I discovered Korean food in the mid '70s.
And I discovered it right here -- at Korea Garden Restaurant.
In those days, it was the ONLY Korean restaurant in the Metro... and, I suspect, in the country. (I need to point out that Korean nationals then numbered a few dozens versus the thousands we now have.)
Originally snuggled in a corner of quaint P. Burgos St (before the area became Makati's red light district), the restaurant was THE best place to be spoiled with Korean comfort food. The kimchi and appetizers were varied and plentiful. And the stellar attractions -- beef stew (to-die-for), chap chae, bulgogi, bibimbap (rice topped with barbecued beef, an egg, pickled vegetables and chili paste) -- were consistently satisfying. No wonder Korea Garden was frequented by influential politicos, big businessmen, mega celebrities (like Sharon Cuneta) and just about every Korean in town.
Through the years, Korea Garden has zealously guarded the secret of its success: consistency.
What loyal patrons enjoyed in the '70s are still very much around today.
Nothing has changed except for the location. The food continues to be awesome... at such a low prices, you'll wonder if the owners know what the word 'profit' means.
It continues to be the bestseller. The recipe continues to be a family secret.
The service is warm and friendly -- far from the aloofness and coldness we perceive as inherent to anything Korean. The atmosphere is homey and unpretentious. And if you're a 'regular' (like the Korean ambassador or the First Gentleman or Boss Vic or Pasig's Eusebios), you'll feel right at home because the waiters - and the hostess (Ms. Chu) - from the P. Burgos days are all still around.
A helpful tip: if you're scared to order, intimidated by the Koreanovela-sounding dishes, just ask for the Korean dinner. It's a sumptuous sampler with rice, soup, beef stew, bulgogi, spicy octopus, dumplings, dessert and a tableful of appetizers and kimchi. Enough to satisfy five hungry souls for around P2,500.
Want to impress your friends? Order the Gujeolpan: literally "nine-sectioned plate", this elaborate dish consists of a number of different vegetables and meats served with thin pancakes. For centuries, only members of Korean royalty were 'allowed' to enjoy this dish. Only Korea Garden offers this special treat in the Philippines.
The quality of the food and service is so outstanding, Korea Garden has consistently been in Tatler Magazine's list of the country's best restaurants, year in and year out. And the owners are so scared of tarnishing the resto's reputation that they've refused to branch out -- even with the non-stop prodding of Ayala and SM Malls.
Simply shatters the myth that all Koreans are profit-obsessed. But I ain't complaining.