked at it a little and was thankful I had my own pork bone soup. The sauce was strong in honey and ginger flavour and the batter was intriguingly chewy, as if there was rice flour in addition to the standard batter ingredients. The pitfall was that it was hard to find the pork in the fried pieces, sometimes it seemed like we were just eating fried chewy batter. Next time we know what we’ll stick to!

Buk Chang Dung Soon Tofu

#6 on Urbanspoon North York Korean list

We drove down Yonge with the purpose of finding a Korean restaurant and were almost sure not to go wrong. Since Lil Sis’ was driving, I just had to say when when I spotted a restaurant to try. This restaurant had particularly big and bright signage and there were a couple of groups of people waiting by the door so it was my pick.

The menu was delightfully simple with about five tofu soups, a bibimbap and two other dishes. Everything was priced the same ($7.53) except for the two other dishes and the place was packed the entire time we were there. It was a bit like eating in a casual cafeteria but it was clean and the service was good and fast.

The banchan dishes that came were fair: spicy daikon, kimchee, bean sprouts, and beans. I don’t really like the fermented spice used so I stuck to the beans and bean sprouts, but oh were those little beans really tough! Lil Sis’ ordered the bibimbap which I forgot to take a picture and she would say that it has been her favourite as of after the next meal. I ordered the kimchee dong soon tofu (medium spicy) because I wanted the traditional Korean flavour and it did not disappoint–smooth, fresh extra soft tofu, rich broth, and great purple rice to accompany it.

 

Bi Bim Bap Korean Stone Bowl Riceteria (Eglinton West area, not North York)

This week, we did a little more preparation, browsing on Urbanspoon for our next Friday night adventure. Would it be Indian in Brampton (Lil Sis’ doesn’t understand my desire, and I haven’t been to Brampton before), Caribbean, Hakka? Or plain old Japanese or Korean? Lil Sis found Bi Bim Bap, a “Riceteria”, off the usual path (Yonge and Finch) and I was stuck on the name.

They were full when we first arrived so we walked around West Eglinton for half an hour. That stretch of Eglinton was very commercial and the few Chinese restaurants we saw were stuck in the past (House of Chan, now-defunct China House, and Tasty Szechuan). Just north is more “old Toronto”, cute houses with manor style but city-size.

 

Without question we each ordered a bibimbap dish. Each dinner comes with miso soup (with very fresh spring onions), banchan, and soo jung ga (cinnamon-ginger). We were floored that all we got, for the two of us, was one kimchee banchan. It was not an auspicious start to the meal.

In short order, my gourmet mushroom bibimbap and Lil Sis’ Korean BBQ (beef) bibimbap arrived. They are very visually appealing and presented nicely just as the whole restaurant is very modern to suit the area. We followed the instructions listed in the menu and stirred in the sauces we received earlier in shot glasses with our chopsticks. Then we pressed the rice to the side of the bowl with our spoons and proceeded to eat with our spoons. The list of default vegetables is impressive with 11 items–I’ll take their word on it–causing a jumble of flavours. I defied their recommendation and went with sour hot sauce instead of the boring-sounding soy garlic. Did I make the wrong choice?? I enjoyed the heat of my sauce and working my way through the mushrooms from cheapest to most “exotic”. But we both noticed the dishes were really greasy and none of the rice stuck to the bowls to make a nice crunchy layer of crispy rice. I also noted that there were some additional innovative flavours that I missed the traditional Korean flavour.

 

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