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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hana Korea vs. Etsu :: Baldwin Bibimbap Battle

 vs
I've been a loyal Hana Korea customer for years - weekly lunch specials, quick service, and a lovely hard-working couple has made them one of my Baldwin lunchtime favourites. The husband hustles in dining area while the wife bustles in the kitchen and it has been my go-to place for good bowl of dolsut bibimbap. However, a friend's raves about Etsu's bibimbap bowl and my great sushi experiences convinced me that a bibimbap blitz was in order! Who eats bibimbap twice for lunch? We do.


Hana Korea
Verdict: Cheaper, a tad tastier, 7th bowl is free!
Meal: Lunch
Price: $7.99 + tax & tip or $6.99 on Wednesdays
Location: 45 Baldwin St





Etsu Japanese Restaurant
Verdict: Better rice (wild /w peas), a tad healthier
Meal: Lunch
Price: $8.99 + tax & tip
Location: 45 Baldwin St





So what is dolsut bibimbap? Let's break it down with my Korean skillz which are pretty much limited to food vocab:

돌솥 비빔밥
돌 - "dol" - Stone
솥 - "sot" - Pot
비 빔 - "bibim" - Mix
밥 - "bap" - Rice/Meal

Can't get more straightforward than that! You get exactly what the name suggests - a meal in a stone bowl that you mix up. The heavy pot arrives sizzling at your table, which keeps your food nice and hot throughout your meal. Bibimbap is a very popular Korean dish - it's even served as an in flight meal on Korean Air:
Korean Air: Better than the usual sketchy airplane lunch!

Anyways, let the blitzing begin:

Hana Korea





A popular lunch item at Hana Korea, this bowl always comes out very quickly. Upon arrival, you simply dump the rice in and add however much hot pepper paste you like. Hana's bowl has a generous offering of vegetables, bulgogi, seasoned with a bit of sesame oil. If you prefer, you can get tofu instead of bulgogi (beef) for a vegetarian bowl.They also offer a frequent diner card - after 6 lunches, the 7th one is free (up to $6.99)!
Banchan :: Chapchae, potato, cucumber, kimchi




After Hana, we promptly headed upstairs to try Etsu's version:

Etsu Japanese Restaurant

Etsu's bibimbap arrives sizzling with the rice in the bowl which makes it a crisps it up near the bottom. The white rice is also mixed with a bit of wild rice and peas which I enjoyed (but my dining partner disagreed - he wasn't a fan of the added taste/texture).

While we didn't inquire, given their excellent service and willingness for substitutions in the past, I'm sure that they would be able to provide a vegetarian option upon request.

Banchan - chapchae, aged tofu, kimchi
I prefer Hana Korea's chapchae - like the bibimbap, Etsu used less sesame oil. In both instances, I found the flavour lacking without it. I also prefer Hana's kimchi, however Etsu's deep fried tofu was very well done, yum. I wouldn't mind ordering it as an appetizer the next time I go in. In terms of quantity, the banchan offering is more or less the same.

Yogurt was new - I'm used to receiving watermelon and green tea ice cream.




Comparing banchan:
Hana Korea

Etsu

From the pictures, you can tell that Etsu's chapchae is relatively dry as they use less oil - my fat kid personality likes Hana's version a lot more. Both Hana Korea's potatos and Etsu's agedashi tofu with terriyaki sauce are yummy, and between the two I would say they're on par for banchan.


Neither bowl of dolsut bibimbap is of bad value - however considering:
  • I don't need dessert (yogurt, watermelon, or scoop of ice cream at Etsu)
  • Hana's lower price point, especially on Wednesdays
  • Hana's 6th bowl of bibimbap will be free (and yes, I will frequent enough to receive at least one!)
  • I enjoy a stronger sesame taste in my dishes

I will be enjoying my dolsut bibimbap at Hana Korea on Wednesdays, and rolls and sushi lunch specials at Etsu on other days. However, to be fair, you should choose Etsu if the following appeals to you for the extra dollar or two:
  • Rice is served in the stone bowl - becomes a little crispy near the bottom  due to a bit of sesame oil (although, if you like controlling your rice portion it's easier to do so at Hana)
  • White rice mixed with wild rice and peas
  • Less oil, for those who are health conscious, deep-fried tofu aside  - not sure if agedashi is offered every time though!

Both restaurants provide excellent service and a fair deal for lunch. However, my dining companion and I agree that while both Hana and Etsu make a great bowl, the flavour of Hana Korea's is slightly superior and it's the choice for someone on a student budget.

Winner:
Hana Korea
Verdict: Cheaper, a tad tastier, 7th bowl is free!
Meal: Lunch
Price: $7.99 + tax & tip or $6.99 on Wednesdays
Location: 45 Baldwin St








But still good:
Etsu Japanese Restaurant
Verdict: Better rice (wild /w peas), a tad healthier
Meal: Lunch
Price: $8.99 + tax & tip
Location: 45 Baldwin St





Hana Korea on UrbanspoonEtsu Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

5 comments:

Me ... said...

Omg thank you so much,
I have a korean resturant right across the street, and I always wondered what this bowl was ... though I think thats called bhan mi ...

Erin said...

That sounds Vietnamese...! I think there's a Viet sandwich store in Chinatown called that...

Me ... said...

yes you are right ...
I got confused ... that is the viet sub ... ha ha

Erin said...

haha! well did you try the sub? :P

Me ... said...

yes you are right ...
I got confused ... that is the viet sub ... ha ha

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