Monday, October 15, 2007

Bulgogi on Wheels?

“Bulgogi Cart”
14th and L street, NW
Washington, DC

2.5 out of 5 grains of rice

Having whetted my appetite for Korean with Annan-gol last night, I was convinced by a colleague to double up and try the street Bulgogi cart in Washington. As has been noted by the much referenced Post article, DC is lacking when compared with other major U.S. cities in offering good, safe, and diverse street cart options, and it goes without saying that we ain’t got nothing on places like Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing when it comes to street food. No, DCers like their four walls and a pane of glass between where they walk and where they eat.

So, being the Asian food addicts that we are, off we went to “Lst vending @ 14th Street.” No, we didn’t make this name up . . . this is the name of the yellow painted, self-contained food kiosk as proclaimed on their business cards. The menu is short and sweet:

Regular or spicy bulgogi (marinated beef) on rice
Regular or spicy chicken on rice
Regular or spicy bulgogi sub
Regular or spicy chicken sub

(They also advertise breakfast, coffee and chicken noodle soup, but they may have to wait a while.)

My colleague/Korean food consultant and I both got split plates, mine the spicy bulgogi and chicken combo, and he the spicy chicken and regular bulgogi.

Both were served over rice, with a small lettuce salad and your typical Asian sesame dressing, as well as a helping of the standard napa cabbage kimchi. The food is cooked on site – they have a propane set up and two burners. The two-person operation works quickly, with the woman (maybe the mom) cooking the food and the man (maybe the son) dishing out the plates and making small talk. This isn’t your typical Seoul street food scene, where the Korean businessmen congregate for late night spicy chicken and soju, but it clearly works for the location.

Both the spicy chicken and spicy bulgogi were quite tasty. It is not really that spicy, and I suspect they have had to tone down the spice for the Washington taste buds. They have a lot of the dry red pepper (gochu) there, so it shouldn’t be too hard to ask for a little extra kick. The regular bulgogi lacked some of the garlic/soy punch that you typically associate with bulgogi, but wasn’t overly oily and had decent flavor. The bulgogi is very tender, having just been cooked and served onto your plate, and not fatty at all. Sometimes, bulgogi is stringy and a little chewy, but not here. The chicken is also very tender and tasty, in nice sized pieces.

The rice is also good, with a little starch/sticky texture. You also get a lot of food for your money - $6.75 per plate. Kimchi is a little underpowered and clearly not grandma’s recipe, but fresh and nicely complementary to the bulgogi.

Overall the food was very decent , deserving of a 2 grains of rice rating. The extra half grain goes for location/convenience, essentially doubling the downtown Korean lunch options (the other being Yee-hwa). Their business card also claims they deliver on orders over $20, which, if true, is a significant bonus. And finally, unlike the case with many Korean restaurant experiences, where the service is tepid at best, the two cart operators are exceedingly nice, with smiles and hellos for the regulars. I suspect I’ll be one before too long.