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Boo Cho vs Buga Korean BBQ (San Diego)--very long report

daantaat | Sep 4, 200512:59 AM

Finally got a chance to revisit Boo Cho after Kirk K’s post about a possible downhill slide with the change in ownership. Six of us ordered bulgogi, kalbi, black cod in spicy sauce, another unknown fish in spicy sauce, bi bim bop, nyung mung with hot sauce and spicy fish soup. The panchan was very good, one of the favorites was dried small fish (I forget the name) stir fried in spicy chili sauce. Nice, chewy and spicy! The rest of the panchan included the usual assortment of kim chee, daikon in salt water, potato salad. The bulgogi was pretty good, although it seemed like it could use a better marinade. I can’t clearly remember their bulgogi before the new owners, but it seemed to lack just a shade of taste compared to other bulgogi I’ve had. The kalbi came pre-cut off the bone in 1 x2 inch slices. Somehow I missed the kalbi b/c I was busy eating everything else and got too full. Everyone else liked their kalbi. The black cod was excellent, fish melting in your mouth—tasted like it always did. The whitefish in chili sauce was also very good. Firmer fish flesh than black cod. Bi bim bop was also very good. The only thing I was missing for the bi bim bop was the sweet chili sauce that they used to give to you to squirt on it (didn’t ask for it, so maybe it’s available on request). We were getting extremely full by the time the nyung mung arrived, so it may have altered the perception of the dish. Big mound of buckwheat noodles in a cold, sweet and spicy chili sauce. Overall quite good. Only negative was that I didn’t get to mine soon enough so it became a large sticky mound of noodle. I’m not sure if it was supposed to have more broth in it to help decrease the sticky effect. Spicy fish soup had great flavor with lots of vegetables and chunks of white fish. They served a cinnamon-ginger cold tea at the end, which was very refreshing after all that hot food.

The bulgogi and kalbi fed 4 of us comfortably. I’ve never eaten with more than 4 meat eaters at Boo Cho, so I can’t remember if their porton size is different or not. I do know they used to cut the kalbi at the table. They do serve the lettuce and carrots, dok bossum style if you ask (I think). Most of our party was not Asian, which prompted a lot of “do you really want this spicy?” and “do you want your meat grilled in the kitchen” type of questions. The usual Asian assumption that Americans “don’t know how to appreciate real Chinese/Japanese/Korean/Thai (etc) food.” So I think that may have been why we didn’t get served the lettuce and carrots. Not that any of us missed it with all that food!

They did screw up our bill at the end and originally charged us 3xs what it actually was. They immediately corrected it when we pointed it out to them.

Curiously, it was on the emptier side for a weekend night. Not sure if that was just that day or if it is a sign of the times. We’ve been there when it’s been crowded and other times when its’ been emptier on the weekends.

Also got to (finally) try Buga, after all those posts and Kirk K’s wonderful detailed post w/ pictures! The main thing I wanted was nyung mung b/c it’s been so hot outside. We did kalbi, nyung mung with Asian pear, beef and cucumber in broth and spicy shredded beef and vegetable soup. The panchan was very good. Some of the dishes (dried pressed tofu, kim chee) seemed to be fresher than other places we’ve been to. Potato salad was replaced with marinated boiled potato in some kind of oil-based sauce. I couldn’t figure out what the sauce was and thought it was “ok.” They had a stir fried seaweed with sliced jalapenos that was VERY good. Kind of salty, peppery and crispy-chewy. Kim chee was very fresh and crunchy. Big difference with the kalbi here compared to Boo Cho! The meat is a thicker cut which lends for a juicier, tastier piece of meat. They cut the kalbi off the bone at the table and then cut it into pieces on the BBQ. Nyung mung was very good. We had them put the vinegar and mustard in the broth that made for an interesting flavor. Nice big bowl of buckwheat noodles floating an a generous amount of cold broth. The only negative was that it seemed like the noodles weren’t as chewy as I like them, not sure why. We were stuffed by the time the soup came around but did pick at it for taste. Really nice chili and beef flavor to the broth with lots of vegetables, egg and shredded beef. Took the whole thing home with us. They also served cold cinnamon-ginger tea at the end.

Curiously, they serve Sriracha hot sauce for the dipping sauce for the BBQ instead of the dark red sweet-hot Korean chili sauce. I think the Korean chili sauce works better with the meat b/c there isn’t the vinegar kick that can overwhelm the meat.

The place was packed when we got there and there was a small wait on our way out. Mostly Korean with a few tables of Caucasians here and there.

So between the two places?? A close call. We miss the charcoal grill, sweet hot chili sauce and fermented chili-soy bean paste at Buga but like the kalbi and nyung mung. Maybe more trips to both places will illuminate more differences.

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