When the friend who had accompanied me on my recent return trip to Jong-no Samgyetang told me that she had discovered another Korean restaurant that was a strong rival, I had to try it right away. After all, in my yearly roundup of favorite restaurants, I had proclaimed Jong-no Samgyetang to be at the top of my list.
The new contender was the Korean Barbecue Grill (KBG, not to be confused with a certain infamous former national security agency) in Saint Germain des Prés.
The simple, modern decor with splashes of bright red and yellow sent out good vibes, although it was a bit chilly in the dining room. No problem, the spicy food promised to warm us up. According to the menu, the meat-free Baiser du Dragon (Kiss of the Dragon) bibimbap is the hottest in the world, with a rating of 2.48 million Scoville heat units. Needless to say, not being masochists or out of our minds, we did not order it.
One of our fellow lunchers may have done so, judging by a severe attack of coughing that lasted quite a while and inspired several other customers to break into extended coughing fits of their own.
We wisely avoided the problem in our ordering from the fusion-ish menu (such ingredients as foie gras, burrata, and cheddar cheese are used in various dishes, and there is even a prawn “corn dog”), for which I let myself be guided by Terry’s advice.
We began with two shared starters. Deep-fried chicken is a staple in Korean restaurants, and here it is called “KFC,” for Korean fried chicken. It was beautifully cooked – crunchy outside and tender and juicy inside – but what really won my heart was the fragrant sauce of caramel of aloe vera honey infused with organic (so said the menu) Korean black garlic. Wow. It was like edible perfume. I spooned up the little that remained on the plate.
We had wanted to try the Korean tacos, but they didn’t have them that day, so we ordered the tatins mandus (Korean chicken dumplings with apple), one of KBG’s “signature starters.” They were fine but rather bland, and the serving of sauce, which added a bit of flavor, was rather parsimonious.
Following Terry’s strong recommendation, I had the creamy kimchi soup, which was all it was cracked up to be. It arrived at the table still sizzling and was wonderfully fragrant and creamy (coconut), mildly spicy and studded with carrots, green beans and lettuce.
Terry was a bit disappointed with her vegetarian bibimbap, which also arrived at the table looking great with julienned carrots on top, still boiling away in its stone bowl. She found it to be too sweet, maybe because it was dominated by carrots, and thought that a better mix of vegetables – perhaps the addition of spinach and mushrooms – might have improved it.
We cooled down after the heat of some of the dishes with a luscious dessert of litchi-flavored sorbet in a rich chocolate “soup,” supposedly hot to contrast with the cold sorbet, but that didn’t work out – the soup was cold, but we still loved it.
I was secretly pleased that KBG didn’t outdo Jong-no Samgyetang, but most of the creative dishes were seriously good, and I would definitely go back to try more of them and perhaps sample the Korean barbecue, which is served in a separate dining room. I bet it’s hot in there!
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