During the summer of 2012, Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods" shows descended on the Baltimore region to explore the food scene — including an illuminating visit to several Korean restaurants in Baltimore and in Howard County.
Though the show raised the national profile of Baltimore's Korean food community, the cuisine still hasn't experienced a major explosion in local popularity. Yes, kimchi has become something of a staple for people who love food. But while Vietnamese and Thai restaurants regularly draw diners that don't consider themselves particularly adventurous eaters, the region's Korean spots still fly slightly under the radar. That should change.
Be-One Korean BBQ in Station North, which opened in mid-2012, is one of the city's newer Korean spots. With excellent food and friendly staff, it demonstrates why the cuisine as a whole deserves more attention from Baltimore diners.
Scene & Decor When we arrived at Be-One, around 6 on a snowy Monday night, only a handful of tables were occupied; over the next hour, the restaurant steadily filled.
The decor is straightforward and unpretentious, with photos of menu items and posters advertising Korean beers adorning mustard-yellow walls. Because much of the cooking at Be-One is done at the table itself, by the diners, the tables are outfitted with burners and some sit under hoods designed to draw smoke from portable tabletop grills.
Appetizers Before our DIY cooking began, our waitress filled our table with about a dozen small dishes of complimentary appetizers, including potato salad, seaweed and kimchi. The collection dazzled us with flavors ranging from spicy to fishy — and signaled that we were in for a whole lot of food.
After the array of small plates, a kimchi pancake ($6.99) felt superfluous but it was tasty enough that we were glad we ordered it anyway. The small version was the size of a dinner plate, with an onion and kimchi flavor that was powerful but not overwhelming. We loved it — both at the table and reheated for lunch the next day.
Entrees The pork shabu-shabu ($14.99), or hot pot, proved to be a lot of fun. Just after we ordered, our waitress placed a metal pot of broth on one of the table's burners, turning the heat high enough to bring the liquid to a rapid boil. She then delivered a plate of pork, raw and ready for cooking, plus another dish loaded with a variety of different ingredients, including one beautiful shrimp, an egg, bok choy, cabbage, rice noodles, tofu, mushrooms and fish cakes.
After coking the ingredients in the hot water, we mixed them with chili and peanut sauces, available on a small table at the back of the restaurant. All were fresh and lovely but the pork, especially, was very likable — and the process was entertaining.
A bowl of short ribs in beef broth, galbitang ($15.99), was steamy and aromatic. The meat, cooking in the subtle broth with scallions and noodles, was tender and fatty.
Because only one person at our table ordered a barbecue dish, the kitchen prepared it; other tables with more than one barbecuer cooked their own meat on tabletop grills. That dinner, the joomuluck ($26.99), or ribeye served over onions and topped with scallions, was a favorite thanks to the meat's sweet and tangy marinade.
Drinks The food's intense and often spicy flavors lend themselves to light, easy drinking beer like Cass lager ($3.99). Though not terribly challenging, the beer was refreshing and didn't compete with the food.
Service During our visit, two waitresses juggled all the tables in Be-One, tag-teaming each group. With us, they were patient with instructions, helping us navigate the hot pot and making sure we had all we needed throughout the meal.
The only lag came at the very end of the meal, when we found ourselves waiting for the check. There was good reason for that wait, though: Both waitresses were busy shuttling food from the kitchen to the restaurant's other tables.
Dessert Be-One does not have a dessert menu but they do offer a complimentary sweet at the end of the meal: a small container of drinkable Korean yogurt, as sweet and tart as Valentine's candy.
The lack of dessert was something of a relief. Between the appetizers and the variety of hot-pot ingredients, we were already overwhelmed by the amount of food. Next time, we might not order so much. But we feel certain that what we do order will be excellent.
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