Mmmm…bibimbap (not just a Hanson song anymore)
If you’re a Buford Highway newbie like me (this was my very first foray into Korean fare), it can be a good thing to have someone more experienced with you. I knew I was with the right group when one of them said, “Han Il Kwan ain’t got shit on this place.”
Woo Nam Jeong, also known as Stone Bowl House, is a quaint Korean restaurant in a newish strip center on Buford Highway. We were quickly seated, met “Grandma,” the owner and chef, and began to peruse the menu. I may be a Korean food virgin, but I’ll eat anything bathed in fried batter, so I felt sure I’d dig on the seafood pancake. Oh boy, was I right. The pancake was a moist, egg-y batter, studded with green shreds of onions and bits of crab, fish, and squid, served with a sweet-yet-salty sesame seed sauce. I’d definitely order the seafood pancake again, and found myself continuing to nibble on it during the meal (and after).
For the main course, I tried the beef dolsot bibimbap, which is rice, vegetables, and beef mixed in a crazy-hot stone bowl and topped with a fried egg. You add a little chili paste and slice open the fried egg and let the yolk pour onto the shreds of carrots, lettuce, onions, and beef. A little sesame oil sits at the bottom of the bowl, and, if you’re patient enough to leave the rice on the bottom of the bowl intact for a while, it gets crispy and caramelized. I was patient enough and duly awarded for my patience. Fluffy rice fried against a crackling hot stone bowl is definitely worth the wait. I’d never had bibimbap before, but immediately fell in love — tender slices of beef, crispy rice, thinly sliced vegetables, those cool shreds of lettuce, all doused in rich egg yolk and spicy chili paste…what’s not to love? And if you’re a mushroom fan, try the mushroom variety, which overflows with a variety of different ‘shrooms.
The bibimbap is served alongside several small dishes of food (called banchan), which I found great to break up the flavors and make each bite of bibimbap seem new. Each small dish was amazingly fresh and seemed to be either marinated or stewed or pickled…and they were all uniquely delicious — potatoes, seaweed, green beans, kimchi, onions, cucumbers, apples, and the best cole slaw I’ve ever had. Yes, I’m a Southerner, and I’m saying the best cole slaw is at a Korean restaurant.
After our remaining dinner was neatly packed away in to-go containers, we were served an amazing cold, cinnamon tea, with hints of ginger and honey and a couple of pine nuts floating on top. Cool and refreshing, it was the perfect end to the meal.
We made the trek back to the city as visions of leftover bibimbap for lunch the next day danced in my head. Not surprisingly, the leftovers never made it to lunch. In fact, they barely made it past breakfast – hey, there’s an egg in there after all.