By Mary Cobbler
In Pasadena, we tend to gravitate toward the same categories of food: crabs, burgers, buffalo chicken wings, crabs, the occasional Mexican or Italian dish, and did I mention crabs? At least that’s the case for me. So when I heard I was covering the menu at Bonchon, a new Korean restaurant in Pasadena, I was a little intimidated. Would this be something I could handle? Something totally unfamiliar?
When I arrived at Bonchon — and especially once I tasted the food — I realized that all of my fears were unfounded. Now my only fear is that I won’t get another chance to eat Bonchon’s chicken wings again in the near future.
Bonchon is tucked away in the Festival at Pasadena shopping center, in the same complex as Weis, BJ’s Wholesale, and several franchise companies and local businesses. My family, along with five of our friends, decided to go out to eat after church on a Sunday afternoon. We filled several tables at the narrow restaurant, but the hostess and servers were nothing but pleasant to us as they combined tables and brought high chairs to accommodate us. The restaurant has a chic Asian vibe, but it also has televisions playing showing sports.
On the menu, there was no clearly labeled section for appetizers, but upon the waitress’s recommendation, we ordered a round of potstickers for the table to start us off. Potstickers come in two flavors — spicy and garlic soy — and we chose to get a combination of the two. I’m a bit of a potsticker fan, but they are usually mushy or burnt when I make them at home. These were outstanding potstickers: lightly fried on the outside and filled with hot, soft veggies and meat on the inside, then brushed with a flavorful signature sauce.
The pictures on the menu had piqued my interest in trying the diverse array of entrees. A few of them looked familiar — chicken sliders, Caesar salad, and fried rice punctuated some of the harder-to-pronounce options — but most of the entrees were authentic Korean favorites. Bulgogi (a thinly sliced, marinated ribeye), bull dak (chicken stir fry), tteokbokki (rice cakes and fish cakes in spicy sauce and cheese), japchae (glass noodles with veggies and beef), and, of course, kimchi (a national Korean dish of cabbage and chili peppers) were some of the more exciting options on the menu.
I debated between the Korean tacos and the fried chicken combo, but after asking a few regular customers who were eating at the same time as us, it became clear that the chicken wings were the fan favorite. The customers insisted that I try the fried rice, too, as that was supposed to be a house specialty, so I ordered the rice alongside a combo of fried chicken wings and drumsticks.
The only negative aspect of our restaurant experience came with the timing of the delivery of our food. The potstickers actually arrived after our entrée even though we requested them as an appetizer. Half of our party’s entrees came out quickly, and the other four entrees came out 10 minutes later, so they just had to sit and watch us eat while they waited for their food. This was particularly difficult for the hungry children we had in tow (thank goodness for tablets that distracted them). A couple of dishes were lukewarm when they should have been hot. These were just logistical issues we noticed in ordering, but it is important to note that the menu states the chicken wings need up to 30 minutes to cook. We didn’t see this when we first came to the restaurant, but when we noticed it, we wished we had called ahead to order.
In terms of taste and quality of entrees, we were thrilled! The chicken wings are nothing short of incredible. They were gigantic, full of meat, and fried in just the right amount of breading. Some chicken wings have lots of mushy, oily breading, and others have virtually no breading, just sauce. These wings were everything that wings should be! The breading was crispy and exploding with flavor (we again chose the combination of half spicy, half soy garlic). The drumsticks were even tastier in my opinion, although the dishes were similar. Bonchon doesn’t mess around with spice — if you order it spicy, you will breathe fire!
The chicken wings offered plenty of food to fill us up, but I was glad we ordered the rice to get a different flavor dimension. We chose the seafood fried rice, but we could have chosen plain, chicken, bulgogi, or kimchi bacon as well. The rice was savory. Shrimp, scallops, soft bell peppers, scrambled egg, and scallions transformed the dish into a rainbow of colors and flavors. We mixed in some yum-yum sauce to up the flavor even more.
We could barely breathe by the time we ordered dessert. Mochi ice cream is the only dessert offered at Bonchon, although it comes in a variety of flavors, including vanilla chocolate chip, strawberry, chocolate, and green tea. You can choose three flavors. If you’ve never tried mochi, you’re in for an experience. Mochi is a gel-like, sweet rice patty, filled with ice cream and drizzled with syrup (at this location). The consistency is different from any other dessert and you’ll either love it right away or it might have to grow on you. I’m one of those people who is still making up my mind, but others at the table who love mochi said that they really enjoyed the flavor and consistency that Bonchon offered. It was certainly a pretty dish, and the mochi is different from most desserts in that it is creamy but not overly sweet, a nice complement to the spiced, savory foods enjoyed the rest of the evening.
For the potstickers, the medium wing/drumstick combo, the fried rice, and the mochi, we paid $52 plus tax and tip. We got a lot of food for our money, however, and were snacking on drumsticks when we got home. Lunch specials available Monday through Friday offer specific dishes ranging between $8 to $10, so it’s possible to dine for less at Bonchon. One thing to mention: You may want to research more if you have any food allergies — we had someone in our group with a severe gluten allergy and there were few options for him.
Maybe you’re hesitant to try Korean food as I was. Take my advice — don’t wait! Try Bonchon this week and add some new, exciting food to your usual weeknight lineup!