Babbi Babbi Korean Kitchen wasn’t exactly what I was expecting it to be. In fact, I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed when I walked into the new eatery at Phillips Crossing and discovered it was a quick-serve (order at the counter) operation. Even more annoyed to discover that the classic dish Bibimbap was offered as an assemblage item, with the diner tasked with choosing type of rice, which meat and what toppings to enhance or possibly ruin this traditional rice dish.
But I found plenty of other dishes on the menu that didn’t require me to act as an inexperienced chef, and I soon learned that even though one orders the food at the counter, service is supplied throughout the meal. And even better, the food was quite good.
And there’s a lot of little extras. The first began right after I paid and was told to help myself to one of three soups in black cauldrons on a counter next to the pay stand. The choices included Miso, Soybean Stew and Seaweed, which is what I selected. And what a lot of seaweed there was in that little bowl. A real taste of the sea.
And no sooner had I taken a seat in the large, bright dining area (assisted by one of the staffers who helped me carry the rollup, soup bowl, beverage and table number for the food runners to find me) than a young woman brought an array of typical Korean side dishes, including a variety of kimchis, Korean coleslaw and pickled daikon. And all of it quite good. I immediately devoured the cabbage kimchi and another staffer brought me another bowl.
If I’d known these unexpected treats were included I might not have ordered as much as I did, but I enjoyed it all.
Well, enjoyed might be going too far with the Tteobokki, a relatively modern Korean street food – it first started showing up in the ‘50s following the war. But I appreciated the chance to experience this unusual dish. It features doughy, chewy rice cakes that resemble elongated gnocchi dumplings served in a gochujang, a spicy chili sauce. Here the sauce was slightly sweet but there were spicy notes in the strips of fish cake that were included.
Babbi Babbi offers an array of kimbaps, a snack that looks like a Japanese sushi roll. You can get it with bulgogi, tuna, chicken or pork, but I chose the “original,” which had finely julienned strips of egg and carrots, shreds of fish cake, pickled radish and spinach rolled in laver seaweed sheets. The roll is cut into coins and served with a spicy dipping sauce. A nice little treat.
My order of Soondubu from the Special Entree page of the menu came to the table all abubble in a black clay pot. The jjigae, or stew, had a spicy broth – I couldn’t tell if it was made with the traditional anchovy broth or not – with lots of soft tofu cubes. There were also chunks of zucchini and some thin slices of beef, which I had opted for over seafood. There was also an egg that had been cracked into the hot stew just before it was brought to the table, the yolk still impossibly raw. It add a richness to the broth when stirred in. There might have been more beef in the mix, but I enjoyed all the flavors and the soft, silky texture of the tofu.
There was certainly much more than I was able to eat at one sitting, so another staffer cheerfully boxed everything up for me, including the still-quite-hot soondubu.
The atmosphere is a bit sterile. There’s an open kitchen and four televisions on a back wall that play travelogs and K-pop music videos (though the music from the sound system doesn’t match any of the videos). Tables are functional with metal chairs or padded banquettes.
But the staff certainly warms the ambience. As I left with my bag of goodies, several people thanked me and said goodbye and one young woman handed me a small bottle of a yogurt drink that she said would help with digestion. Babbi Babbi wasn’t what I thought it would be but it turned out to be much more.
Babbi Babbi Korean Kitchen is at 8015 Turkey Lake Road (in the Whole Foods plaza), Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The website was not operational at the time of publication. The phone number is 407-270-6868.