Smile Politely

B Won wins Korean cuisine

I decided to bring my family along to try this new-to-us place: B Won Korean Restaurant. When we walked through the doors we were greeted warmly by the host who also doubled as the server. Not ideal, but he handled it well. We were seated in the corner by the windows and began to soak up the atmosphere. The walls are white and decorated with black and white photos and the style is simple and contemporary. I was a bit surprised by the music though. I was hoping for some soothing conversational music, but instead I got a slew of top forty pop hits. I didn’t let that spoil the mood. Everyone was still excited about the feast that was about to be set before us. It was time to peruse the menu. 

The menu was extensive and needs a bit of explanation if you’re not familiar with Korean cuisine. My husband ordered hot tea for us and water for the kids. The tea was warm and earthy, and perfectly satisfying on such a cold blustery day.

The host was happy to tell us all about the variety of condiments. We had a dish of soy sauce for dipping the dumplings, fermented eggs, kimchi made with Napa cabbage, seaweed, sliced pickled seaweed, and pickled radish whole and sliced. Each one added a different spice and texture when added to the dishes.

The dumplings ($9.95) were hot and golden brown. They had a nice crunch on the outside and the filling on the inside was seasoned well. Although they were fried, they weren’t too greasy.

Our main dishes that were brought to the table were fragrant, hot and steamy. I wafted the spicy cloud to my nose and savored the smells of spicy peppers, fish sauce, and fresh veggies.

The first dish we tried was the Mae-Woon Dak Bok-Eum (spicy chicken with veggies, $11.95). You could see the bright red pepper paste slathered all over the juicy pieces of meat. If you like spicy dishes this one’s for you! I almost broke out into a sweat by the time I cleaned my plate. Although it was very spicy, it didn’t over power the taste of the cabbage, zucchini and other fresh veggies. They still had a delicious bite and added nice texture to the dish.

Next we tried the Bul-Go-Gi Bi Bim Bop (beef, egg, and veggie bowl, $11.95). It was brought to the table in a heavy stone bowl. I could hear the beef sizzling against the piping hot stone. An intoxicating aroma of sweet and savory smells surrounded us. When we looked down at the dish all we could see was a generous helping of fresh cabbage. My husband and I looked at each other in bewilderment until the host came to the table and saw the looks on our faces. He picked up the tall red bottle of hot sauce and proceeded to drizzle it over the entire surface of the cabbage. As he used a large spoon to scoop up the bottom goodness of the bowl, I could feel my mouth start to water as each vibrant layer was revealed. You could see the cabbage wilt and the textures change as the immense bowl was blended together. The beef had a pleasant sweetness and the veggies added bright freshness to the dish. The fluffy white rice at the bottom of the bowl soaked up all of the delicious flavors. It was a fun and flavorful bowl of food!

The last dish we tasted was the one I was most apprehensive about, and the one I ended up delighting in the most. The Chap-Chae (beef stir fry with sweet potato noodles, $11.95) was a triumph. I have never enjoyed the flavor of sweet potato in anything, and I thought I never would… until now. The firm texture of the noodles was a nice surprise. There is nothing worse than over cooked noodles. The beef had a lovely sweetness and no heat at all. The crunch of the sesame seeds sprinkled over the top was a satisfying textural surprise. The vegetables were cooked nicely and had a great texture as you bit into them. This was my favorite dish of the day.

The food at B Won was fragrant with flavors new to me, and the portions were abundant. My husband and I were impressed by how much food we got for the price. I will definitely be back to try more of this delicious fare.

B Won Korean Restaurant is located at 2006 South Neil Street, Champaign, and open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

All photos by Rebecca Wells. 

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