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Won Mi BBQ

The Late Night Special

Come to Won Mi after the bars have closed, or after a show has let out at the Fillmore, and not only will you find sizzling plates flying to a packed and hungry crowd through its two small dining rooms, but the brew-fueled masses here until 4am have also been known to throw a punch or, at times, a chair or two as well. Come during a civil dinner hour mid-week, and you’re bound to have the entire place to yourself. Which is a shame, really, because the food is pretty good, and the experience authentic.

It’s not a hugely great value for the neighborhood -- portions are small and expensive by Korean joint standards -- but it’s certainly worth a visit when the noodles and raw fish of Japantown have you hankering for something meatier.

Despite the fact that we were, literally, the only customers on a recent Thursday night, the dirty dishes on the table behind us laid undisturbed throughout our meal (though overall, the place was impeccably clean). However, we did have to wait for water and chopsticks. And even though we’d ordered a table full of food, our waitress asked if it was alright to only bring one bowl of rice to the table. Of course there’s no way that we could have eaten two full bowls; that’s not the point. But after blowing sixty bucks on multiple dishes in an empty dining hall, it seemed like an odd gesture of unprecedented stinginess.

Thankfully, the brisk, hardly-noticed-you service was not an authentic indicator of the food, most of which was high quality, well assembled, and appropriately spiced. First arrived the Dol-Sot Bi-Bim-Bap ($10.99), a classic comfort dish of rice, greens, sprouts, egg, pork, and carrots served in a fire-hot cast iron bowl (here, if you just ask for Bi-Bim-Bap, it will arrive as a cold salad in a regular bowl). It was disappointing to see that the egg had already been fried (usually the egg is cracked raw and cooked on contact with the hot serving vessel, adding an even richness to the dish). We added the red chili paste and with some heavy-handed tableside wizardry the flavors came together well. We finished the dish, and were scraping the bottom for more.

The stream of sizzle floating toward us from the kitchen announced the arrival of the Gal-Bee ($19.99), marinated short ribs, which were succulent, moist, and marinated to be as flavorful and tender as they should be. The sizzle had died down by the time the lettuce, hot pepper, and garlic arrived with which to eat it, but still it was a tasty assembly. The seemingly huge pile of meat was bolstered by two large bones -- again, a full plate of flavor, whose quantity left us hungry for more.

Our final two dishes arrived in tandem -- Kim-Chee Chi-Gae ($10.99), and the Jo-Gee Gui ($13.99). The first is a red chili sauce-based soup of the famous Korean pickled cabbage, plus tofu, and a gaping empty void where the pork was supposed to be. It was perfectly hot, lashing the tongue on all enjoyable fronts. But eleven dollars for a small bowl of cabbage soup is infuriating -- particularly in a décor that includes day-care center-esque hand laid linoleum tile.

The two fried King fish (also listed on the menu as Yellow Croaker), crispy with a tangy and sweet soy-based sauce speckled with hearty garlic and shallot and lemon, were cooked well without a trace of grease. But the flavor of the flesh indicated that it had taken one-too-many trips around the tank before serving.

To our surprise, the two of us ate nearly everything on the table -- though we’d barely picked at the bland small plates of pickles that accompanied our dishes. We left with our bellies full, but our wallets felt picked clean to the bone.

The Fillmore/Japantown

Reservations needed? No