Koko packs that pickle panacea
I have fought my first battle of the encroaching winter season.
Staring a sneaky cold right in the sinuses, I knew action had to be taken. I could let this perfidious viral infection stealthily work its way into my lungs, my very bones, or I could pry its ever-tightening grasp off of my body with the aid of that which no cold can withstand: the mighty kimchi.
For this devilish pickle of cabbage, garlic and chilies, I needed a Korean restaurant. Koko had previously been beyond the ken of my long chopsticks, but my incipient infection made me open to this rather innocuous-looking joint near the Faubourg.
The place features both Korean food and a lot of Japanese-style sushi. I can’t help but think the sushi is on the menu to lure people in off the street. Few people spontaneously go for the delights of bibimbap, yet sushi is practically a fast food for the mildly adventurous masses these days.
Bibimbap is a hearty dish of rice topped with beef and various veggies. Koko’s has mushrooms, zucchini, yellow squash, radish, served with a side of kimchi. Far more entertaining is their dolsot bibimbap. The dolsot is a hot stone bowl, and comes with a heftier portion of bibimbap within. A raw egg is put on top – stir it along with the veggies into the rice so it cooks, add some hot sauce and enjoy.
While you pick away at the dish, the rice next to the stone crisps up which produces a lovely lightly crunchy layer. The Korean word for this yummy effect is nurungji – plenty of cultures have a name for this. I consider it proof of English gastronomical impoverishment that we have no moniker for such a serendipitous delight.
An evening visit started with edamame, those crisp green soybean pods that are the latest snack food. We warmed up with a nice-enough seafood pancake. Small bowls of miso broth were brought while we waited for our main.
We couldn’t resist the barbeque for two, choosing the more flavourful beef rib eye over flank steak. We’ll save the pork option – very Korean, the server told us – for next time. The meat was flavourful, and had been marinated in kiwi and apple.
This is a grill-your-own affair. Our waitress brought an up-to-the-minute Teflon dome grill to our table – a far improvement over the unwieldy iron burners that get chunky with burned crud after a few rounds of cooked meat slivers. Slap on the beef, some zucchini, mushrooms, smell the action. Lettuce leaves were provided as wrappings, as well as salty sesame chili paste to smear upon the packets.
Koko seems a bit pricey for the portion size, and the décor is utilitarian. Other options include dumplings, tempura, soups, beef and seafood. Their dessert menu has beguiling green tea cheesecake, chocolate-covered lychees, and dai fuku – the last being a round rice wrapper with bean paste inside.
I left with a jar of kimchi tucked under my arm since they sell their homemade version of the pungent fermentation. With its aid, I’m sure to be rid of the nasty virus and snorfly sinuses soon.
1809 Ste-Catherine West, 935-1388
Dinner for two, no tax, no tip: $20-$45