What is the best way to spend Payday?
Is it, (a) sit down and budget the cash you have until the next payday? (b) Pay all debts and bills? Or is it (c) donate everything to charity?
If your answer was (d) treat your younger sister to dinner, then, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! You must be my sister! Because that is exactly what happened last week.
Bulgogi Brothers is a highly rated Korean BBQ restaurant among the more well-known foodies of the online circuit. Ever since BB hit the Islands about two years ago, we have heard from so many about how great the dining experience was. Curious about all the great reviews, and as fans of the Korean cuisine–my sister being a fan of Korean anything–this just seemed like the perfect night to finally try it out. And so we found ourselves at the third floor of Greenbelt 5.
The dining experience starts out with your classic banchan. These are side dishes or appetizers traditionally served first alongside complementary tea. We have here some kimchi, something that seems to be soysauce cured kangkong in oil, and sweet sundried anchovies or dilis. On a large platter are some that would better pair with an order of meat: some corn, hardboiled quail, and sweet potatoes. The tea of the day was Bari or Barley Wheat Tea, which had a mild, rounded, sweet-soft flavor.
Bulgogi Night doesn’t truly begin unless you’ve been served Kimchi, and some hot, spicy broth. So why not have both in the same pot? We ordered a large bowl of Kimchi Jjigae, which can give you about six full servings. The broth was made with boiled Kimchi and some additional peppers and onions. The soup also had small cubes of soy, small cuts of delicious, sweet cured beef, and ddeokbokki (read: /TOHk-bo’-kii/), a rice cake shaped like penne traditionally included in spicy dishes.
It is served to the table still bubbling in heat. A sip of the soup gave a sour kick mixed in with a bit of spice. To my taste, the broth was not as spicy as I had hoped, but was most likely adjusted so for the common Filipino taste. I found the bits of meat adding an odd sweetness to each spoonful, but I suppose it contributes a fair amount of flavor to the bowl.
Next came the Bulgogi Brothers Special, a platter of two kinds of beautifully marbled meat: thick and juicy heart-shaped patties, and cuts of thin, yet fatty beef marinated with sweet soy. As the pan pre-heated on the heating pad incorporated into the table, we were served with this lovely bottle of Bokbunja, or Black Raspberry Wine.
Grape based wines have a thick bitterness to it hiding deceptively behind its sweet aroma, and a glass of it will rest heavily in the stomach. Whereas, rice wine is the soul of an aggressive, wise, old hermit, forever intertwined with the spirit of a fierce, mischievous youth. It is bitter, full, open, light, truthful, and warming to the senses. Black Raspberry Wine is light in spirit, but packs a full-bodied flavor, and travels lightly through the chest, leaving behind a trail of blue flames. Its fruity aroma brings about a liveliness to the drink, but does not even attempt to mask the alcohol. In the glass, the sweet juice of life and its darker spirit are bonded friends that do not deny each other. It is a quiet virgin whose only means of conversation is through a song of dark seduction.
It seems like Bokbunja and a platter of fatty, rich, heart-shaped beef would make a great pairing and could pass for a romantic Valentine’s dinner. But the heavy, earthy flavor of meat breaks the balance and angers the virgin–and when she’s not in the mood, she’s not in the mood.
Non alcoholic drinks are also on the menu, and fair well with the dishes just as nicely. Raspberry Mint Tea can pair perfectly with the meat, if Black Raspberry Wine just isn’t your thing.
The onions and sweet potatoes are the first few sorry criminals sent to their smoky-flavored deaths. As they settle in and caramelize, the heart patties are grilled in the hot pan, and within seconds, the fat melts away. Soon enough, the beef cooks in its own gorgeous fat.
When the patties leave the pan, the fat continues to cook in with the onions and sweet potatoes as the sprouts are added in, and there is just an aromatic exchange of beautiful flavor that takes place in the air.
And in comes the thin strips of heaven.
Every bite of this sweet, stirfry bulgogi reminds you of just how important quality ingredients are to a good meal. There is nothing particularly unique about grilling meat in a pan–and definitely not this, as this might taste something more like gyuniku teriyaki. But it is with every bite that you understand that the real flavor you taste is in the meat, not in the marinade.
Let me just say this straight out:
As a rule, truly good Korean food should not be expensive.
Korean cuisine showcases dishes that warm the soul, and soothe the numbed fingers that have suffered the harsh winters of every day living. Here, food is a warm blanket that lovingly embraces you on a cold night. Warmth, in Korean Cuisine, is not only a description of temperature, but a flavor on its own. It is the mixed taste of calming comfort, and daring fierceness.
It is this flavorful experience that I had been looking for in Bulgogi Brothers, which I did not find.
Which is not to say that BB doesn’t offer great food–just don’t let your hopes up if you were looking for the best Korean dining experience your money can afford. Because trust me, your money can afford a whole lot of great Korean food; it just isn’t here. Maybe it’s mostly because I live in the Southern Metro, and Aguirre is just one among many places where the best, Seoul-ful restaurants are lining up. Cham-Maru and Shabuyaki are among my favorites. These two in particular are home-based businesses of Korean families. Eating there is quite literally eating a homemade Korean dinner, and simply nothing compares.
Dinner at Bulgogi Brothers is delicious, and perhaps even exciting for those who have not eaten, or have no intention of eating authentic Korean cuisine. But for those who have, BB will come out as a bad knock-off, a Teriyaki Boy of the Korean scene. In all honesty, the kimchi we buy in jars was better. If not for the great quality of the ingredients they use, this review wouldn’t have been edited, and would simply been harsh from start to finish.
Take my advice: Eat at Bulgogi Brothers when you have a great craving for meat, and all else will be forgiven.