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YiGah Restaurant (Natasha N.)

YiGah Restaurant: Warmth in Every Sense

In case you weren’t able to tell from my previous review with Bret of Urban Seoul or my review on BBQ chicken, I like Korean food. A lot. Tteokbokki? One of life’s purest pleasures. Anything involving kimchi? Sign me up. Drumsticks deep-fried in olive oil? I’ll take five to go, please.

Even with all this resting in my belly, I craved more. How? I sat with this question for hours that turned into days. How will I satisfy this craving under the guise of journalistic duty? It was in that moment, searching through Diamond Jamboree, when I saw it: YiGah Restaurant.

From descriptions I found online, they specialize in classic Korean comfort foods. Yelp reviewers have noted that their greatest hits include short rib soup, which is known as galbitang, the spicy beef soup and the bibimb’ap. The latter is a famous Korean rice dish where the ingredients can vary outside of the rice itself, although an egg, beef and vegetables are common additions.In my head, this all translated into a simple command from my brain: “Feed. Eat the food. Eat a lot of it, and do it now.” I’m not one to ignore a rational request, so through the doors I went.

The kind and smiling face of one of the hostesses approached me, welcomed me and showed me to to my seat, leaving a menu for me to peruse. This perusal didn’t take long; there are only 20 food options (they’re numbered from front to back), four drink options (regular and diet Coke, Sprite, iced coffee, soju and Hite beer), and no listed appetisers or sides.

I have no problem with this. As a matter of fact I think it’s great. I hate when I’m given 100 different options and only 20 of them are edible. There’s something to be said for focusing on your specialties, and I had a feeling YiGah would put in the effort to say it. All that, however, would be revealed once the plates hit my table.Speaking of that, I realized it was time to make a decision on what to order. The lack of excessive options made this process much easier, but I still had plenty to think about. 

That short rib soup sounded phenomenal in every description I read, and 75 percent of the people around me were eating it, so that would’ve made plenty of sense, but then I remembered an important factor of judging a restaurant: the budget options.

I use the word “budget” sort of loosely, here. None of the food prices fall below $11.79, the price for seolleongtang (hot beef soup with vermicelli), and they cap off with the octopus bibimb’ap at $16.95. Not unreasonably expensive, but definitely more of a weekly dinner option than a daily lunch move. 

Wanting to capture both ends of the spectrum, I landed on the spicy squid bibimb’ap ($15.49) and the hot beef soup with vermicelli. With the latter, you’re given the choice between sliced brisket, flank, intestine or a mix of the three for the beef. Failing to notice the mixed option until it was too late, I selected the sliced brisket with the help of the hostess, who noted it and the flank are the most popular selections with seolleongtang.

Before I experienced either that or the bibimb’ap, though, I would first receive three different kimchi sides, which are included with all soup dishes (along with a bowl of white rice). Specifically, I’m offered some baby bok choy, napa cabbage and radish, all three covered in a bright red chili paste.

As far as the feeling of biting into these, both the bok choy and napa cabbage have just right amount of subtle crunch. Also, while the kimchi cabbage is slightly spicier than my usual preference, I’m still more than OK with it.

The radish, even more so than the other two, feels like a hearty snack dish rather than a side included with a meal. This is especially great if you aren’t a restaurant reviewer and want to stick with one entree for budget reasons. 

While all three brought greatness to the table in their own ways, the characteristic that lifted them all up was the spiciness. They’re all pretty hot, but not just for the sake of being hot; there’s real flavor and nuance moving in step with the heat, and even though I get hiccups with excess spice, I dove back into the each plate with disorienting quickness.

Spicy Squid Bibimb’ap (Ryan Najjar)

Stopping myself, I decided to save some to have the soup, which arrived along with my bibimb’ap less than 10 minutes after I ordered it. The soup was on the other end of the table, and a large steaming plate of rice, squid, egg, vegetables and translucent noodles was placed right in front of me, so I figured I might as well start with that. 

Mixing all the ingredients together (some claim there’s a “right” way to do this, but they’re silly and you should follow your heart), I first tried to hack it with chopsticks, but my desire to have more of this in my mouth at once drove me to grab my spoon.

The spice of the chili on the perfectly chewy noodles and zucchini, the heartiness of the egg blended with the rice, and the umami brought forward by the squid came together to evoke one sensation in my heart. What was this sensation, you wonder? 

It felt like sitting on your favorite couch after months or years of being away from home. It felt like holding someone you love for a minute or two while you stare at a crackling fire, listening to the rain hit the roof above you. In other words, it felt comfortable. It was warmth in physical form.

It hurt to move to the seat that had the soup in front of it (these plates were so big that they were placed at either side), but I knew other adventures were to be had. Looking at the soup with no additions, it looked like a literal interpretation of the name: It was hot, there was beef in it, and soup was present. 

This soup was not meant to be eaten plain, though; the hostess kindly pointed me to a large bowl of scallions with a large spoon inside, along with some salt on the other side of the table. I mixed in a heap of the scallions, a couple spoons of salt, and a bit of the chili paste on the kimchi, and the soup looked truly ready. 

With all these pieces together, it became quite the enjoyable experience and a welcome guest at the table. The brisket was perfectly cooked, and the broth served as a great base for the added salt and spice. Rest assured, if you’re sticking to a budget, you too can have a wonderful dining experience at YiGah. 

That being said, if you’ve got a couple more dollars in the bank and want something more filling, I’d steer you in the direction of the short rib soup, which everyone around me confirmed was an otherworldly experience. 

This isn’t the flashiest or most modern restaurant in the world as far at atmosphere goes, nor does it have the most options, but it doesn’t have to be any of that. It just has to serve you really good Korean comfort food, and they do exactly that without missing a step. 

Plan your visit today!