You know how bento boxes are like lacquered little jewelry boxes that look almost too pretty to eat? Their Korean counterpart ain’t nothing like that. Called dosirak in Hanggul, these boxed meals look pedestrian, perhaps even downright “fugly” in comparison. You get a flat, rectangular piece of stainless steel containing a side of rice and a heaping spoonful each of stir-fried kimchi, the sweet, dried little fish we call dilis, and a meat viand like Galbi Jim (Korean beef stew) or Samgyupsal (Korean grilled pork). Atop all this is a sunny-side up egg, and you’re supposed to eat by putting a morsel of each component in your mouth….before dumping in generous spoonfuls of what I can only describe as gochujang-flavored mayo, flipping the lid on, and shakin’ it like a Polaroid picture.
The result is a sloppy, gloriously ugly mess that looks like dog sick, though arguably the best-tasting dog sick I’ve ever had (not that I eat dog sick on a regular basis, mind you).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s talk about the magical place where you can get some of this excellent nosh. Kko Kko is Grace Lee’s latest baby. The Korean-born TV news anchor’s latest venture into the restaurant business was designed to be a break from the more traditional eateries in the city. It specializes in Korean chicken, and is known to give its diners an authentic taste of the modern culinary experience in Seoul.
The ambience certainly feels very modern. I’ve gone to the Ortigas branch twice: once for dinner and recently for lunch, and stepping into the clean, lively space always makes me feel like I’m in a hip and upscale chimaek bar in the Myeongdong shopping district. Though the place is rather small (I estimate its seating capacity at no more than 20 or 25), its high ceilings and soaring, wood-paneled walls make it seem so much bigger. The clear, circular lamps hanging from the exposed pipes above illuminate the dining space’s brightly-colored aesthetic, while the window-sized mirrors make it easy to sneak a peek at what the other diners are having, and on both of my visits, there was one dish in particular that appeared to be at every table.
Even as a half serving, the Chicken Cheese Fondue (Half: P658, Whole: P988) is a showstopper. Think mounds of spicy potato wedges, crispy onion rings, and boneless chicken chunks tossed in your Yang Nyum sauce of choice (Original, Mustard Garlic, or Spicy Cheese) surrounding a bread bowl filled with a creamy cheese fondue that’s got the same hue as sunset and lava.
We chose the Original variant of the sauce for our order, and the chicken chunks were tender, sweet-salty, and delightfully sticky. The fondue wasn’t as thick and gooey as I was expecting, but it was smooth and velvety nonetheless, with a subtle sweetness that I would associate with pureed squash. Pretty much everything on that plate was made even better after a brief dip in the cheese sauce’s sunburst-colored depths.
If you’re by yourself (or if you don’t feel like eating a mammoth plate of deep-fried carbs and protein), but would still like to sample Kko Kko’s take on the Korean chicken trend, I would recommend the Boneless Chicken Melt (Half: P308, Whole: P498). Lightly-battered lumps of boneless chicken thighs are tossed in your Yang Nyum sauce of choice (I went with the Oh-My-Garlic this time, I highly recommend it!), and then topped with a golden, slightly-charred puddle of melted Mozzarella cheese. It’s pretty much like a compact version of the famed Chicken Cheese Fondue, right down to the squash-like sweetness I detected in the former.
My absolute favorite item on the menu, however, would have to be the Beef Bulgogi Dosirak (P238). Oh, they have other variants of this iconic Korean lunchbox too, such as the Dakdori Tang (Spicy Chicken Stew) and the Galbi Jim (Beef Rib Stew), but the pan-fried marinated beef was so tender and flavorful, its honeyed zing a great foil to the creamy unctuousness of the rice once it’s been tossed with the egg and the sauce, among other things. Just writing about it now makes me want to run out to grab another one…or perhaps order a bento box at the Japanese eatery near my office and just shake it up to see what happens (oh, the horror!).
All in all, I would consider Ms. Lee’s new restaurant concept a success. Service was fast and friendly, the ambience was warm and pleasant despite the small space, and best of all, the menu was obviously well-thought of and equally well-executed. All that’s missing for me would be a good selection of Korean desserts, and then it’d have been a solid home run.
G/F, Sapphire Bloc, Garnet Road, Ortigas Center, Pasig
02 535. 7689