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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Who Makes a Good, Messy Burger and Mean Potato Chips? Biergarten Does.

UPDATE: I returned several times after my first visit and I must say, I've been consistently impressed with the food. Except for the short rib poutine whose meat wasn't up to par one time, the German Fried Rice, the Korean Burger, Short Rib Poutine and Fig Salad were all excellent. Check out the images and captions below.

I had my reservations about Biergarten because it initially reminded me of those grungy beer "hofs" in Korea's college towns where the Hites and OBs are watered down, food is a greasy mess and everything comes with an unappetizing green cabbage salad with a big old squirt of mayo or thousand island dressing. But I was pleasantly surprised.

I had read good reviews on Biergarten so decided to give it a try. That it allegedly had a good burger certainly nudged me further.

The first thing we got, freshly fried ultra thin potato chips, was pretty solid. They came with a ranch dressing-like dip that was not entirely necessary. The chips were salted just right and crispy to perfection.

Let's talk burger. I had the regular burger with bacon, lettuce and tomato. The first one was overcooked so I took it back. The second one was a lot better -- cooked medium rare. The flavor of the patty was good. While I rarely met a bacon strip I didn't like, I thought the layers and layers of super thick bacon were a bit much. I liked that they weren't too fatty but 3-4 layers of bacon took away from my enjoying the patty. Then I have a major beef about the bun. The first bun was good but the second bun was cold, dense and at complete odds with the decent patty. It was almost an afterthought that someone remembered to take the buns out of a fridge. The bun needs work. Brioche buns are the way to go.

Another surprise was the roasted chicken, which is usually pre-cooked and therefore dry. But this one was juicy and roasted just enough so the skin was browned and crispy. I didn't care much for the accompanying cabbage salad with some mayo squirted over it (yes, it reminded me of my hof experiences). I should say that I don't just hold negative feelings about my hof experiences in Korea. It's part of the nostalgia one feels when walking around college towns like Shinchon. But the food and drinks weren't really what I remember them for. I remember the gigantic 500cc glasses we did one-shots with and the French fries being the only remotely edible thing on the menu.

Biergarten is a vast improvement from those joints. I'm not crazy about the sports-bar-wannabe ambiance but I will head over there if Korea plays at the next World Cup (I'm not a big fan of women's soccer, sorry).

The beer selection was impressive and I was offered an IPA flight when I couldn't decide which IPA to get with my burger. In typical Korean fashion, when asked what were the differences among the various IPAs, the server pointed to one and said, "this one is the most popular everyone orders." Come ON. If you purport to be a true gastropub or microbrewery or whatever the moniker for good food and beer is, you need to train your staff so they know and are as passionate about beer as you. Otherwise, you lose credibility.

I probably will return to try some other dishes and beers but this place needs work in terms of having servers familiarize themselves with the menu and beer, and the ambiance is not as quaint as one would like, perhaps due to the larger size of the space than, say, Village Idiot.
German Fried Rice: Rice stir-fried with some serious German sausages and veggies, all topped with a super decadent gravy that bordered on curry (did we order curry rice?) and a runny fried egg. This one didn't last very long on our table.
Short Rib Poutine: Need I say more? This was insane the first time we had it -- perfect fries sprinkled with some blue cheese (or really stinky aged brie of some kind) and smothered with short rib gravy on top. OMG! I'm proud to say my dinner companion and I one time managed to finish this off. But the second time around, unfortunately, the short rib wasn't as good. It was smelly and I didn't have a lot of it (just the fries). Great concept. It reminded me of the barbecued pork poutine from Animal, another great institution.
The Chosun One: I liked the stir-fried kimchi and spicy aoili, as well as the pickled daikon radish (I've actually used this radish pairing for my braised oxtail sliders for a Bowl outing once to pretty delicious effect if I may say so myself). I didn't love the spam (I know. Spam is big in Korea. But I couldn't get myself to have the burger with it). Otherwise, a pretty decent if not overcooked burger -- maybe at the level of the Village Idiot.
Fig Salad: Refreshing and lightly dressed, with thin slices of persimmons at the bottom of the plate and a mix of arugula and frisee, sprinkled with walnuts, figs and Parmesan shavings. Highly recommended, especially effective as a way to balance out the high fat and cholesterol content of the other menu items.

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