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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Where's the Beef?

The only Korean food I've had here in Roanoke was at the Local Colors Festival and I enjoyed it very much. Recently a new Korean restaurant, Wonju, opened up so my daughter and I thought we would check it out for lunch today. Based on the raves it received on a local newspaper website, we were looking forward to it.

We shared an appetizer of fried dumplings. They were okay, but nothing to write home about and would probably have been tastier had there been some sort of dipping sauce other than plain ole soy. We decided we would both order something different so we could share. Not feeling very daring my daughter went with the safe chicken teriyaki and I branched out with a Bibimpap. She requested fried rice instead of plain white rice as her side, which caused the waitress to apologize as it would be a dollar more. I told her no problem.

For those of you like me who have no idea what a Bibimpap is, here is the menu description - "Served hot in an earthenware pot, rice, cooked vegetables and beef, mixed with red chili paste *Served with rice & dumpling." Sounded good. When the waitress brought it over I was surprised to be greeted with what looked like a dog bowl filled with rice and veggies and a fried egg on top of it. It didn't mention any egg in the description so I asked the waitress if she had brought me the wrong dish. She said no. I pointed to the egg and said there was no mention of that in the menu, although there was another dish that did have an egg on it which I didn't order. She said that's how it comes. Now that wouldn't have been a problem except the egg was mostly raw and slimy looking. I gag at the thought of eating a raw egg so asked the waitress to please have the egg cooked some more. No problem.

There were four little sampler side dishes they give you, none of which my daughter would try and all of which sorta tasted the same to me...some sort of chilipasted cabbage, some sort of chilipasted bean sprouts?, some sort of chilipasted cucumbers? and seaweed. I've put question marks because I'm assuming the red coloring was chilipaste as it tingled and I think those were the vegetables. I tried a chopstick of each one but didn't like any of them.

My daughter's chicken teriyaki tasted nothing like teriyaki so I'm assuming Korean teriyaki is different than Japanese, Thai or Chinese. The chicken itself was overcooked and of poor grade, definitely not white breast. The "fried rice" was inedible. It was really just white rice that was overcooked, as if it was sitting in a pot for a week, splashed with some soy sauce and a couple of canned peas, carrots and greenbeans thrown in.

When my dog bowl came back the egg was cooked but the bowl was no way "hot", tepid at best. I searched and searched for the beef, but couldn't find any. I called the waitress back and asked her, "Where's the beef?" as I moved the contents around. "There's a piece!" Was that a piece of beef? I don't even know. It tasted more like a half inch of shredded steak-um. I found two other pieces as well, so the total amount of "beef" in the dog bowl was about 1/4 of a steak-umm, if that much. The rest of the dish was 3/4's inedible white rice, and some shredded mystery vegetables. I did recognize a mushroom, but it was one of those slimy ones that I don't like cut into six pieces so I didn't bother eating it. In fact I didn't bother eating hardly any of it. Well, I did eat the now overcooked egg once I put salt and pepper on it. The waitress noticed and asked why not? I told her I was disappointed because I thought the dish was going to have more/some beef in it and I felt the rice was way overcooked. She said that was the way the cook sometimes does it. She also recommended I put the red contents of the plastic bottle that was on the table in it to give it flavor. So I did. Ouch! That must have been the same chilipaste that was on the veggie samplers. That, as they say, was that. By the way, not once was I asked if I wanted a refill of my drink. When you're serving such spicy food that should be a given.

My daughter did not like her meal at all either, "Local Colors food is waaaaaay better. We should have just gone for Thai" so she declined, as did I, a "to-go" box. The waitress said next time I should try something beef. Haha! I told her, "I thought I was! And by the way weren't we supposed to get dumplings with this?" She apologized again saying she forgot and said she would take one dollar off the bill.

We left and about a half hour later I needed to, ahem, use the bathroom, so we beelined home. We won't be heading back. I think I heard my husband breathe a sigh of relief. Based on the meal we had, and all the reviewers who've raved about this place, I am convinced that my taste in food, and oh so many other things, run counter to the vast majority of folks in Roanoke. Don't let this review stop you from trying it because you may very well rave about it. I wish anyone starting a business in this climate the best of luck. I'm sure Wonju will remain open for a long time as only the restaurants I like and think are good in Roanoke seem to disappear or change...the subpar ones linger on forever.


  1. Oh Elena, I'm so sorry! Every time I read your writing, I see you. It's like I'm there. When you described that egg, I cracked up! You need to do your own restaurant review column somewhere. This is good stuff!

  2. Welcome home Amy, so are you beached out yet? LOL. I was but after spending the last couple of weeks in this heat I'm ready to go back!

    Whenever I go into a restaurant I pretend I'm the mystery's a quirk I have ;)

  3. Red Jasmine in Vinton is the best Thai food in the area.

  4. Anon, Red Jasmine is where I had Thai food for the first time. We were hesitant to even go inside but it was between that place and the Mexican joint so we chose RJ. It was really good and my daughter, who objected so much to even trying Thai, is now the most devoted Thai fan in the family. I always forget about that place. Thanks for the reminder!