Tucked into the brick-faced storefronts that line Quinpool Road, Song's Korean Restaurant is almost tentative in appearance. There is little in the space that feels owned, or makes it feel unique. The chairs and glass-topped tables have that 1980s hand-me-down feeling of furniture that has passed from restaurant to restaurant. The walls are neutral shades of cream and celery, adorned with department store prints.
With the turnover that the space has seen in the past short while---Ethiopia and Aleppo are recent memories---perhaps there is a wise caution in what feels like a bit of lack of commitment. A few traditional Korean illustrations and photos of some of the delicious dishes at least hint at the heart that beats underneath the cold exterior.
We arrive for a late lunch, and the restaurant is almost completely empty. We've just missed the 2pm cutoff for lunch. After a few moments, a server wanders over with menus and a smile. She brings us some water and heads back to the counter to wait for that moment we silently shout "we're ready!" by closing and putting down our menus.
There are a lot of tempting dishes on the menu, which includes some Japanese dishes, like teriyaki and tempura, but skews heavily towards Korean beef and chicken dishes. We order the dak bo keum ($12.99) and bul go gi ($12.99), and decide to split an order of fried dumplings ($4.99).
Moments later, two little wooden bowls of miso soup arrive at the table, each with one lonely slice of mushroom floating on the cloudy broth. We spend the next few minutes sipping and slurping, enjoying the salty start to our meal. Then the dumplings arrive.
The five plump dumplings are alluringly golden brown. The delicate wrappers are crispy with bubbles, dark and crackling around the edges, while still tender in the middle. The pork filling is mild and tasty, delicious in the simple soy dipping sauce.
Soon our server returns with our entrees. The dak bo keum, a Korean chicken stew, is hot with kochujang, a fermented chile paste. It isn't overly spicy, though, and has some subtle sweet and salty undertones that bring a delicious balance. The meat is tender, nicely cooked, and the generous serving is incredibly filling, especially when paired with the small metal bowl of rice served on the side.
The meat in the bul go gi is a little disappointing in comparison. The beef is tender---tenderness is perhaps the best quality that a marbled rib eye offers---but a lot of excess fat has not been trimmed away, making for some unfortunate pockets of rubbery fattiness. The marinade is sweet, but not too sugary, and has the wonderful nuttiness of sesame oil. A sprinkling of sesame seeds gives the dish a gentle crunch that is really nice, while julienned carrots and scallions give a pop of colour, if no outstanding addition to the flavour.
To complete the meal, we are given a little bowl of cabbage kimchi and pickled daikon to share. The cabbage still has a nice bit of crunch to it and a prickle of spiciness, though we both find it too vinegary. The daikon is julienned, almost like a simple slaw, and offers an incredibly refreshing, mild tartness that suits the spice of the dak bo keum and the sweetness of the bul go gi really well.
Our server comes over to check on us one last time and offer more water while we finish chatting and get our things together to head back to the counter to pay our bill. It's after 3pm by the time we leave, pleasantly full in a way that suggests we'll have a late---or no---dinner. Song's might not seem sure of itself, but I'm sure I will be back.
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