A good review in the Seattle Times early this year was enough for three of us to drop in on Kalbi Grill Express for lunch in the Greenwood neighborhood. Could we get good Korean food closer to Seattle than Lynnwood? We were surprised that we were the only lunchtime patrons until a lone customer came in later. Although its name suggests an emphasis on Korean BBQ, the menu said otherwise. Two of us decided on beef soon dubu, another on beef bibimbop, which the Times praised.
Let’s start off with the banchan, the appetizers that every Korean restaurant serves. No other cuisine that I can think of pays this much attention to making little side dishes to accompany a meal, doubtless taking time and effort to make. I’ve often only wanted banchan and rice. Which leads up to Kalbi Grill’s unorthodox approach to offering it, namely, with certain dishes you select only three appetizers, all displayed behind a glass counter, per individual order. Oddly, the bibimbop didn’t qualify. For variety, the obvious strategy was for the rest of us to pick three different ones. Whether these were refillable as at any Korean restaurant, we never determined, though there was no reason to suspect otherwise.
The beef soon dubu (☆☆½) was adequate, though the broth was overly salty and lacked the depth of flavor I enjoy at Seoul Hot Pot. The beef was cut into little pieces, more tender than I would have expected in a stew that arrived at the table bubbling (literally) hot. Also in the broth were zucchini, enoki and regular mushrooms and green onions. The silken tofu, rather than cut into chunks, were cylindrical in shape, as if cut with a tube. In summary, the stew was adequate but not likely to make me forget Seoul Hot Pot’s.
An oversight when we received the bibimbop (☆☆) was not having been provided with the kochuchang sauce. We had to ask for it, whereupon the owner apologized and agreed that bibimbop would not be bibimbop without it. Innocent enough mistake. But, even when served with beef, zucchini, bean sprouts, spinach, shredded carrots, cucumber, eggplant, shiitake mushrooms and an over-easy egg, the rice bowl failed to generate much excitement, bland and inadequately seasoned. Adding sauce did little to liven up flavor. What’s more, as reported in the Times review, rather than being served in an earthenware bowl that when heated up characteristically crusts up the rice at the bottom, it was some sort of heavy plastic material (which would never be subjected to high heat), making us wonder whether the reviewer and we ordered the same thing, or if the management has cut corners.
We’re not likely to return. For now, our favorite Korean restaurant reasonably close to home remains Seoul Hot Pot in Redmond.
- Soon Dubu at Seoul Hot Pot (Redmond, WA) (zoomeboshi.com)
Kalbi Grill Express
8202 Greenwood Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103