Today’s lunch was with Tom, who is vegetarian. I’d been talking up the dolsot bibimbap and he was okay to give it a try. The normal dish comes with thin sliced meat, and I requested this to be omitted. The woman at the counter offered to take it one step further and suggested tofu instead of meat. Well, okay! And thank you.
We also ordered a round of spring rolls and she said this normally came with pork and shrimp. I asked for no pork and again, she offered to replace all meat with tofu. That sounds okay, too! So tofu in place of both the pork and shrimp. Here are the results.
The spring rolls were just fine! To me, perhaps a little bland but this wasn’t from any lack of meat, but because I happen to like fish dipping sauce and I don’t think we got any. Or maybe that’s not what is normally served with spring rolls. Who knows. Like I said, they were fine and were totally vegetarian.
Ok, I have shot myself in the foot on this one. The first time I got the dolsot bibimbap, the egg was lightly fried, sunny side up. The yolk was wonderfully oozy into the hot rice dish, but the white was cooked. The second time I went in, I tried to request the egg be completely raw, so it would all scramble into the hot bowl, but instead the dish arrived with the egg completely cooked, although slightly scrambled. Now, it seems to be my fate to have the egg always done the latter way. Still, it was good, and we got a nice crust to the rice dish and we totally ate every last grain in the bowl and it was a first time eating it for Tom, so we’re all happy.
Remember: dol sot bibimbap is NOT on the printed menu. If, and only if, it is not too busy in the restaurant, they can make it by special request and it costs a dollar or two more than the regular bibimbap.
Ever since I had the dol sot bibimbap on a recent roadtrip down south, I’ve been thinking about it. It was so damn good.
Unlike standard bibimbap, dol sot bibimbap is prepared in a very hot stone pot. It comes out sizzling onto the table, with an egg on top, which is stirred into the rice and goodies to cook it. Meanwhile, the rice inside the pot is frying, making a crisp layer against the pot, and this is eventually stirred up so that each bite – if you’re lucky – includes a little of this delicious crispy rice. It’s like fried rice with the dial turned up to 11!
I didn’t think the stone pot rice was available at all in Santa Barbara. Standard bibimbap, yes, but the stone pot takes more work and is probably a bit riskier to make. It’s a freaking hot stone pot, remember. Some person unacquainted with the dish is bound to lean against the pot and get burnt. I mean, duh, watch yourself. In the words of Randall, don’t be stupid! But I assume the worst of our nature. New China seems to be more optimistic.
However! The hot pot bibimbap is not on the menu, only the regular bibimbap. I had to ask for it. The regular price is also $7.25 and mine cost $9.25. A very good price for a big dish that would feed two of me. So, how does it sizzle? Let me show you. Note: I state the price as $8.25 in the video. It is a dollar more.
I sort of wish the egg wasn’t slightly pre-cooked, but not to worry there was plenty of gooey yolk to stir into the dish. I had to let it sit for a few minutes afterwards to let the rice in the pot fry up, and once it did, it was golden, lightly crispy and very delicious.
The bibimbap also included some fine sliced beef, bean sprouts, onion, carrot, squash, cucumber, and Korean chile sauce. On the side is a dish of kimchee and more chile sauce in a squeeze bottle. It’s the best Santa Barbara can do – as far as I know – for dol sot bibimbap. I don’t know anywhere else it’s available. Here’s a hipster photo of it after a couple stirs in the pot.
New China is a hodge podge of asian cuisines in a non-descript dining room, ordering at the front counter from a big menu posted on the wall. I believe it was started by a family of one ethnicity, and bought by a family of a different asian ethnicity. The second family retained the former menu, and added their own specialties. Then it was sold again, the third family retained the two former menus (each now becoming average) and added *their* specialties. The Korean food is yummy. The Vietnamese food is acceptable, but there is better in town, perhaps just further down the street. The Chinese food is…what you would expect for an all-you-can-eat buffet. Let’s just say it will fill you up. McMarko got the Vietnamese vermicelli, or bun, with grilled pork and eggroll, pretty standard. He didn’t finish it, and he can finish a lot of things.
Big props to New China for the dol sol bibimbap. But you gotta ask for it. And don’t be stupid and burn yourself and suddenly it’s not available for the rest of us, because that would be all your fault.
There are more fantastic Korean or other asian places to eat at in the Clairemont Mesa Blvd or Convoy area that I am sure any one I choose will be satisfying. But Do Re Mi was such a good experience last night, with the owners so obviously proud of their hospitality, that I wanted to share it with my friends. After all, they have the ability to go back again and again, all I needed to do was get their ball of interest rolling.
We hit up Do Re Mi before an evening party, in hindsight it probably wasn’t necessary to eat before the party, but since it was a dessert party, we thought we needed to eat something savory on our own beforehand.
On this night, I discovered the unbridled pleasure that is dol sot bibimbap. I’d never had this version in the stone pot before and I. Loved. It. But let’s start at the beginning.
While I had walked in with my heart set on dolsot bibimbap, Valerie and Rob had to explore the menu, and meanwhile we were plied with all the yummy banchan Do Re Mi’s so good at providing.
Compared to last time, the custard was more eggy, less spring onion-y, and it collapsed quickly. But it came to the table still bubbling, and was good.
Valerie selected a pork, tofu and kimchee dish. Now, based on the photos of the menu, this dish looked moderately sized, but in reality that photo was terribly misleading because it was 30-50% bigger than we were expecting. So much food. Too much! It was good, but we had to take home a lot of it. The tofu’s very thickly cut and was quite filling, and then there’s all the pork and spicy cabbage kimchee piled up in the middle. I barely ate any of it, actually, I was too excited about the bibimbap.
Rob ordered a broiled black cod. It was simply prepared, no big bells and whistles, which was great because black cod is sweet and heavenly on its own. It did have some bones, which required a little concentration on eating, and it was a thankfully small dish, because we had so much food on the table that we probably could have skipped this dish altogether.
And here is my new love, the dol sot bibimbap. Like fried rice dialed up to 11. The bowl was burning hot, which roasted the rice at the bottom to give it a crisp crust. Those are the morsels you’re after. The top is loaded with goodies like pork, green sauteed vegetables, spicy sprouts and a raw egg, which gets quickly stirred into the hot rice and scrambles itself from the residual heat. Each bite was heavenly, and my friends and I ate up every last bite, scraping the bottom of the pot. I still think about eating it.
Do Re Mi House (Kearny Mesa)
I KNOW that SB’s Korean food representation is sadly lacking, compared to the Bay area and LA hotspots. I feel like I need to insert that remark for just about any food comment in Santa Barbara. I mean, duh, of course that’s going to happen. Those are big cities and big communities to support it.
So when something gets my attention that’s good for *this* area, hells yeah I’m going to get excited about it. And it beats driving all the way to [insert big city name here].
Choi’s is one of those places I heard about, but did not visit for a long time. Why? Parking’s ass, thanks to Domino’s and South Coast Deli being in the same plaza sharing the same handful of parking spots. And I heard that the hot lunch items are only offered…you guessed it, at lunch. Which is when parking is double-wide ass. But I visited just before Christmas, and my secret was that I was parked elsewhere, but nearby, and I walked over.
What I like about Choi’s is that it’s run by a cute old couple, the few times I’ve been they’ve been nothing but friendly and helpful. Choi’s has all the Korean basics to get you by and for a town this size, it is enough and better than driving all the way to [insert big city name here] for some chile paste, banchan goodies and kimchee.
I was most intrigued to try their bibimbap, and I bought this, just a smidge under $8. The woman at the cashier is also the cook, so just people should just chill out and browse the aisles while she dashes around gathering up ingredients and helping people at the front counter.
The reward: a box with rice topped with a soft-fried egg, some slices of marinated grilled beef, and banchan-like items of mushrooms, greens, sprouts and pickled vegetables. Plus, the tub of Korean chile sauce. And some seaweed soup on the side. It cost about $7.75.
My egg was perfect, a little crisp around the sides while the creamy yolk oozed over the rice when I pierced it. I dumped it all into a large bowl, gave it all a big stir, and it was good to go.
Another item Choi’s offers for lunch is the Cal Bowl. This is essentially a big bowl of ingredients that go into a California roll: Krab, cucumber, avocado, rice and nori with a pinch of pickled ginger. This costs about $7.25 and the portions are quite generous, it makes a good lunch as well. I gave it a try, since I was picking up lunch for two and wanted a bit of variety. Of the two items, the bibimbap is the better pick, since California rolls are plentiful and bibimbap isn’t.
Here’s the assembly of one lunch plate, dividing up the bibimbap and the cal bowl. Just stir it up and consume.