Finding worldly bites for $12 & under.
Bibimbap, a traditional Korean dish, is usually a mix of meat and colorful vegetables fanned out across steaming hot rice with a raw egg on top. Frequently served in a hot stone bowl (called a dolsot), it sizzles and crackles the outer edges of the rice, making it ever-so-slightly browned and crispy, while also cooking the egg from all that heat.
The simple, hearty dish is immensely satisfying.
When chicken bibimbap ($10.99) from Seoul Bistro in Fairfax came in a plastic takeout container without a hot stone bowl in sight, I was skeptical.
A healthy portion of rice came in a separate Styrofoam bowl with a fried egg, which wobbled with gooey yolk as I set the tray down at my table. The chicken was spread out over a rainbow of vegetables in the larger plastic bibimbap bowl. Orange and yellow bell peppers, bean sprouts, wilted greens and gosari (fernbrake stems) concealed a heaping mound of shredded romaine lettuce. In a small sauce dish was a healthy dollop of gochujang (chili paste).
As I worked my way through my bibimbap salad dipping various components in the gochujang, I had a revelation—though I wouldn’t call Seoul Bistro’s bibimbap hearty, it was tasty all the same. I liked the crunch of the fresh vegetables, and the gochujang became a de facto spicy salad dressing. It’s essential to transfer the egg to the salad bowl before tucking in. The yolk breaks and oozes all over the vegetable smorgasbord as you eat, resulting in coating of eggy flavor with every crunchy bite.
Someone seeking a traditional bibimbap might not find Seoul Bistro’s lighter, salad-focused version as filling, but that doesn’t make it any less nourishing or soulful. Service was eager, efficient and friendly, and a row of refrigerators displayed promising take-homes like housemade kimchi and organic Korean soybean paste. Seoul Bistro is a refreshing departure from the barbecue-heavy Korean restaurants in this area; I hope it finds its fan base. / Seoul Bistro, 3900 Pickett Road, Suite C, Fairfax
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