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DNX DINE OUT Restaurant Review | Dae Bak: Korean flavor, Filipino service

The only problem with Dae Bak Mandalagan if it can be called a problem is your clothes smell of Dae Bak when you arrive home.

Specifically, grilled meat or samgyeupsal.

Like the mister on a boys night out who smells like the masseuse.

Ah, lotion, the missus would say when the hubby lies in bed.

That being out of the way, what you are about to read is a restaurant review, our first for the year, quite deservingly so for the nth Korean restaurant, among those that have been sprouting like mushrooms after a torrential rain here in the City of Smiles.

This will cover ambiance, cleanliness, service, an overview of the food, and contact numbers.

DNX photojournalist Rodney Jarder Jr. with Dae Bak samgyeupsal in the foreground.
DNX photojournalist Rodney Jarder Jr. with Dae Bak samgyeupsal in the foreground.

Five of 10 tables were full when we arrived lunchtime at the restaurant along Lacson Street on the building beside that of Rogelio Florete housing Bombo Radyo-Bacolod.

A rented one storey affair (which could be real expensive along Lacson Street), the approximately 50-square meter space had 10 tables inside, four each in front of and to the side of the main entrance, the other two just beside the groaning buffet table outside the kitchen.

Two neat-looking waitstaff, their hair tied in a ponytail, ushered us in and asked where we want to be seated.

We sat beside the buffet table.

The in-house radio was playing songs by famous Korean girl bands and by the time we sat down, the one playing had hit the chorus.

Baam Baam, the band sang.

Those were the only words I understood.

But we were not there for the music.

One of the waitstaff, Roselyn, had already fired up the single burner butane stove in the center of our two tables.

On it was a non stick, concave tabletop grill that had an oil drain.

Small black plastic plates were arranged face down on the table with faux wood vinyl, a pair of dark-brown wood chopsticks (not the ordinary kind) on top, beside the plate a small white plastic tea cup, inverted, with a spoon on top.

The chairs were plastic, some red, others white but of the sturdier kind. The owners were perhaps aware that gorging on all you can eat samgyeupsal would mean disaster if a cheap, low quality plastic chair would give way under the weight of a diner, its splinters skewering the unlucky fellow’s behind.

Roselyn and Kris, both wearing a kimono-like white shirt with black floral prints were front of house that day.

We knew later that they were wearing the uniform of regular employees. Part-time ones wore all black.

Sturdy plastic chairs in red are utilitarian and give a splash of color but provide more stability to patrons who are sure to add a pound or two after an all you can eat meal.

Kris brought out the first set of the Samgyeupsal cuts that looked like they came from pigs that had happier days.

Or because Dae Bak’s owners are not misers.

The samgyeupsal cuts were thick. Half an inch at least. Not gossamer thin or waif looking like those K pop singers.

There was marbling in those pork cuts. We counted at least five interspersed layers of meat and fat, perhaps the closest thing we will ever have to Wagyu beef.

The Samgyeupsal had flavor. Possibly brined overnight.

Across the DNX table, a pretty woman supervised those manning the front of house, seven in all for lunch service. All women.

That woman turned out to be the co-owner, a local married to a Korean.

Every now and then, Roselyn would check on the flame and adjust it, sometimes offering to cut the meat.

When told that we like to cut the meat ourselves, she would bow a bit then take a step back, and check on other tables.

She would come back to check on the side dishes and promptly refill them.

When Roselyn or Kris would check on other tasks, part time employees would take their place, making sure our needs were attended to.

Those who waited on the tables maintained a respectful distance, within earshot but not meddling in our conversations and answering only when asked questions.

Like butlers. Close but not familiar.

The kimchi is good, Rodney, our photographer swears, saying he has it on good word that these are housemade.

But it was the pork that took it all.

The best so far, Rodney says.

True, agrees Dannah, the DNX administrative staff.

Dae Bak gives off a family restaurant atmosphere in a casual setting, its white walls welcoming, the wooden vinyl floor giving it a cozy, homey feeling.

Pendant lighting of industrial design were hung across the dining area, lending a classy look to the place.

Pendant lights in the dining hall of Dae Bak Mandalagan provide soft lighting as natural sunlight streams through the eastern windows. | Photo by Julius D Mariveles

The shrill voices and sometimes raucous laughter are aural proof that Dae Bak Mandalagan is for groups of people who want to enjoy a meal or snatch moments of normalcy in between the busy-ness that is slowly returning to Bacolod City.

And at only P399 for unlimited exquisite pork, Dae Bak is one extraordinary Korean restaurant.

We went home smelling like samgyeupsal but we forgive Dae Bak for its lack of exhaust fans.

More so when we knew that it reopened only last January 13 and tried its best to not lay off employees.

It is easy to slice pork, put it on a grill and call oneself a Korean restaurant.

Dae Bak is more than that.

By combining Filipino hospitality with Korean cuisine, Dae Bak Mandalagan has come into its own.

Our ratings:

Service: 5 of 5
Food: 4 of 5
Price: 4 of 5
Ambiance: 4 of 5
TOTAL: 4 of 5

For the Dae Bak Mandalagan food review, check the article of DNX managing editor Hannah Papasin.

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