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.
This is now my third time coming here in the last seven days. Both my parents and I are now fans, and they suggested coming here for dinner.
It was our first time here during dinner and I can tell you, it makes a big difference if you eat here when there are few tables occupied vs when there are more tables occupied.
The interior is uber cute, obviously designed by someone with a background in design. However! Design in concept is good, in execution there are issues. Mainly that the simple decoration creates horrible acoustics. Seriously, it only takes 2 occupied tables to hit critical sound mass. Our humble human voices suddenly become like coyotes throwing sound against canyon walls. And we want TAP to be successful, right? The catch-22 is that if they’re busy, you’re going to be miserable eating in because you cannot hear a thing over the din caused by three people talking and a spoon clanking against a cup. For sake of our delicate flower petal earbuds, throw a piece of fabric on the wall.
Still, the food was good. Here’s what we got:
And finally, Pad Thai, the dish that forms the basis of comparison of all Thai cuisine. Definitely better than cheapo pad thai, which I’ve heard referred to as “noodles and ketchup.”
We probably should have eaten family style, but everyone just dug into the dishes each ordered. I don’t really know why that happened, maybe because we had so much trouble hearing each other, that it seemed easier avoiding discussion of sharing dishes. I had the pad thai, btw.
Saigon Noodle House can’t seem to cut a break in the online reviews. I’ve never had a problem with it, although I’m consistent in what I get – usually the dry vermicelli noodles with grilled pork and eggrolls.
And it’s a shorter drive to reach than going into Old Town for Vietnamese food there. Tom and I were in the area already for errands, so we came here for lunch.
Tom’s vegetarian requirements undoubtedly give him a different perspective on how good the food is, or the service. On this day, his spring rolls did not arrive until after he asked for them after receiving his main lunch, and the waiter asked about what he ordered to confirm it, like they’d forgotten. When they came, they had pork in them and he’s certain that’s never been in his spring rolls before. Not so cool for a vegetarian. He didn’t eat them after that discovery bite.
His main lunch was a vegetarian fried rice dish, which came with a bowl of soup. The soup was a simple broth, which he didn’t eat. The fried rice, he did eat.
Overall, I’d say the food is distinctly average. And when did “average” become bad? No, it’s average, like, on par. And they sure were busy – there was a queue within 10-15 minutes of us arriving.
Saigon Noodle House
It is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.
Since first checking this place out in 2007, I’ve figured out that getting dumplings successfully off the menu and into my mouth comes in one of two options.
1. Eat in, during off hours, but not too late when many dumplings might already be sold out.
2. Phone in for takeaway.
The queue to dine in is effectively mitigated in both cases, and there’s a good chance most everything on the menu will be available.
I’m not saying the ambiance is bad. I love the casual hole-in-the-wall feel, and that the folks running it have strong hurried personalities. It’s what makes the business special, and not perfectly homogenized corporate sludge.
But I do like to eat dumplings, and the above two methods have not yet failed me. Lessons learned!
Dumpling Inn (Kearny Mesa)