The Real Bulgogi
Orange has minor malfunctions but good Korean food
by Aidan Morgan
ORANGE IZAKAYA FUSION CAFÉ AND BAR
2136A ROBINSON ST.
After a long transition period from its earlier incarnation as a coffee shop and kitchen goods store, Orange Cafe has resurfaced as a hybrid between a coffee place and a Korean-Japanese restaurant. The new bistro — the proper name is Orange Izakaya Fusion Café and Bar, though when I called they said simply “Café orange” — offers a take on izakaya-style dining — essentially, bar food for Japanese salarymen who want to take the edge off their sake.
All I can say is that Tokyo’s drunken salarymen must eat extremely well if Orange Izakaya’s menu is anything to go by.
The highlight of the menu is definitely the bibimbap, a Korean rice bowl with shaved vegetables, pork and a fried egg draped on top. I tried the dol sot bibimbap, which is served in a hot stone bowl that keeps the food warm and gives the rice a bit of crunch. A server was good enough to walk me through the proper way to eat bibimbap: break open the egg and mix all the ingredients together. Add hot sauce as desired. The resulting flavour is surprisingly mild and satisfying. This is definitely a lunchtime meal, but the dol sot bibimbap is large enough for supper in a pinch.
You’ll probably remember Orange Izakaya for the presentation of its dishes: everything is arranged with a precision that will make you stop and look at your meal for several long moments before the chopsticks descend to destroy everything. Even their version of a hamburger is served open face, with sliced red onions and tomatoes carefully decorating the surface of the patty. Small touches like this set Orange Izakaya apart from other Korean restaurants in town. Oh, and their bulgogi actually tastes like bulgogi, which is more than I can say for some of said other places.
The tapas menu is reasonably priced and features items that hit that elusive tapas target: just enough food to satisfy your taste and leave you wanting just one more dish. And maybe one more after that. My friend and I tried the grilled eel (unagi), agedashi tofu, chicken skewers and yakitori. They were out of gyoza (dumplings) and edamame (salted soybeans), which was a shame.
If anything disappointed, it was probably the kalbi burger. Kalbi is Korean braised short ribs, and good kalbi hits every pleasure centre in the brain. I had hoped that a burger made of kalbi would pretty much abduct my pleasure centres off the street in broad daylight and hold them for ransom. Instead, the burger tasted decent but unremarkable, and the bun began to fall apart around the halfway point — a pet burger peeve of mine. (I have burger peeves.)
I was also not entirely pleased with the service. Despite the friendliness of the staff, servers could not always identify some of the visible ingredients of the meals, and it took much too long for someone to come to my table. On two visits, I simply gave up on table service altogether and ordered my food at the bar. I think this occurs in part because Orange Izakaya is open from morning to evening, and the place behaves more like a coffee shop than a restaurant in the hours between lunch and supper.
In the spirit of fairness, I should also mention that on my first visit, the staff was being held up by a man interrogating them on whether each menu item contained seeds, which a medical condition prevented him from ever eating. After a while I began to imagine the horror of his daily life, never knowing when a seed would sneak up and deposit itself in his food. That kept me entertained for a while.
A caveat: In this business, which I am new at (and hello!) there’s always a danger that the restaurant a critic visits in the summer isn’t the restaurant prairie dog readers will discover when the review sees print in the fall. That could be the case here. Just as this review is finally going to press, I see that Orange Izakaya is holding its official grand opening on Sept. 9 — the day this paper hits the streets. There will be drink specials and free Tapas, and the alluring possibility that they’ve addressed the quibbles in this review.
Orange Izakaya opens at 8 a.m. daily and 10 a.m. Sunday, and closes at midnight Monday to Thursday, 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday. There’s a breakfast menu until 11:00 a.m., a lunch menu from 11:00 a.m. to closing and a sushi-heavy tapas menu from 4:00 p.m. onward. The restaurant also has free wireless.