Lim Ga Ne
Lim Ga Neh
5529 Yonge St
Hours: Open 24 hrs Daily
Date of Visit: 2013-10-10
I had introduced some friends to Burger’s Priest and Millie’s Creperie a few weeks ago, and they insisted on reciprocating by introducing me to Sam Kyup Sal — Korean grilled pork belly lettuce wraps. They were very excited about taking me here, and I can now completely sympathize with their enthusiasm.
Through the evening (we arrived at 7pm), there would be a line of 2-3 groups out the door. There are regular tables, as well as elevated floor seating — if you have problems sitting cross-legged, you may want to insist on a regular table. Despite all the grilling, there isn’t an overwhelming aroma in the air (whereas your clothing will smell — deliciously, mind you — after a meal at Owl of Minerva).
We ordered only one dish — the Sam Kyup Sal ($30), listed under “Table Cooking (for Two People)”. The amount of food perfectly satiated the three of us — two gents and a lady who can eat their fair share. It comes with a handful of banchan / side dishes, a choice of Spicy Tofu stew (Soondubu Jjigae) or Soy Bean stew (Doenjang Jjigae), and two bowls of vivid purple rice.
First, a quartet of seasonings for your lettuce wraps: jalapeno slices, raw garlic slivers, spicy bean paste sauce, and a salted sesame oil. Wikipedia tells me that the spicy bean paste is ssamjang (쌈장), while the sesame oil is gireumjang (기름장). It wouldn’t be faux-pas to put the garlic or peppers on the grill, allowing for their sweetness to come out.
Our server then brings a heaping plate of chiffonade green onions and leafy greens (lettuce?), tossed with a light soy vinegrette. I was expecting a intense pungent bite from the raw green onions, but was delightfully surprised by how light it tasted — using shaved leafy greens in addition to green onions, along with the slight tartness of the marinade, turned this into one of my highlights of the meal. Mind you, this shaved salad is intended as a topping/seasoning on your lettuce wraps, not to be eaten on their own.
The lettuce might have been in short supply with roughly 8 leafs in total. I suppose having more meat than lettuce shouldn’t be something to complain about, but we definitely felt the converse and use the lettuce sparringly.
The banchan, or side dishes, were fairly standard, for the most part. I found the anchovies w/ peanuts to be my favourite of the bunch, with the strips of fishcake as a distant second. More on each dish below.
So yes, the anchovies with peanuts. I must have been experiencing a sodium deficiency, because these hard-fried anchovies, soaking in a salty, fishy marinade, really hit the spot. It was like a salty version of the Malaysian spicy anchovies that accompany a Nasi Lemak, with its pungent fishiness. I could easily have eaten bowls upon bowls of rice with just this banchan, and I’m not even a rice fanatic. It was very different from the usual sticky-sweet, fried-but-chewy anchovies with al dente soy beans.
The fishcake strips were lightly sweetened, and could easily have been mistaken for a dish of Buddhist tofu or gluten. They were not particularly outstanding — exactly the texture and flavour you would expect, but I enjoyed them.
Bean sprouts, pickled turnips, kimchi turnips, kimchi cabbage — all reasonably fine, nothing unusually memorable or offensive. Wiki tells me that the kimchi can be grilled/roasted with the pork belly — I may try that next time.
I can’t say that any of the items this evening were particularly spicy, including the raw jalapenos. Despite the copious crimson crushed capsicum on most of the banchan, they ended up rather tepid levels of heat. The spiciest item may have been the soondubu, and only because I ate the majority of the bowl.
The platter of pork belly (Samgyeopsal apparently means three layered meat – thanks wiki!) is set next to your table. There’s enough meat to cover the grill 2.5 times. The servers (no designated servers here – just whomever happens to walk by) will throw the meat on the grill for you.
As with most meats, the grill will tell when the meat is ready — if it sticks, wait a few ticks; when it’s loose, it’s cooked like goose! (what else rhymes with “loose”? I’m at a loss) We waited until the meat caramelized to a nice golden brown, but the servers preferred to peel the meat off once the pink is gone.
Visually, the meat looks very fatty, but the texture is nothing at all like chewing fat. It reminds me of Japanese charcoal pork belly, without the smokiness — at the same time, it reminds me of all the subtle meatiness of smoked bacon, without the salt. The flavour is very clean, especially since it’s pork.
While you could definitely pile a multitude of ingredients and seasoning onto the pork belly, I found that they would often overshadow the flavour of the meat. I liked dipping the meat sparringly into the salted sesame oil — salt and fat go well together, and the nuttiness of the oil complemented without stealing the show. I found that even using the lettuce would often dilute the subtle flavours.
The spicy tofu soup (soondubu jjigae) comes with two bowls of purple rice. Lim Ga Ne uses far more purple rice than my usual soondubu standby, Buk Chang Dong Soondubu. I loved how vivid the resulting colour was.
Don’t expect to find a treasure trove of ingredients in the bowl — our soondubu contained one large mussel. Lim Ga Ne’s soondubu uses a lot more garlic and zucchini than BCD, and I really liked the resulting garlicky stew, as well as the substantial textures as a result of the zucchini. Given that soondubu isn’t really Lim Ga Ne’s caling card, it’s a surprisingly competent showing.
Open 24 hours? Good to know that I can eat this at 6am, or even 4am 🙂