What About Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu When The Donger Need Food?

When one mentions Korean food in Toronto, Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu is on the top of this list.  Not to be mistaken with Long Duk Dong of Sixteen Candles fame, Buk Chang is a College Street mainstay. It is part of my quest to tackle Korean food this year and having a colleague craving bibimbap in a hot stone bow, it seemed a logical stop.  Luckily, it was just past the lunch hour so we easily secured a table in the back corner and were handed the one page menu.  The decor was rather plain but not uncomfortable. Boasting a menu of 9 items with only 2 of them over $7, I ordered the seafood soon tofu with the hot pot of rice for $8 while she ordered the bibimbap for a little under $10.

One of the things I love about the Korean experience is the banchan, which is an array of side dishes which compliment the main dishes.  These are somewhat open to interpretation but usually include kimchi, steamed vegetables (called namul) and other things like pancakes which can contain any number of ingredients.  In the case of Buk Chang, we were treated to some bean sprouts, kimchi, radish and some Kuromame black beans.  The beans were the best part of the banchan and although the rest of the offerings were good, they were far from mind-blowing.

Banchan
Banchan

 

I’m a little stubborn when I go out and eat in an environment that is somewhat foreign to me.  There have been numerous instances where I have been faced with questions like “Should I eat this hot pepper or is it just garnish?” or “Which sauce goes with which dumpling?”.  Today was no different.  I cautiously spied patrons at other tables for hints on proper conduct although I’m not sure there is a particular science in eating Korean food.  I mean, you don’t have to have a Michelin star to conclude that an shelled egg placed on the table should eventually end up cracked in my soup.  What confused me a little more was the reason why the server poured water in my bowl of purple rice after he scraped most of it into another bowl.  Was it to help out the dishwashers?  To cool the bowl down in case I forget and burn myself?  Was I supposed to do something with it to complete my meal?  In the end, I never got the answer despite watching  an older Korean lady who ordered the same thing as me. She didn’t give the rice bowl a second glance which did nothing to answer my question.

The seafood soon tofu arrived bubbling. I dropped the egg in and watched the protein denature like I  was presenting a grade 8 science project.   The tofu itself was amazing; it’s texture hit that part of my brain that made me fall in love with things like rice pudding and tapioca.  The broth was punchy but delicate. Understanding that this is a restaurant with a significant devotion to tofu, I still found the seafood contribution nothing short of measly.   Two tiny unshelled, head-on shrimp and one mussel were absolutely lost in the big bowl of tofu. I’m not really a fan of rice but I enjoyed a few bites from the bowl of the purple grain that was served with the soup.

Seafood Soon Tofu $7.97
Seafood Soon Tofu (with hot pot rice) $7.97

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a huge fan of bibimbap mainly due to the fact that it’s mostly rice.  That said, if you crisp up some rice against a hot stone bowl and add a fried egg among other things  you can at least peak my interest. It was a decent $10 bowl of rice.  The egg was nicely done and other condiments were used in good proportion.

Bibimbap $9.74
Bibimbap $9.74

My Take

Most white people will confess that their experience with Korean food has been limited to bulgogi beef and bibimbap, a statement which is possibly as stereotypical as the gong which sounded every time Long Duk Dong entered a scene during  Sixteen Candles more than thirty years ago.   Buk Chang’s  focus on soon (soft) tofu opens another page in the Korean cookbook.  Other than the mystery of the water pitcher, this place offers a straight forward experience in a no frills fashion. That said, when I ponder the scant amount of seafood in the soup,  I need to remember that in the end I’m getting a filling meal for about $8 although I think calling it seafood soon tofu is a tad deceiving.

In many good lunches and dinners you only ultimately  remember every perfect ration eaten,  great nosh and  nectarous thrill. Coming here and nibbling inferior kimchi and bland namul prevents me from calling this the best Korean experience I’ve ever had but based on the tofu soup and the bibimbap, I understand why it’s become a staple for many ethnic food enthusiasts in the GTA.

Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu on Urbanspoon

Review:Montreal:Park Restaurant

One thing that gives me a headache is trying to figure out what to do for brunch.  Usually, it a combination of overpriced breakfast foods in the midst of foodies who are worse than dinner ones (they may in fact be the same except the dinner foodie is drunk and somewhat pleasant whereas the brunch one is hungover and even more miserable).  Add the fact I was in Montreal and my head was going to explode.  So, I did an online search and stumbled across a really good blog which does a stellar job focusing on the most important meal of the day:

http://www.montrealbreakfastreview.com/

After scrolling through numerous and well written posts, I stumbled across Park which met all my criteria:

1.  They..gasp!…take brunch reservations.

2. It’s located in Westmount, a neighborhood outside of the downtown core which meant an opportunity to explore an alternate part of the city.

3. There’s more on the menu than bacon and eggs priced $5 higher than they are any other day of the week. In fact, they serve more of an asian-inspired lunch than a standard brunch.

So, we grabbed a cab and took the trek up to this funky neighbourhood.  It’s oddly set-up in what appears to be a bit of a rundown office building although there are rather expensive pieces of art hanging on the walls of the lobby.  I have no idea what Park was before, but I suspect it was some kind of sit down cafe which served Bunn coffee, bagels and greasy breakfast plates. It has been overhauled with a nice bar, decent decor and blackboards boasting cocktails and menu specials.

At the time we were seated, it was pretty empty but was full by noon.  It was a diverse crowd including a table of elderly people enjoying every bite of their eggs to foodie couples snapping pics the same I was. I was intrigued by the numerous cocktails on the blackboard filled with asian flavours such as yuzu.  When I inquired, however, I was told cocktails weren’t available at brunch and I was left to drink a mediocre $12 mimosa.

We ordered three very unorthodox brunch items which complied with both my whimsical tastes and my dining partner’s like for fresh, healthy flavours (what’s with that?); bibimbap ($13), Jap Chae ($13) and the deconstructed salad for two ($19).   All three dishes had a delicate complexity to them with flavours that burst with freshness and balance. The visual appeal was spectacular.   The grains in the bibimbap and noodles in the Jap Chae were done to perfection.  The deconstructed salad  was like having a personal assistant deliver the freshest ingredients from a whole foods setup on a plate in front of you without having to deal with the Lululemon wearing moms and indecisive salad bar champions. It had no less than 20 ingredients (lettuce, vegetables, pickled items such as kimchi  etc.)  as well as three delicious homemade dressings spiked with Asian flavours such as yuzu and miso. For $19 it could have had a few more protein options,vegetarian or otherwise.

Bibimbap $13
Bibimbap $13
Jap Chae $13
Jap Chae $13
Deconstructed Salad for Two ($19)
Deconstructed Salad for Two ($19)

My Take

This is not your typical brunch. Coming here and nestling in knarly and fashionable environments reaches noble and nouveau dimensions only superseded by the prettiness of the food. The combination of the fresh ingredients and bold flavours busts open the notion that the only cure for a hangover is grease.  I’d knock my next day pain upside the head with a dose of this stuff any day but would leave out the $12 mimosa. Otherwise, the next question I would ask when coming to Park is “what’s for dinner?”

Park Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Duke’s Refresher + Bar

I often stay at the Eaton Chelsea so I’ve been watching the completion of Duke’s Refresher and Bar with great anticipation. One of at least 3 restaurants associated with the Aura condo complex at Yonge and Gerrard, Duke’s promises a “Coyote Ugly” experience with good food and a great atmosphere.  I must admit, like any warm-blooded male, the thought of being drenched by a fire hose by a woman standing on top of a bar is somewhere on my bucket list.

I dropped in prior to another engagement I had to check out the place and all the elements were in place.  The music was loud, the beers were pouring, the decor was loud and the barkeeps looked like they could have been on the set of the movie itself. I planned to drop by later with a buddy of mine to grab a few drinks, eat a bit of food and catch the rest of the football game.

We got there a little after 10 and the place was packed.  The layout boasts  a number of tables and we were seated at a couple of chairs along the long bar.  We were immediately warmly greeted by a  bartender and manager who welcomed us to Duke’s. We were presented the menu which includes over 40 tap beer ranging from domestics to craft ales. One of the unique aspects of this place is the ability to order 3 ounce samplers of any of them for a dollar and change.  We did exactly that, ordering 7 or 8 craft beer to start.

The beer were served quickly and in the correct order.  Other than that, the conversation was a bit painful.  At this point I need to clarify something.  If you’re picturing the bartender looking  like Penny from the Big Bang Theory, you’d be wrong. Instead, he was like Zack Johnson, her on and off boyfriend on the show. Every beer I liked was his favorite and with every comment I made about the beer (for example, the hoppiness  of the Amsterdam Boneshaker) was answered with one word…”Interesting”.

While looking at the menu, I noticed the Einstein club, which allows patrons to buy a 24 oz stein for $20 which stays on the shelf ready to be filled anytime they come in.  They are also made privy to future special engagements available only to club members. It’s a concept I’ve seen in a number of Michigan bars, so I wondered if Duke’s  was based on this American model.  So, I asked Zack about this and he said  “I thought it was Detroit but you might be right, I think it was Michigan”.   In the end,  despite being opened less than a week, the Einstein club was full and I was unable to reserve one of the many glasses on the shelves behind the bar.

Looking around, about 75% of the staff were male.  I have no problem with male waitstaff, but my  bucket list dream of being doused by water in a bar was…well…extinguished.  Unfortunately, it didn’t mean that other aspects of Coyote Ugly wouldn’t come into play later.

After settling on a pint of Beau’s Tom Green Milk Stout (which is quite delicious), we ordered a couple of things to get a feel for the food menu. The menu focuses on traditional bar foods such as wings, nachos and burgers but also throws in trendy Toronto foods such as fried chicken, sliders and bibimbap.  As per normal, I am drawn to anything with a fried egg, so the Pig & The Egg ($12.95) sandwich seemed like a good call, described as a bacon focaccia sandwich with a fried egg, sausage, bacon, pulled pork, American cheese and braised onions.  The bread would have been divine even if two slices of bacon weren’t etched into it. The egg was cooked properly…giving me a yolkasm (meaning the feeling you get when you pierce a yolk and get the perfect drip).  The triple hit of pork worked as well.  It was a gimmicky sandwich but one I’d order again. We asked for the fries to be upgraded to the infamous garlic ones which they gladly did for a couple of bucks. They were well seasoned, unique and perhaps infamous but  I think the bar has been raised for terrific fries  and these fell a little short, tasting more cafeteria than downtown Toronto bar.

The pig and the egg $12.95 with infamous garlic fries ($2 upcharge)
The pig and the egg $12.95 with infamous garlic fries ($2 upcharge)

Sticking with the egg theme, we decided to give the bacon and shrimp bibimbap a try.  Garnished with avocado, kimchi and egg planted  atop a bed of rice,  it was a noble attempt at this signature Korean dish. The avocado was ripe, the kimchi was decent and the shrimp were cooked perfectly and in reasonable number and the egg produced another yolkasm (this could be my first multiple).  The accompanying hot sauce was thick and delicious, a nice change from the Frank’s that dominates many other menus around the city. If anything the bacon was scarce and almost absent and the dish could have used the saltiness from a seasoning perspective.

Bacon and Shrimp Bibimbap $14.25
Bacon and Shrimp Bibimbap $14.25

Back to the Coyote Ugly thing.  The water spray was out of the question. Unfortunately, the dancing wasn’t.  Halfway through a bite of sandwich, the manager (also a dude) hopped on the bar and greeted the crowd.  A chant of “Dance, Dance” ensued and I hoped something would prevent what was about to happen. Instead, Zack joined him on the bar and a Dance, Dance revolution session broke out. I was speechless.

My Take

Duke’s Refresher + Bar is more a bar than a restaurant located in an area which is desperate from nightlife other than strip joints and pubs. They offer unique drink options like taster size beer for less than $1.50 and the Einstein club. It likely won’t win a slew of culinary awards, but the food (at least what I tried) was decent bar food that matched the overall theme of the place. The staff is friendly,courteous and fun although this may be a bit a crap shoot depending on your expectations. In my case, maybe I expected walking onto the set of Coyote Ugly but instead ended up as  an extra in an odd episode of the Big Bang Theory meets From Dusk Till Dawn.

Duke's Refresher + Bar on Urbanspoon