I wasn’t taught specifically to abhor chain restaurants. It just sort of developed over time—this general compulsion to discredit a restaurant for having multiple locations. After all, good food comes from good chefs, and good chefs don’t repeat concepts. And they certainly don’t run limited-time-only popcorn chicken specials for $10.95. In fact, I’m pretty sure you’re not even supposed to put the dollar sign on the menu anymore, let alone feature non-integer prices.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in a food scene and lose sight of what matters. We seek out the haute spots with the reclaimed wood and farm-to-fork concepts, and we cherish the holes-in-walls that we swear bleed authenticity even though we’ve never actually been to Haiphong or Oaxaca. Or, you know. Anywhere.
I’m looking for food that I can’t easily make at home or improve upon, that
is hot if it’s supposed to be, that tastes like it was prepared after I put in my order. At Bonchon, it was check, check, check.
Bonchon is in a building in Sawmill Plaza that might once have lived as a Joe’s Crab Shack or El Vaquero if those weren’t already the neighbors. There’s a rather odd fluorescent light show encirclinghstructure like the one at the AEP building, and the wrap-around parking lot is not unlike what you’d find at a Texas Roadhouse or some other such Midwestern Mecca.
And when you enter, and the same neon lights cycle through all the colors of the rainbow behind glass-encased sheets of bubbling water, and the brilliant red lamps dangle from the ceiling, and the many television screens run either ESPN or pictures of the food, it is yet still far too easy to lose sight of what really matters when you go out to eat: the food itself.
I’m looking for food that I can’t easily make at home or improve upon, that is hot if it’s supposed to be, and that tastes like it was prepared after I put in my order. At Bonchon, it was check, check, check.
Bonchon is not new. The first of what is now scores of locations in everywhere from Philadelphia to the Philippines, opened in Korea more than a decade ago. But it is new to Ohio. And I am glad it’s here.
The menu features plenty of hand-picked delicacies from various Asian outlets to satisfy those too patriotic to realize that it doesn’t all come from the same place. Chinese shumai, Japanese takoyaki. The obligatory edamame appetizer.
But Bonchon’s Korean roots are clear. I had the bulgogi bibimbap, and my special intern for the day had the Korean-style chicken wings, the latter of which is sort of the point of the entire outfit. For variety’s sake, we tacked on the takoyaki (octopus fritters) and some sort of cucumber-avocado salad ball draped in salmon.
The bibimbap ($13.95) was good. Tender, flavorful beef. Bright vegetables. The stone bowl both kept the whole meal hot and even crisped the rice a bit at the edges, providing the kind of crunch some cherish in such dishes.
The wings, however, were more than good. Sweet, spicy, sticky, and (apparently) double fried to give them that distinctive Korean crunch. They too were blazing hot, as though they’d just been lifted from the bath. That, as it turns out, was the premise upon which Bonchon was born: get hot, fresh fried chicken on people’s plates in under half an hour (or thereabouts).
It works. And it’s a welcome addition to a very crowded Dublin dining situation. Would I prefer that it lived in the North Market? Certainly. Meantime, I’ll just lump it in with my periodic jaunts north to hit the batting cages and get my oil changed. •