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February 11, 2009 > Restaurant Review: Bamboo Korean BBQ

Restaurant Review: Bamboo Korean BBQ

By Denny Stein

At my house, "Let's go to Milpitas for Korean BBQ!" elicits a resounding, "Yea!" and so Saturday evening, January 17, my Korean-American companion and I set off for our favorite restaurant. When we arrived, around 7 p.m, there were about five parties scattered throughout the room and plenty of tables were still available. By the time we left an hour later, all the tables were full.

Bamboo Korean BBQ is a family restaurant, in the Asian sense of the phrase. Grandparents, parents and well-behaved children are eating together. Dating couples, small groups of friends, an occasional lone diner. Everyone is enjoying the multiple small dishes that serve as appetizers, or banchan, and are part of every meal: kim chi, pickled potato strips, marinated seaweed, bean sprouts, chapchae and tofu strips.

Young or old, Korean or not, no one demands hot dogs, french fries or hamburgers. If some of the small dishes are too spicy for you, they are balanced by subtly sweet or savory tastes in the others. And because there is just a little of bowl of each offering, you're never overwhelmed but feel safe having a taste of something new. If you love it, the wait staff will gladly bring you more.

On that Saturday night, we ordered some familiar items and a new dish. An old favorite that we often make at home, Gal Bi are short sections of beef rib, steeped in a sweetened soy marinade then grilled until the meat falls off the bone. The Gal Bi's succulent bites and its great flavor make it a particular Korean delicacy. Since the meat is usually cut in pieces across the bone, it is easy to pick them up with chopsticks, or, once it's cooled, with your fingers. Tastes good, fun to eat, and the bones will be appreciated by your dog, later.

Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap is like a delicious salad cooked in a really hot stone pot. It comes to the table in a dol sot, or stone pot that is sizzling hot. The bottom layer is cooked rice, crispy from contact with hot sesame oil. The next layer can include strips of meat, julienned carrots, bean sprouts, spinach, or daikon. The final flourish, and my favorite part, is a fried egg on top. You then take a large spoon and your chopsticks and mix all these flavors together, adding the spicy red sauce if you're game. Each bite mixes savory, spicy, sweet flavors with the comforting taste of white sticky rice. At the end, scrape the crispy, gold bits of rice from the bottom of the dol sot and crunch.

The Gal Bi Jim was new to us. The short ribs were served in a sizzling stone pot, with a caramelized sauce thickening on the bottom. Carrots, potatoes and onions filled out this pot roast type Korean meal. The dark sweet sauce had us scraping the bottom, adding spoonfuls of the obligatory rice to soak up all the bits of meat and vegetables. Another good choice is the chap chae, glass noodles, served with either beef or seafood.

All good meals are accompanied by tea, but I have to mention that the ice water at Bamboo Korean BBQ has a lovely soft taste that is unexpected and soothing.
We had started our meal with the bancha and clear delicate soup; we ended with a generous scoop of green tea ice cream - the real deal, not Breyer's or Sealtest. (If you don't like green tea ice cream, there's a Foster's Freeze just around the corner!)

Hwa Sook Kim and her husband, Sang Weon Kim, took over the Bamboo Korean BBQ about a year ago. This mom and pop team had previously run Japanese restaurants in Oakland and Concord. Their kitchen was tidy and clean, racks of small bowls and plates stacked in the pantry looked like kitchen art, Mr. Kim was cleaning off the large grill and the floor was already swept. There are only three waiters, including Mrs. Kim, so if the restaurant gets busy, you may have to catch someone's eye to ask a question, but they are all working hard at keeping their guests satisfied.

My friend Mrs. Park declared "Korean BBQ serves classic down home Korean food," with grace and friendliness.

The decor is practical with softening touches. Linoleum table tops have barbecue inserts for cooking one's own food, but Mr. Kim will do the grilling in the kitchen, unless you ask to do it yourself. Small bamboo screens and green plants break up the large room; the walls are covered with parchment paper and lines of Korean writing resembling newsprint. The American Flag placements reminded us that our country's melting pot starts in the kitchen. Good food is always good food.

The Bamboo Korean BBQ is in Milpitas, only about 20 minutes away from our Fremont home. In the evening, from the northern environs, you get an added bonus: the drive is against the traffic. Or you could stop off on your way home from San Jose and pick up Korean BBQ to go. From north or south, there's no bad choice.

Bamboo Korean BBQ
260 S. Abel St., Milpitas
(408) 263-6705

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