When I go out for Korean food in Ottawa, I always go for Alirang in downtown because they have never failed my taste buds…and wallet?. After learning that they opened a new location in Merivale, it was on my list to visit and see if it measured up to their old store.
On the same day, I conveniently planned for a haircut with my Korean hairdresser in Merivale, whom I had asked to join us for lunch. What better way to determine the quality of a Korean restaurant than to get the critique of an authentic Korean. To my surprise, she told me the Merivale Alirang was not as good as the downtown one. She had a better suggestion instead. Well, if she says somewhere has good Korean food, it MUST have good Korean food. Because she has eaten Korean food her whole life and knows what to look for, right? Ya! So, off we went to Mu Goong Hwa Garden on Rideau St?.
*There is parking behind the restaurant once you turn in the alley right before.
As we sat down, the waitress greeted us warmly. Turned out my hairdresser knew the restaurant owner. In my foodie’s mind, I think there is no connection more powerful than that?.
They started us with 3 side dishes – bean sprouts, baby bok choy and kimchi, and a small bowl of miso soup.
We ordered some banana flavoured makgeolli. Makgeolli is Korean rice wine, usually containing very low percentage of alcohol. This one was 4%. Make sure you shake the makgeolli before you pour because it is unfiltered and things can settle. It is typically drank with bowls instead of cups. It was interesting, a bit sweet and slightly tangy, and just a mild bit of bitter alcoholic taste. I’m not a huge fan of banana flavoured products, so this was ok for me, but next time I am going to try a different flavour because the rice wine part was tasty.
This plate of what should have been 6 mandus (somebody with Flash’s ability grabbed one before I could take a picture?) was on the house. Perks of eating with someone who has connections with the owner?, lol. The mandu was ok, I guess I prefer fully stuffed juicy Chinese dumplings.
Duk bok gi!! Our must-order from any Korean restaurants. This was the most basic spicy rice cake I have had. Normally, restaurants would embellish with either vegetables or fish cakes, but this one was just plain rice cake stir-fried in the signature red Korean sweet and spicy sauce. My boyfriend loved it because he hates fish cakes and onions and cabbages. For me, the rice cake was not as chewy as I would like it to be, though the sauce was on point.
I had the pork bone soup (gamjatang). It was a hefty stone bowl filled with meaty pork bone chunks and napa. The broth was hearty and delicious, with that distinct perilla seed flavour. You can tell they stewed the pork bones for a long time because they pulled apart very easily and the meat was so tender. I found it odd to see tofu in pork bone soup, but I ate them anyways. It didn’t really bump it up or down a notch. There was no potato in the soup though, like most other pork bone soups that I have had. Maybe the tofu was a replacement for the potato. Regardless, the pork bone soup was very appetizing at a very sizable portion!?
B had the kalbi baek ban. ‘Baek’ means white, ‘ban’ means rice, so this plate was kalbi on a bed of onions with a bowl of white rice. The beef short ribs were succulent and well marinated, and definitely a decent portion of meat.
My hairdresser ordered the kimchi ji gae. I tried a spoonful and was blown away by that intense sour and savoury flavours. When I return, I am ordering the kimchi ji gae!
One of the main reasons that my hairdresser preferred this place was because Mu Goong Hwa Garden doesn’t skimp on the ingredients. She was telling me how one restaurant gave so little amount of side dishes that she counted there to be only 3 pieces of kimchi. She exclaimed “who would only eat 3 pieces of kimchi with their meal??”.
Indeed, this place did live up to her description. The food tasted authentic and all the dishes were fairly big portioned for their value. I hope the presence of my hairdresser didn’t really influence their performance because I am coming back if I ever crave Korean food again?!
Mu Goong Hwa Garden
376 Rideau St.
Duk Bok Gi – $8.95
Kalbi Baek Ban – $15.95
Gam Ja Tang – $10.95