If there’s one way to grab my attention, it’s with surprising food. It’s hard to describe the emotions one can go through when biting into something familiar while expecting one thing, only to get something else. Whether that’s taken positively or not is completely dependent on how good the final result is, but the memory of what was just experienced is one that doesn’t seem to go away quickly.
I went to 전대별식 (Cheondae Byeolsik) for lunch on a Sunday afternoon. It was a good thing we arrived when we did as there was a sign on the door letting customers know of the restaurant’s quickly approaching afternoon break time. Despite how close it was to the break, the place was quite busy. We lucked out by arriving just as another party was leaving. The space was on the small side, but the interior had some nice touches that made it warm and welcoming.
The first thing I made note of after being seated was the menu. Though the featured dishes did have pictures, most of what was actually in the menu that offered no English had no pictures. It wasn’t a problem, as everyone at my table could read Korean pretty well, but I could certainly imagine those who are still learning the language to get pretty frustrated. Another thing that caught my eye was the way the prices were listed. It was a fairly unique system that would list something that costs 10,000 won as 1.0 and 7,500 won as 0.75. As the main feature of the restaurant was Japanese cuisine, there was a nice variety of dishes ranging from carbs to fish. Some of the 돈부리 (donburi; rice bowl dish) options included 규동 (gyudon; beef rice bowl), 에비동 (ebidon; fried shrimp rice bowl), and 가츠동 (katsudon; fried pork cutlet rice bowl). There was also 연어 (yeoneo; salmon) and 소고기 (sogogi; beef) 초밥 (chobap; sushi), as well as a few different types of 라멘 (ramen) and 우동 (udon). It took some time to read over everything with the intention of choosing just a few dishes, but we ended up getting the 돈코츠라멘 (tonkotsu ramen; pork bone broth ramen), the eight piece order of 연어초밥 (yeoneo chobap; salmon sushi), the 辛규동 (shingyudon; spicy beef rice bowl), and a side order of 치킨가라아게 (chicken karaage; marinated and fried chicken).
After we placed our order, we received a cabbage salad topped with a black sesame dressing to snack on while we waited. While I’ve never been a huge fan of cabbage salads, the dressing on this one was quite nice. Really, I was just happy to receive a salad that had not been topped with some form of sweet yogurt.
The first dish to arrive was the 돈코츠라멘, which I happily stole some bites from before the friend who ordered it could properly dig in. They certainly got the look of the ramen right, especially with that cloudy broth combined with slices of marinated pork, some fish cake, sprouts, green onions, and an egg that was cooked slightly beyond my personal preference. What caught me by surprise was how spicy this typically savory bowl of noodle soup was. There was no indication of there being any heat anywhere on the menu, so it was certainly unexpected. Luckily, everyone I was with liked spicy food, and the dish turned out to be a tasty take on one of my favorite Japanese dishes.
Next, we got into the 연어초밥 and 치킨가라아게. I had been told the salmon here was quite fresh and delicious, and that first bite into the thick piece of fish that had been topped with raw onions, greens, and some sort of mayonnaise based sauce confirmed it. Though I wasn’t crazy about those toppings, they did offer a contrast to the otherwise rich cut of fish. The rice wasn’t anything spectacular, but I was very impressed to see that this sushi came with real grated wasabi instead of the bright green paste that many people are familiar with. The marinated pieces of fried chicken were also quite delicious, though they were topped with a creamy sauce and came with a side of even more sauce. As someone who prefers to enjoy my chicken without anything extra, I personally could have done without having my meat pre-sauced. That being said, the flavors weren’t too overwhelming.
The last dish I tried was the 辛규동, which was mine. I was in the mood for something beefy with a punch, and that’s just what I got. The unassuming bowl of rice, marinated beef, onions, and a single egg yolk hit me like a brick wall. The first few bites offered a nice amount of heat that played nicely with the rest of the more delicate flavors, but it didn’t take long for that to turn into an overwhelming burn that pushed me to consume more water than food. Though it was a tasty bowl, they certainly did not hold back on the spice.
Overall, my lunch at 전대별식 was a satisfying, sweat-inducing one. It certainly offered some surprising twists on Japanese dishes I have enjoyed for some time now. Due to the limited amount of space, I would recommend this spot for couples or smaller parties looking for a solid meal. Just be sure to come with someone who knows Korean if you’re not in the mood to be adventurous.
Address: 광주광역시 북구 중흥동 260-79 (around the corner from Starbucks)
Hours: 11:00AM to 11:00PM (break time at 3:30PM to 4:00PM)
Average Price Range: 8,000 to 10,000 per person