Bibigo–New Korean Bibimbap Chain Restaurant in Westwood
Popped into Bibigo, the newly opened Korean bibimbap spot in Westwood, for dinner. The two i’s in the name are typeset with an exclamation point and spoon, respectively, promising a level of excitement and usage of spoon utensils.
The quotable line from the CEO of the parent company (which also runs the Cold Stone Creamery chain in Korea) is that he intends for Bibigo to be the “McDonald’s of Korean food” is a catchy hook, if a bit misleading (and not just downright off-putting). Surely he only meant it only in terms of Micky D’s ubiquity and not it’s unhealthy shitty quality, dumpy decor and, unfortunately, fast food’s mass affordability.
PHOTO:Bulgogi hot stone bibimbap. How appetizing does that look?
Review rambles on with a few more lousy cellphone shots below.
While the “go” in the name apparently means an emphasis on takeout, the restaurant is one of those hybrid seat yourself/table side plate delivery that encourages dining in. The interior is slickly styled–minimalist lines, recessed lights, light woods, KCRW lite ambient piped in background music. They even have tables in the adjacent courtyard so you can dine al fresco alongside the cooks on cigarette breaks.
So you order at a register, draw a zero through the tip line on your receipt, take your number card to your table and promptly a man who speaks a little English will deliver your plates. Pretty much like Corner Bakery. The ordering is similar to the Chipotle left-to-right cattle line system, though you don’t see your actual bibimbap bowl being made, so you won’t get a chance to say, “Hey how about a little more carnitas in that burrito, hun?” as at that other restaurant.
A simplified menu breaks down “HOW TO ORDER” for us dumb Americans. Choose one from Column A (“Bibigo Rice,” Bibimbap or Hot Stone Bibimbap–basically all the same, except the 1st includes lettuce and the 3rd is served in the traditional hot stone bowl, which I chose); Column B (kind of rice–white, black, brown, barley & white); one from Column C (“topping”–bulgogi beef, chicken or tofu); and finally one from Column D (sauce–kohot, ssam, green sesame, citron soy). No egg topping option here, which one wonders if was a late scratch from the menu given the recent Stateside egg scare. There are some non-bibimbap entrees, including a Panda Express-looking shiny day-glo orange sweet & spicy chicken dish, mandoo dumplings, spicy rice cake and seafood pancake and japchae noodles, the last two of which I tried.
I can report the bulgogi in my bibimbap is satisfactory, if a bit on the sweet side with the odd bite tough and gummy in texture. I am not sure the hot stone bowl added much to the dish but a bit of fun burning my fingertips. Maybe I wolfed it all down too fast, before the rice could achieve any noticeable crunch from the heat. The noodles are an unphotogentic gloppy mess but tasty. It was a bit dumb to duplicate the bulgogi again on this dish, but there’s no option to get the noodles plain for a lower price. The pajeon seafood pancake, presented with a tableside Sterno flame, was top notch and a nice touch. Portions are on the small side all around. Complementary panchan sides like kimchi common in Koreatown joints are sorely missed here. The sauces are served in little ketchup-like packets, which for take out would be fine, but in the restaurant feels cheap, especially when it is ordered off the menu as an main ingredient, not a condiment. “Kohot” I guess is their own coinage. It is not “hot” in any sense and was just basically a dark syrupy vaguely Asian accented sauce that helps binds the mess in your bowl.
The thing that may be a deal breaker here for many and which may turn out to be a fatal flaw in long run, is that every single dish–apart from the dumplings side priced at $4.99–is priced at exactly $8.99 across the board. It seems severe or just plain clueless to not build in a bit of variation in the menu prices, even if just for psychological effect. How hard would it be to make one dish $8.49, another $7.99, etc, and still maintain profit margins. It’s probably average priced for a dine-in, authentic place. But for takeout that aims to be a fast serve franchise chain, it’s on the high side. I can’t see them taking root in this particular area without some lunch specials and student discounts. For about the same per-plate price at Gushi, the long standing beloved Korean shack on Gayley, you can get at least a couple of meals. Sure, the quality might be a shade lower, but quality is not the only factor to survival in Westwood.
UPDATE: Check out MidtownLunch’s Bibigo write-up with more, better photos.