As a Korean-American, I'm naturally partial to the spicy, sinus-clearing cuisine of my heritage. Luckily, Telegraph Avenue in Oakland -- a mini-Koreatown -- is only a few minutes away from where I live in West Oakland. I'm able to get a fix pretty quickly when I'm missing my mom's home cooking.
But there's a new Korean restaurant located beyond the borders of Temescal, Be Bop, that's recently opened its doors in the past 2 weeks in Berkeley's Elmwood neighborhood. The name seems to be a jazz-pun that riffs off of the name of a popular traditional Korean dish, bibimbap, which means "mixed rice." The menu lists 17 variations of the dish, including "dol sot bibimbap," where rice and other ingredients are piled into a heated, stone bowl. (I should mention here that this is one of my all-time favorite Korean comfort food dishes to eat, so I'm pretty thrilled at the prospect of there being 17 options to choose from.) Then you slather on as much "kochujang," a spicy chili sauce, that you can humanly handle and mix it all together with your spoon. Then dig in; this hot and hearty bowl brimming with food will keep you sweating and gulping down big glasses of water for the duration of your meal.
My husband and I both ordered the "bulgogi dol sot bibimbap" (barbecued beef), and I was able to order mine with mixed-grain brown and black bean rice instead of the typical short-grain white rice. You could also add other non-traditional ingredients such as quinoa, walnuts, fruit and more. (Not sure how Mom would feel about these modern flourishes, but I'm willing to try these additions the next time around.)
We were served a variety of appetizers including two fine soups (one pumpkin, one radish), pickled vegetables and of course, kimchi. This pungent pickled cabbage dish is a must for any Korean table. Surprisingly, the restaurant only serves a milder incarnation: "baek kimchi," or white kimchi.
Korean restaurants usually cover the entire table with dozens of banchan, or small complimentary side dishes to accompany your meal, but Be Bop only offered several plates. But with our order of jeon, an assortment of fried delicacies, we wouldn't have had room for much more besides our main courses.
Our servers carefully set down the hot and sizzling stone bowls on our table (the bowls are placed on a thick wooden plates to protect the table from getting burnt). We were a little disappointed that the dishes were not served with the usual topping of a sunny side up fried egg, the yolk of which is cooked by the heat of the ingredients and the dol sot. Still, the dishes were delicious. The vegetables were fresh and well-cooked (each ingredient should be individually sauteed). And the housemade sesame dressing ("dul-kkae" sauce) was excellent. A complimentary sugary red bean gelatin dessert was served following our filling meal.
The restaurant's interior is a brightly-lit, newly renovated space that's best for groups of two or four. Everything on the menu is $15 or less. Be Bop also promises that there's more changes to come with their menu in the next few months, and that they'll be adding on more entrees. And they're still awaiting their liquor license, so no alcohol is being served yet.