Vv Magazine’s West Coast Editor Alex Gill reviews Chef David Wong’s bibimbap for Earls!
And you thought Earls was just a pick-up bar with a pretty face? The Vancouver-based chain restaurant, now rapidly expanding across North America, recently changed the way its test kitchen operates. Rather than working with a small in-house development team and the odd celebrity guest chef behind closed doors (as has been done for years), they recruited a group of chefs with diverse backgrounds to work collaboratively in an open kitchen in downtown Vancouver (905 Hornby St.). Guests can sidle up to a bar stool and order whatever happens to be cooking that day.
The best dishes from the test kitchen are rolled out to the entire restaurant as daily or weekly specials, and often tweaked along the way. If guests approve, the dishes are then introduced to all the flagship restaurants, then the entire chain and so on and so forth.
We’ve tried most of the winning test dishes and they’ve all been pretty good. But the new dolsot bibimbap, created by Chef David Wong (a former Canadian Bocuse d’Or contender) blew our taste buds. It’s not just good – it’s the best bibimbap we’ve ever devoured outside Korea. This is why we love it.
It’s a full-meal deal
The basic vegetable version ($15.00) is served in a sizzling hot stone bowl (heated to 700 F) piled high with zucchini, oyster mushrooms, carrots, a soft-poached egg, pickled cucumbers, onions, and chilies on a big bed of jasmine rice. For $4.50, you can add four ounces of sirloin, chicken, or prawns that have been marinated in super-pungent black pepper sauce and sautéed in soy-ginger vinaigrette. We dare you to finish the whole bowl in one sitting.
Don’t touch that stone bowl — it’s hotter than a fajita pan. Let it cool down while the servers mix it for you. First, they scoop up the crispy rice from the bottom (which is layered with sesame oil to get the rice all nice and golden), while popping the egg to emulsify the yolk. Then they pour in the special chili sauce (more on that next) and toss all the ingredients together. It’s far more moist than your average bibimbap.
It’s on fire
Not just the bowl. Impressive for a chain restaurant, this chili sauce doesn’t pull any punches. Thick and creamy, the sauce starts with a gochujang base, which is blitzed with ginger, garlic, black pepper, sesame seeds, sesame seed oil, sugar, and rice-wine vinegar. The servers pour in half a bottle and leave the rest on the table for those chili hounds that want to ratchet the heat even higher.
Some might say the absence of fermented cabbage makes this bibimbap inauthentic. But to be honest, who really likes that stuff anyway? The house-pickled vegetables and gochujang chili sauce give this dish a flavour profile similar to kimchi, minus the funk. Chef Wong explains that if he added kimchi, he would have had to cut back on the special sauce. Given that we’re now addicted to this sauce, we’re glad he didn’t.
Breakfast of champions
We took our leftovers (and a friend’s) home. It tasted just as good cold the next morning. Yes, we ate it for breakfast. The rice was still crisp and the flavours were even more intense.
The Earls bibimbap, currently available at the Hornby Street Test Kitchen, will be rolling out to the flagships (including Toronto’s King Street location) on March 26.
Have you tried Earls’ bibimbap? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or tweet us at @ViewTheVibe.