The Fast Foodie

Ilsong Garden
6905 Blanco Road
11am-10pm Mon-Fri; noon-10pm Sat
I hadn’t eaten Korean food in eons. The last time was in a steam-bath-like haze in L.A.’s K-town, the atmosphere abetted in part by several Korean beers as well as the smell and smoke of grilling meat. The memory is distinct only for its boozy opacity.

Yet, last week I found myself at Ilsong Garden ready to give it another go. But, I have to admit, I was ill prepared to do a review. (I guessed there would be garnished fried eggs, little plates of food, and grilled meat everywhere. In the end I was partly right, but back to my overdrawn setup.) Couple my lack of familiarity with Korean food with the fact that Ilsong Garden is a highly regarded, relatively expensive restaurant where a filet mignon costs $34.95, and one must wonder what in Helotes the Fast Foodie was doing there.

But at least I had a goal, which was to try and find the more affordable items on the menu for those on a budget. That’s a noble pursuit, I think.

The first step was to forget about the Japanese entrées. Though I would have loved the grilled freshwater eel filet for $20.95, or even a price-step down to the enticing steak teriyaki for $16.95, they fall outside of the Fast Foodie expense-account range. More importantly, it’s Japanese food and Ilsong Garden is known for its Korean food — especially since proprietrix Young Cacy left her beloved Go Hyang Jib and is focusing on this venture.

We ordered two entrées for dinner: the Bi Bim Bap in a hot pot — a big bowl of rice and beef bulgogi (thin strips of beef) topped with a fried egg; and the chicken bulgogi (“boneless, skinless chicken breasts marinated in a special sauce”) which was served on a hot skillet and looked a lot like chicken fajitas. I enjoyed the spice and complexity of the bi bim bap immensely, though my friend preferred the more straightforward chicken bulgogi. The bi bim bap cost $10.95 ($11.95 with the hot pot) and the chicken bulgogi was $14.95.

For me, the joy of Korean food is the pan chan, the vast array of little dishes that come with the entrée, which feature samples of kim chee, sweet potato, broccoli, bean sprouts, cubed daikon, and others I can’t even remember.

Lunch at Ilsong is a great option as well if one can make it there before 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The prices drop considerably, to about $7 and $8 for many of the lunch specials.

— Mark Jones