Dae Jang Kum (DJK)
Telephone: (503) 641-1734
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Rostra rating: 3
“Tucked between car dealerships, motels and all the other things that make Beaverton all that she is, you’ll find the best Korean barbecue experience you can get in the suburbs of Portland.”
MagoGuide cannot help but rise to the bait of such a statement, courtesy of Willamette Week’s 2015 Dining Guide. First off, Brooke Geery makes this sweeping assertion pretty much evidence-free and then fails to explain why DJK is such a standout. How does it do this iconic Korean approach to burning meat better than the many, many Korean establishments in Beaverton that offer much the same experience and cuisine? The reader is left to guess. How many Korean BBQ eateries were examined, over how many visits, in order to crown DJK so prominently? Ditto.
Certainly social media does not agree with WW’s uncurbed enthusiasm, but that could just be a sign of good gastro-investigation on Geery’s part. For all of our (sometimes very) critical monitoring of WW’s reviews and the process by which they are generated, I will always opt for information generated by a platform that eschews the wisdom of crowds for shoe leather and digestive track distention in order to determine what is good and what is not. But in the case of DJK in particular and Korean restaurants in general, we do not believe WW has done its homework.
First lets diagram this straightforward declarative sentence. Does Geery mean that there is better Korean BBQ in Portland itself? But there are only two Korean restaurants in WW’s 2015 Dining Guide, and they are both in Beaverton (the other is Nak Won see review).
OK, perhaps Geery really means that DJK has Beaverton’s largest collection of Korean grill tables that seat large groups? I infer this because other restaurants in Korea Town either have fewer than DJK’s fleet of dedicated grill tables deployed in a separate room (such as Nak Won) or will bring a grill type contraption to your table (as at Koreana and Jang Choong Dong Wang Jok Balor, or JCD), thus allowing groups of less than six to enjoy cooking their own food. As the result of a very short web search, we found even more restaurants in Beaverton that offer some form of Korean BBQ including Waba Sushi and Grill, Du Kuh Bee, Spring, and New Seoul Garden.
The obvious repost from WW would surely be that DJK was the best of the lot. MagoGuide’s recent visit, however, did not completely reassure us that this is in fact the case. To wit, the banchan was decent enough but not nearly as good as either Hae Rim or Nak Won.
Daikon and regular kimchi were good as well as the hot pickled carrots and daikon, but the rest were sort of … eh?
More importantly the BBQ was uneven. Team Mago plunked for Combo B on the extensive and increasingly expensive menu that included beef brisket, bulgogi (sliced tender beef), pork loin, beef short rib, soybean soup, steamed egg bowl, and steamed rice. The brisket arrived shaved paper thin but still frozen so that it steamed rather than grilled. Why is this a big deal? Well for one thing the brisket hits your plate under-seasoned and unpleasantly chewy. The boneless (?!) short ribs were also thinly sliced but tough. The pork belly and bulgogi, however, were quite good but no better and, at least in Team Mago’s corporate opinion, not as good as Hae Rim or Nak Won (again).
MagoGuide does agree with Geery that the steamed egg dish was very good, a delicate and perfect foil for the accompanying green salad.
The bean curd soup, however, was even better with a rich and spicy flavor profile. And one area in which DJK completely outshines either Hae Rim or Nak Won is their plain old steamed rice. This actually makes a big difference with Korean BBQ since a lot of things you cook end up atop a bowl of rice, DJK’s rice constitutes very nice attention to a detail that is often over-looked at VFM Asian restaurants that live or die by their cost of food.
In the end MagoGuide has a much larger bone to pick with Willamette Week than DJK. The Korean restaurants in Beaverton chosen for review in WW’s 2015 Dining Guide and its cheap eats little sibling seem to be the product of a random number generator rather than an exhaustive, multi-visit, culinary analysis of this vibrant niche in the Portland gastrosphere. Willamette Week should stop beating up their hopeless strawman, the lame stream Oregonian, concerning WW’s quantitative and qualitative superiority in restaurant reviews and focus on making their numbers reflect the deep local knowledge required by the dining public to effectively navigate greater Portland’s crowded and confusing restaurant space.