Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Restaurant Review: Garobee

Not long after arriving here I heard about a tasty vegetarian buffet just off the main street of Gangnam, but the acquaintance who told me about it couldn't remember exactly where it was or what it was called, so I sort of forgot about it. Luckily, Mipa (or Alien) wrote about it some time ago, and gave very clear directions as well. 

If you're at all familiar with walking around Gangnam, you know what I'm talking about when I say there's a diagonal uphill street near a very busy crosswalk with a Curry Pot and Coco Ichibanya at the top. There are tons of restaurants and bars along this busy side road, and all you have to do to find Garobee is turn left at the Curry Pot right when you get to the top of the little hill, and it'll be on your right on the second floor of a building almost immediately. 

The price for lunch on weekdays is 15,000 won. At all other times, it's 17,000 a head. Maybe a little steep, but totally worth it when you don't feel like cooking but do feel like variety and going back for as much as your stomach can hold.

The salad bar here is (predictably) one of the best I've seen, offering things like chestnuts, kidney beans, sunflower seeds, raisins and a potato and fruit salad, among other things. This salad's dressing was, I believe, mayonnaise-based, and possibly the only item I saw that wasn't vegan, but there were a number of others for your greens as well, including Italian and pineapple.

The hearty bean bulgogi stew was quite good, as was the Gangwon-do style baked tofu in light spicy broth, but the sweet and sour fried mushrooms were pretty unfortunate. They were either porcini or something like them, very thick, and not cooked at all. I've noticed that Koreans have a habit of serving vegetables raw when you expect and would like them to be cooked. 

One does not simply plunge a thick-ass raw mushroom into oil for a moment and then attempt to eat it. They were chewy, rubbery and unpleasant. The sauce and batter (which was wheat, of course, so I shouldn't have been eating it anyway), however, were fine.

Also, I believe the bean bulgogi contains wheat protein, though I've had it a couple of times now and it hasn't given me a stomachache like other wheat-based substitutes will immediately, so it must be a tiny amount.

The steamed broccoli and cabbage were perfect for adding to the Gangwon-do tofu, and there were also little sides of sea vegetables. The little brown dealies are inarizushi, or as they called them at Garobee, tofu kimbap. For those who are unfamiliar, inarizushi is a thin pocket of slightly sweet, lightly fried tofu filled with rice.

Thick fried wheat noodles with mushrooms and soft broiled tofu, which is not for those who don't enjoy gelatinous, jiggly entrees, were also on offer. I didn't try either. 

For the less adventurous or enthusiastic, there were also individual nests of plain wheat pasta, mixed potato wedges and tater tots with ketchup (common everywhere) and steamed orange squash to aid in sating your hunger with starchy goodness.

The jjamppong (usually a spicy seafood noodle soup) was too full of onions (which I'm allergic to) to navigate and the seaweed soup didn't look especially appetising, but they were available, and in any other dining situation you'd better believe I'd have had a bowl of each.

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At the end of the buffet was the almost ubiquitous make-your-own-bibimbap section, but there was steamed brown rice instead of white, which was quite refreshing. There was also a somewhat sweet mixed veggie rice that was delicious and flavourful but, as you can see, almost gone by the time I got to it. Once it had been eaten the kitchen served up vegetarious tteokbokki, which was wonderful, but admittedly much too spicy for me.

One of my favourite things had to be the sweet plum iced tea. And speaking of sweets, don't forget about dessert! Er, well, maybe you should, actually. It's not exactly Garobee's specialty: all they had were sliced red bean cakes and white bread with "vegetable whipped cream". But that's OK. You can grab a doughnut, a few different types of ice cream and frozen yogurt, a smoothie or even a milkshake from the Johnny Rocket's down the street if you feel like immediately cancelling out the benefits of your super healthy low-cal meal in this kitschy neighbourhood. 

I've noticed that vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Seoul all put portraits of veg celebrities on the wall, too, and when we sat in front of the ones here, I was like, "Hey, wait a second..."

And then I was like, "Ok, they done fucked up."

Overall I really liked this place, and I can't wait to see what they'll serve next time!

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