Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Restaurant review: Korean BBQ Plus!, Concord, Calif.

Serendipity brought me to this restaurant on the east side of the San Francisco Bay area. I had an appointment with friends in Concord early one February morning. By noon, our meeting was over, and I was hungry.

Rather than waiting until I returned to more familiar territory to eat, I followed my instinct — and my insistent stomach. Tapping "Korean restaurant" into my smartphone map app pointed me toward Korean BBQ Plus!. It was less than a mile from where I was and from an onramp for Interstate 680, my ticket home. That recommendation hit the spot.

One of my brave friends came with me. She has very limited experience with Korean food and felt more comfortable with an "expert." Since I had not done any preliminary research on this restaurant, I had no idea what we would find.


Korean BBQ Plus! is tucked into a small shopping center and was a little challenging to find. The restaurant shares a building with a small Korean grocery store and a Mexican restaurant. Across the parking lot is a larger Mexican grocer.

As we walked in the Korean restaurant, I quickly noticed that almost every table was full at 12:30 on a Friday afternoon. That was a promising sign.

The waitress quickly brought menus and cups of hot barley tea — a beverage I've had to ask for at other restaurants. That was promising sign No. 2.

The lunch menu had a good assortment of standards such as 비빔밥 bibimbap (a bowl full of meat or dubu (tofu) as well as vegetables over rice), 닭구이 dak gui (spicy sweet marinaded chicken) and 된장 찌개 doenjang jjigae (fermented soybean paste stew). However, my friend and I ordered 돌솥 비빔밥 dolsot bibimbap (bibimbap in a hot rock bowl; $12.95) off the dinner menu.

Among the dozen-plus bowls of 반찬 banchan (side dishes) that came out first were baechu kimchi (cabbage kimchi), radish kimchi, egg omelette with ham, cucumber pickle, mung bean sprouts, soybean sprouts and soy sauce–marinaded sweet potatoes.

Dolsot bibimbap came with topped with bulgogi, cucumber pickle, soybean sprouts, enoki mushroom, shredded carrot, mushroom, spinach and a raw egg cracked open on top.

The raw egg excited me way too much, because it was an authentic touch. Most Korean restaurants I've visited in the Bay Area fried the egg sunny side up then add it to the bowl, so only the yolk needs to be cooked on the side of the hot bowl.

My friend was far more excited about the crunchy rice at the bottom of the bowl. It gets that way when the cooked rice fries in a little oil put in the bottom of the very hot bowl.

I squirted onto the fixings in my bowl a generous amount of 고추장 gochujang (spicy red pepper paste) from the squeeze bottle. (Red squeeze bottles on Korean restaurant tables likely aren't filled with ketchup.) My friend made a tamer mix of soy sauce and gochujang.

It also came with a small bowl of 미역국 miyeok guk (seaweed soup). The soup had a full body to it with a little touch of beef.

Between the dolsot bibimbap, generous banchan and the soup, I left the restaurant satisfied. Korean BBQ Plus! is a good ambassador for traditional Korean cuisine.

As we were finishing our meal, my friend asked me, "Would you come down here again just go to this restaurant?"

"No," I answered honestly. Concord is a 90-minute drive from my home, and there is a traditional Korean restaurant just 20 minutes away.

However, when I'm in Concord area on business, I will arrange my schedule so I can return for lunch or dinner, hopefully with my patient photography-loving husband in tow.

Is there a Korean food experience that you would drive (or even fly) a long distance just to experience repeatedly? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Korean BBQ Plus!
1450 Monument Blvd
Concord, CA 94520
(925) 680-9090
Hours: Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
www.koreanbbqplus.com

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