Big-city flavors in Mount Vernon
What: Pyung Chang Korean Restaurant & BBQ
Where: 521 S. Second St., Mount Vernon
WHEN: 11am-10pm Tues.-Fri.; 12pm-10pm Sat.; 12pm-9pm Sun.
Wednesday, November 6, 2019
Sitting in Pyung Chang Korean BBQ, a large brightly lit space full of busy tables and bustling waitstaff, it’s hard to believe I’m still in downtown Mount Vernon. It feels like Seattle, or somewhere in the Korean-populated areas of Lynnwood. And it’s not just the space, it’s the food, which is on par with Korean food I’ve had anywhere else. I have no idea how Mount Vernon got so lucky, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth.
For appetizers, my go-to dish in Korean restaurants is pa jun (or pajeon), a large savory pancake cut into wedges and served with dipping sauce. Pyung Chang offers two types of pa jun, one with seafood (mostly squid when we’ve ordered it, for $13.99) and a vegetarian one with kimchi ($11.99). Both are good, and the kimchi pancake makes great leftovers. I would consider ordering one just to take home for breakfast the next morning. They offer a range of other appetizers such as egg rolls, wings and gyoza, plus japchae, a peppery tangle of glass noodles with beef and vegetables.
Soups and bibimbap both come in ferociously hot stone pots, which continue to bubble at the table for a surprisingly long time. Bibimbap, if you aren’t familiar with it, is the ultimate meal in a bowl, with sizzling hot rice, meat, vegetables, and an egg, which all get mixed up together at the table, along with whatever condiments appeal to you ($15.99).
For soups, there are plenty to choose from. The sundubu ($12.99) is my favorite, with its rich spicy broth and masses of silken tofu, but I’m also a big fan of jjigae ($13.99), which is what you make when you have a lot of leftover kimchi going sour and you need to use it all up. The resulting soup is spicy, sour and refreshing, with pieces of meat and chunks of firm tofu to give it substance, and a few slices of rice cake floating around.
On my most recent visit I tried a dish that was new to me, ddeok guk ($12.99) which turned out to be a rich, starchy beef broth studded with pieces of beef and lots and lots of slithery rice cakes. It was tremendously soothing as well as astonishingly filling. Portions for both soup and rice bowls are very generous and almost guarantee leftovers (unless you’re sharing).
If, like me, you’re a meat eater and enjoy playing with your food, there’s nothing better than getting a grill table. Order one of the barbecue combinations, and a server will bring you various plates of thinly sliced pork belly, marinated steak and other meats, then show you how to lay them on the central grill. Dipping sauces and accompaniments are on the table, so all you need to do is pick off the morsels as they cook and stuff them into your face. If you don’t want to cook your own meat (or just want to add to your feast) they have plenty of different stir fries (the spicy pork with squid seems expensive at $23.99 but it’s a vast amount of food.)
One of the very best things about Korean restaurants is banchan, the array of tiny plates of pickles and side dishes that arrive with every order. On one visit to Pyung Chang, in addition to the usual cabbage kimchi and fresh bean sprouts, we had strips of sweet tofu skins, pieces of sausage with bell pepper, little wedges of vegetable frittata, scallion pancake, and creamy potato salad, while another time we had boiled potato, cucumber kimchi, seaweed salad, and a few pickled vegetables we couldn’t identify. Each time the selection has been different, which can be both wonderful and disappointing, depending on whether you were hoping to get the same treats as last time.
Pyung Chang offers takeout, of course, and we occasionally order stir fries to take home or carry over to a local pub. The packaging is extensive, which is a concern for the recycling-conscious, but it allows for the entrée, rice and a surprisingly wide selection of banchan to all have their own section. I wish they would find a way to package takeout that didn’t rely on quite so much plastic, but it’s a nice presentation.
If you already know and love Korean food, this restaurant will make you happy. If you’ve never had it before, I recommend heading down with a few friends and good appetites and experiencing it for yourself.
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