The quest for delicious Korean food in the Metro

There has been a boom (a nuclear explosion of sorts, in fact) in the Korean buzz over the recent years. Aside from the rapidly increasing community of Koreans immigrating to the Philippines, there is the continuously rising interest in Korean pop; not to mention, the Korean telenovela industry is still very well-celebrated. Naturally, their national cuisine has followed.

While I may not be a fan of KPop superstar Rain, and I may not have religiously followed the episodes of Jewel in the Palace and Winter Sonata and other sorts of titles, I would say that I am a HUGE fan of Korean food. And in my quest to search for sumptuous restaurants in Metro Manila, here are my (partial) results:

1) A. Kaya Express
Kaya was the first Korean restaurant I ate in and at the time it was opened, the Korean explosion had not come in its full force. Till this day, my mouth waters at the idea of eating here.

The Dolsot Bibimbap, which is a rice topping sizzling inside a very hot stone bowl, is still the best bibimbap I’ve eaten, partly because it is presented in the stone bowl – I’m not merely alluding to the appearance, but also to the fact that you have an initially raw egg on top, and you get to mix it with the rice until the egg cooks and the rice reaches a very nice consistency. Then, you have several toppings that tie the whole dish together – sweet, salty, crunchy, and optionally, spicy. There isn’t much meat in this rice dish, but it’s quite hearty as it is. (I always forget to take pics of the food here before tucking in, so I’m placing a picture I got from MissTableNapkin’s Blog)

The grilled dishes are also very well-seasoned. They are not grilled in front of you like the other restaurants I will mention below – both a pro and con (pro because you don’t end up smelling too much like barbecue afterward and you don’t have to anxiously wait for your meal to cook in front of you; a con because the experience of something beautifully turning into succulent cooked meat is lost) – but they do come in a sizzling plate, so they are nice and hot. The sweet, slightly salty dipping sauce is perfect with it. If I were
to nitpick, I would have wanted some “ssamjang” dip to go with it, which is this soybean-based dip that is slightly thick, salty, with a hint of Korean spices, but honestly, I love the dish just as it is now.

Their dumplings (mandoo) are also very delicious – the fried one is better, though quite oily. It has a perfectly crunchy exterior while inside there is a tender mixture of ground meat, etc – a prime example of how a dumpling should be. Again, the dipping sauce takes part of the center stage – salty, tangy, and with some sesame seeds on top.

The sushi rolls (kimbap) are also delicious – unlike Japanese sushi rolls, they are made up of cooked ingredients – cooked meat, spinach, and a couple of other veggies.

Pros: good value for money, delicious food, try the yummy Korean ice cream desserts.
Cons: the restaurant doesn’t come with free appetizers.

1) B. Kaya (fine dining)
In Jupiter street, there is the fine dining version of Kaya express, and I expected this to be even better than Kaya express. However, I was slightly disappointed with it. At a more expensive price, I did not really find any dish more memorable than the express version. You do get the grilling experience though and it was grilled to
perfection.

Pros: free appetizers, grilling, nice ambiance
Cons: pricey

2) Bulgogi Brothers

Appetizers at Bulgogi Brothers

The group responsible for such staples as Italiani’s and Friday’s just came out with Bulgogi Brothers a few months ago. Unlike most of the other Korean places I’ve eaten in, the format of this restaurant is different. For example, the appetizers are unlike anything I’ve tried in a Korean resto before – pumpkin salad, green salad with Kimchi dressing, and some cooked yam / quail egg / corn. Notice how I said “cooked”. It’s not because I ran out of words to describe it but because they were, quite simply, cooked. No salt. No grill aroma. Nothing. It wasn’t very appetizing. The green salad, on the other hand, was an explosion of flavor, and I loved how the freshness and crunch of the greens married with the tangy, spicy Kimchi dressing. The pumpkin salad was nothing special.

For the grill, we ordered these heart-shaped packs of beef called Un-yang – the waiter (who I must add was very friendly and well-trained, along with the rest of the staff who really attended to all our needs quickly – even the glass of water was not forgotten) said that it was a dish only served during Valentine’s in Korea. I expected it to taste very exceptional, something limited that you would look forward every year to eat, but was met with a one-note dish that was delicious but not special. If not for the dipping sauce of ssamjang, salt, and another red sauce, you will find yourself getting tired of the taste after your second heart. It is worth mentioning that the beef was cooked perfectly and tenderly though.

Gwang-yang-bulgogi brothers

Gwang-yang Bulgogi

The second grilled dish, Gwang-yang Style Bulgogi, was tastier – a sweet salty mix of beef, bean sprouts, and mustard leaves. I wanted the mustard leaves to give the dish a bit of a bitter kick but there was none of that. None the less, it was quite delicious – oily though because of the high fat content of the beef cut so again, one could not get too much of it. The hot cup of tea was truly welcomed because it helped counter the oily dishes. It was a very tasty and aromatic cup of tea too.

greenbelt 5 bulgogi brothers All in all, the restaurant was worth trying though I would not find myself craving for it – it’s not the sort of place I would go to over and over again, especially with the expensive prices.

Pros: great service, sophisticated ambiance, good grill experience, delicious salad
Cons: oily, not much of a kick, expensive, limited menu at the moment

3) Dona Dona
The unassuming restaurant interiors and the whimsical logo of a happy pig do not give away the fact that Dona Dona happens to be one of the most delicious Korean restaurants in the metro. This is the sort of restaurant my friends and I really rave and drool about.

Korean grilled meat and appetizers

Grilled meat + Korean appetizers at Dona Dona

At the start of the meal, you are welcomed to a fabulous array of free authentic Korean appetizers and some of them change daily. You’ve got the standard kimchi, but you also get Panjeon (Korean savory pancake with leeks), marble potatoes coated in this thick saccharine tasty tasty (repetition was intentional) sauce, omelette, etc.

Then you’re greeted with your dish, which really continues appetizing you. If you choose the grill, you’ll get a plate of fresh lettuce along with it to wrap your meat in. The meats are tender, tasty (though you must dip it into the ssamjang so that it’s tastier) and work really well with the lettuce.

If you go for non-grilled dishes, you will not be disappointed either. Whether you go for the Beef Bulgogi or the Kalbi Jim (beef stew); omelette rice or dumpling soup (Tuk Mandoo Guk); or stir-fried noodles Japchae, you will find that everything is seasoned beautifully.

It’s also worth highlighting the beef sashimi, an exotic dish with raw egg and a bounty of sliced Korean pears that lends a nice sweet hint to the delicious savory dish.

Pros: free delicious appetizers, tasty dishes, moderate price
Cons: moderate service

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4 Responses to The quest for delicious Korean food in the Metro

  1. jasper says:

    hope you can do drop by yoogane and add it to your list, yoogane is a well-known restaurant in Korea.

  2. carl says:

    so far yoogane is the only korean resto that I’ve tried with authentic korean flavor

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