Coreana – Take Two

2005.Aug.31 Wednesday · 22 comments

in Restaurants

Buenos Aires – There is a Bi Won on Coptic Street in Bloomsbury, London. There is a Bi Won on Liang Ma Qiao Road in the Chaoyang District, Beijing. There is a Bi Won on Conte Verde in Rome. There is a Bi Won on Erie Boulevard East in Syracuse, New York. There is a Bi Won on Junín in Balvanera (Once) in Buenos Aires. I’m sure there are more “secret gardens” in other places. But the one that concerns last night is the last one.

After my previous experience with Korean food and coreatown here, and no one having mentioned anything better, I had just sort of figured it was a lost cause. When my friend Victor asked if I wanted to go out for dinner at a Korean restaurant I accepted with some trepidation. However, he’s been in Buenos Aires for twelve years, so I figured he might know a thing or two about the restaurants here. Top that off with the restaurant he suggested was in easy walking distance of home and how could I say “no?” You pretty much have to know that Bi Won is there, at Junín 548, as there’s only a small wooden sign hanging high above the sidewalk. I guess that’s what makes the garden a secret.

Bi Won - kimchi of salt-sweet algaeOn entry, you walk your way down a long hallway that looks like it was decorated in the Belles Artes Epoch and hasn’t been touched since. Through a small glass door and you find yourself in a large, almost banquet style, brightly lit restaurant. What is it with Korean restaurants and illumination? Perhaps if there was a bit more theater going on the klieg lights would make sense, but most are much more subdued and tranquil. Regardless, Bi Won is a quite comfortable restaurant that is set-up both for casual dining as well as open to large groups (in fact an entire part of the menu is devoted to multi-dish combinations for parties of 15 or more).

Bi Won - soup with dumplingsShortly after sitting down we were brought the ubiquitous (and often one of my favorite parts of the meal) selection of kimchi. Most of it was the usual spicy cabbage, marinated mushrooms, sauteed tofu sorts of things. One standout, crispy strips of seaweed sprinkled with a combination of sugar and salt. It was also a quite thick, almost bark-like seaweed that I haven’t seen before. It should be fun to try to duplicate as a pre-dinner nibble one day.

We decided on a selection of a couple of favorite dishes, just to try the food. The mandu gui was a lightly salted egg-drop sort of soup with dumplings floating about in it. Bi Won - bulgogiIt was decent, but I think we both felt that next time a platter of potsticker style dumplings would be more interesting. The bulgogi came as a plate of seasoned, shredded raw beef accompanied by a tabletop burner with a griddle. Our waiter transferred the beef to the griddle as we started on the other items and returned regularly to stir it around, and then serve it when it was done. It was perfectly cooked and quite good.

A personal favorite Korean dish is bi bim bop, both because it’s almost always really good, and because I just love saying the name. Bi Bim Bop. It’s also usually a lot of fun to kind of play with – it’s a sort of fried rice that fries at the table because all the ingredients are added to a blazing hot stone bowl at the table. Bi Won - bi bim bopThe rice crisps as it contacts the bowl and you stir it around every now and again to allow other bits of rice and ingredients (generally meat, eggs, and vegetables) to contact the stone. Bi Won’s version is served in a simple metal bowl, already cooked. There aren’t any crispy bits. The flavor is dead on perfect, but the texture is missing that bit of crunch. I’d order it again anyway.

The restaurant has a short winelist and does not allow wine to be brought in from outside, to Victor’s chagrin, as he’d brought a bottle of Malbec he wanted to sample. Another time perhaps. We decided on beer – the only selection being Imperial, sort of a strange choice given that it’s the national beer of Costa Rica. If you’re going to serve an imported beer, why not go with a Korean one? Still, it went well with the food.

I’ll be back to Bi Won often in the future – I love Korean food, and they do it well. It also saves on both the hour-long trip to coreatown and the attitude we encountered there.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Caz de Hawaii April 29, 2008 at 22:12

The food at this restaurant was much more authentic than Empire Thai or that Vietnamese Restaurant/Boutique in Palermo. The Kal Bi and Chop Che tasted just the Korean dishes at home. I wished I could have tried their Mandoo, but unfortunately they ran out. Also, I wish they had Meat Jun, but no joy. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to wait until I return home to Honolulu.

dan April 29, 2008 at 22:41

That’s not surprising – there’s an actual Korean community here in BsAs, and Bi Won is owned by, and the kitchen is run by, Koreans, as are most of the Korean restaurants out in Flores. There’s not really much of any Vietnamese or Thai community here, and the few restaurants that are here are run by Argentines, and the kitchens are staffed by Argentines as well, plus they tend to cater to local tastes rather than traditional style.

nuitblanche September 12, 2008 at 18:57

hi! thanks for this, i’m going to check it out tomorrow!

as a note: when you order Bi Bim Bap (last syllable is with an “a”, not with an “o”), if you order just “Bi Bim Bap” they will bring out the cold version, in a metal bowl. if you want the hot version that cooks inside the stone bowl, say, “Dol-Sot Bi-Bim-Bap”. “Dot-Sot” means stone bowl.

hope this helps! 😀

dan September 13, 2008 at 10:08

“bop” or “bap” – seems that at least within the online world it can go either way – roughly even google counts anyway, and I see it both ways in Korean restaurants – after all, it’s a transliteration from Korean. Thanks for the bit on “dol sot” for the stone bowl – and that seems to square with alot of online sources, though someone else had written me to say it’s “gob dol” or “gop dol” for the stone bowl version, and that shows up online as well as in the one Korean cookbook I possess.

Coleen January 19, 2009 at 10:02

Hey Dan,

I’m going to try out Bi Won today, though I’m not sure they’re open on Mondays. However, the only reason I’m going here instead of, say, Kil Chong, is that it’s more accessible from Baires proper. I heard that for the Korean palate, it’s a bit light on authenticity (one article I read said that they sometimes don’t even carry kim chee!).

Speaking of which:

I hope to clarify this once and for all: “kim chee” refers to ONE KIND of “ban chan,” or side-dish. There are lots of different kinds of kim chee (turnip kimchee, cucumber kimchee, and cabbage kimchee are the most common; the most well-known are made with a spicy red pepper base, but some are in water or “white”/non-red-pepper based).

“Ban chan” is a generic term for Korean tapas that accompanies a meal.

If you got this info from some Koreans, as I think you mentioned somewhere, I think there was a misunderstanding (maybe they were referring to different kinds of kim chee), or there was some contextual simplification that made sense. It might be a subtle difference to a foreigner without further research/thought (but I don’t know how interested you would be in the detailed ban chan family tree).

As far as “bi bim bap” goes: “bap” is the most common form of Romanization. It also makes more sense, pronunciation-wise.

Ciao and thanks for your gustatory enthusiasm.

dan January 19, 2009 at 19:50

No question that Bi Won offers a more toned down version of Korean food than those spots found in the heart of the Korean community, but then, that’s why it’s there – to offer a taste of Korean food to the Argentine community. Given that the Argentine palate, in general, is not fond of spicy cuisine, they have no choice if they want to survive. They will, however, make it authentically spicy if you ask, and I’ve yet to hear from anyone Korean or not, that they didn’t like the food (and you can see from at least one past comment that one reader found it as authentic as they recall from back home). I have yet to encounter a time when they didn’t have kim chee and an array of other ban chan. As to the terminology, as I’ve said, I always thought exactly what you stated, but I’ve had more than one Korean person tell me that I’m simply wrong. No mistakes in communication or context, I’ve sat right there in a Korean restaurant, with Koreans, who pointed to all the various little dishes, spicy, sweet, vegetable, fish, meat – and said “all this together is called kim chee, not just the spicy cabbage dish, ban chan is just another name for the same thing”. I don’t speak the language, nor pretend to be an expert on the cuisine, but it’s a tiresome argument (most of which has gone on via e-mail outside of this page), and I leave it to be settled within the Korean community itself – work it out amongst yourselves and let us know when you’re all in agreement!

😉

Coleen January 20, 2009 at 18:01

Hullo!

I just went there and it was great! I was so happy… there was no one there at around 2 PM, which was kind of sad but apparently it’s vacation season so business is a bit slow?

The food was fully authentic, spicy, etc. Possibly because we were the only people there, with the owner sitting watching the passing of the torch to Obama in the main salon (I spoke to her briefly and they clearly saw I was Korean)…

We had the spicy miso stew (denjang jiggae, spelling varies) and bibim bop. They were very accommodating with my Argentinian boyfriend’s vegetarian diet needs, too.

We ate EVERYTHING.

Weird about the kim chee issue; I’ve never heard that kind of thing before!

Anyway, thanks for the detailed reviews of ethnic eats in Baires!

dan January 20, 2009 at 21:17

Now see, there you went and used “bop” after telling me to use “bap”. How can I win? 😉

I’m glad you liked the place, and yes, it’s likely because of being vacation time here in BA, and Bi Won isn’t likely a hotspot on most tourists’ lists. Very cool about the vegetarian accommodation, not something I knew about them, but that makes it an even bigger recommendation, as that’s something that comes up often with visitors.

randy c April 4, 2009 at 05:47

What colectivo or Subte from Recoleta would I need to take to:

Bi Won at Junín 548.

New to BsAs and need to get a fix of Korean food soon.

Thank you.

dan April 4, 2009 at 13:57

Randy,

That depends where in Recoleta you are – but most likely, you’d simply walk. Recoleta and Balvanera are next to each other, and the restaurant is basically right on the line between them. Probably the furthest point in Recoleta you could possibly be is no more than a 15-20 minute walk.

Miguel September 29, 2009 at 13:36

I went there a couple of weeks ago. The place is great and I also live in Recolta. You don’t need to take a bus! The place is very near the Facultad de Economia so anything that goes through Cordoba will take you but really, you can walk it.

Gabriel September 8, 2010 at 01:48

Is this place still open? I went to Junín 548 the other day around 2 PM and it was a locked door to what looked like an apartment building.

dan September 8, 2010 at 14:04

It was still open last week, sent some friends who were visiting there for lunch and they had a great time. It doesn’t look like a restaurant from the outside, just a plain wooden door. You just have to open it and go in – it is possible they’ve taken to locking it and you have to ring the bell – with the huge increase in robberies in this area, it may be a necessary security measure. Even the sign is barely noticeable, it’s a carved piece of wood, hanging above the door, about 8-9 feet off the ground. It also may depend when you went – they’re open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday, and Saturday dinner only.

Gabriel September 10, 2010 at 20:04

Thanks a lot for the quick response. I’ll try again soon.
BTW, your blog is wonderful and a great resource.

Choong Lee January 3, 2011 at 23:05

Hi Dan,

Thanks for this information. BTW, do you happen to know where there migh be a Korean grocery store in BA? My wife and I are visiting BA for a month January, and we’re trying to make some Korean food at our apartment (we’re korean).

Choong

dan January 4, 2011 at 00:19

There are two barrio correas here, one in Bajo Flores (a neighborhood, these days, to be very careful going into), and one in Floresta. There are numerous Korean groceries in each.

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