It may surprise you to find out that there are not many Korean restaurants in Alma, Michigan, where I grew up, so it’s not really an accident that I have made it 29 years without sampling the delights of the Korean peninsula. Here in the ‘Burgh, it’s easy to find Thai food and Japanese. I’m frequently disappointed in the Chinese, though, and Korean rarely seems to exist on its own… or at least, I have not run into it in four years of wandering.
So I took my opportunity on the West Coast to make a beeline for some top-notch Asian food. My friend Amy and I asked her roommate for a recommendation near the Japanese Garden, and Rachel said “I think there’s a good Korean restaurant over there that starts with a B.” She was right. It’s called Bewon.
Bewon is a tiny restaurant – 12 tables – that features a seven-course tasting menu with wine pairings for a measly $40 (!). Starting with three-pumpkin soup, stopping off at sweet potato noodles and wrapping up with tea, I could write a dissertation on each course… but instead, here are the greatest hits, and you’ll just have to go try the rest for yourself.
Tiny mounds of ingredients ring the plate, making it resemble an artist’s palette. Fortunately, we’re not painting, we’re eating. Amy and I piles cucumbers, carrots, egg whites and yolks, spicy ground beef, bean sprouts and two kinds of mushrooms onto miniature crepes, then top them with a soy-ginger sauce. Each flavor has its distinct moment on the tongue – carroty sweetness to earthy black mushroom to soothing cucumber – and getting to assemble the rolls ourselves really had us tickled.
2. Main dish accompaniments
Our main dishes – barbecue ribeye for Amy and spicy pork for me – were served on sizzling platters, accompanied by no fewer than nine side dishes in tiny bowls, plus tofu soup and plenty of rice. I don’t know about you, but when I cook, my guests are lucky to get two sides. Potatoes. Kimchi. Spicy kimchi. Green beans. Sprouts. A frittata-like concoction. Mushrooms. And my favorite – Mom, hang on to your hat – spicy dried squid. I cannot believe that I just typed the words “dried” and “squid” anywhere close to the word “favorite,” but there you have it: LB couldn’t get enough dried squid. Just goes to prove what happens when you shut up and eat it.
Once we had eaten our fill of the 2,493 side dishes, our (incredibly attractive) waiter brought us the most refreshing palate cleanser that I have sampled in my short life. After pungent kimchi, spicy barbecue and the aforementioned spicy dried squid, the cinnamon-and-ginger-infused cider called su-jeong-gwa made our eyes sparkle with delight. As I sipped, the lingering spicy tingles disappeared from my mouth, replaced with sweet apple spice. Even after the kimchi-pork-and-squid extravaganza that was my main course, I would have wagered this stuff made my breath smelled sweet.
Amy and I couldn’t shut up about Bewon for the next four days. In fact, even 10 days later, here I am, still running my mouth. Unfortunately the camera phone pics didn’t do it justice, so I opted not to include them here, but check BeWon’s website and you’ll be appropriately impressed.