Review: BeWon Korean

THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED

Refreshed 10.06

For many people, when you talk about Korean food, the images that come to mind are those of rooms filled with the smoke from “bulgogi”, or Korean barbecue, and the wildly varying flavors of kimchi. My experiences were somewhat similar, until I moved to Oregon and made some Korean friends. They dragged me (yes, dragged) to various restaurants up and down Beaverton Hillsdale Highway, all around 82nd Avenue, and while I learned enough about the food to judge and speak intelligently about it, the cuisine was never really something I looked forward to. Then BeWon opened, and I’ve been going ever since. I’m also starting to frequent a couple of other Korean restaurants around town, but more on those in another review.

First, some basics. Kimchi, which literally translates as “pickles”, is probably the best known Korean food, and is usually served with every meal. It is a vegetable dish (usually cabbage, radish, or cucumber based), and highly seasoned – though not necessarily hot. Common ingredients are ground red pepper, garlic, ginger, white radish, Asian pears, lots of salt, and fish sauce. From there ingredients can vary wildly. There are infinite varieties, some good, and some bad. Don’t judge all kimchi based on one experience. Its purpose is to stimulate the appetite. The pickling process is quite interesting. Usually whole cabbages are soaked in brine, and then the other ingredients are placed between each of the cabbage leaves. Some traditional methods call for placing it in large earthenware jars, burying it in the ground, and letting it ferment for long periods of time, though some people prefer it fresh. I had a Korean roommate in college who lived on kimchi. Our apartment smelled so bad I made him keep it on the back porch.

Like most Asian cuisines, everything has its proper place. It must harmonize warm and cold, hot and mild, rough and soft, solid and liquid, and a perfect balance of colors. The foods are served in a specific arrangement of small dishes, alternating to highlight the shape and color of the ingredients. There are usually two utensils, a long-handled spoon called “sutgarak”, and two slim metal chopsticks. There are a few traditional manners that should be followed while eating Korean food. Some highlights:
* The oldest person at the table starts first. Wait until they pick up their chopsticks. I like this rule because it pretty much puts me at the head of the line.
* Don’t pick up the rice bowl with your hands. Keep it off to the side, and eat the rice with a spoon. It is customary to finish your individual bowl of rice.
* Eat quietly
* Don’t leave any food on your spoon while eating
* Pace yourself so that everyone finishes at the same time. It is considered rude to finish before an elder.
* After your meal, return the chopsticks and spoon to where they were first placed on the table. Leaving chopsticks in your rice is bad luck and symbolizes death! Ack!
* Don’t use your hands

Of course these are traditional rules, and it’s not like you’ll be thrown out if you make a mistake. I merely offer them as instruction for the next time you are in Korea.

BeWon was named after the secret royal garden of King Tae Jong. It was a favorite escape for outdoor feasts and celebrations. BeWon restaurant is somewhat similar; down a stairway from bustling NW 23rd Street and tucked under another floor, it is like entering a quiet hideaway. The setting is cool and modern, the tables covered with crisp white linens, the service some of the most knowledgeable and professional in the city. There is no smoke to cling to your clothes here; strictly a modern kitchen.
While there is a standard menu, the most fun is the Hanjungshik, or full-course meal. At BeWon it consists of seven courses for $24.95 per person. At least two people at the table must order it. While the prix fixe changes with the seasons, the Summer menu starts with Hobakjuk, a bright orange rice porridge made with three different pumpkins. It is a thick, slightly sweet soup, an interesting and traditional way to start your meal. Next comes Samsak gyu-ja-chae, a little salad of three julienned vegetables with a Korean mustard dressing. It is small, but refreshing, and gives you a chance to dust off your chopstick skills. Next is Gujeolpan, a traditional dish usually eaten at special occasions and very fancy dinners. It reminds me of the Thai dish miang kum, eight different ingredients, separated by color, surrounding little crepe-like pancakes. Take a crepe and put a little bit of each ingredient in the middle. You have a choice of shiitake and black mushrooms, cucumber, carrot, chopped hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, minced beef. Add a spoonful of the sauce, and pop it into your mouth for an explosion of flavors.

Japchae or cellophane noodles make up the next course. BeWon makes the noodles with sweet potato, though you probably wouldn’t identify the flavor unless they told you. You get a nice, earthy pile with a few mushrooms and other vegetables mixed in, served at room temperature. I could eat an entire bowl of them.

bw.jpgThe fifth course is where things really get amazing. It may sound like the food never stops, but keep in mind each of these courses are fairly small. You have a choice of main entrée when you order: dak galbi – chicken in a mild red pepper paste, daeji bulgogi – sliced spicy pork with onions and scallions, galbi – traditional short ribs, sliced rib-eye, and go-deung-uh, broiled mackerel caked in sea salt. There is also a vegetarian option. A bowl of boiling cchigue – tofu bean curd stew is placed in the middle of the table, surrounded by nine seasonal side dishes and bap (rice). By this time your table is like an artist’s palette, covered with pan chan – little bowls of color and flavor: sweet, salty, and sour, sautéed spinach, fermented black beans, dried squid in chili sauce, thinly sliced dark mushrooms, kimchi, mung bean sprouts, cucumber, little slices of some kind of root… I can’t begin to remember them all. The entrees are great all by themselves, my favorites being the pork and the rib-eye, but when you alternate tastes with all the other items on the table, the full spectrum of Korean cooking is illuminated. This is like no other experience I know of in Portland.

After this, you may wonder if you have room for anything else, but the next two courses are designed to settle your stomach. Sujeonggwa is a traditional Korean fruit punch. It is made from dried persimmons, cinnamon, and ginger, and comes with a single floating pine nut. It is slightly sweet, and at BeWon, perfectly balanced. Finally comes bori cha and deok, the first being a wonderful hot tea made from roasted barley. I think the version here is mixed with a bit of oksusu cha, or roasted corn infusion, as it has a slight sweetness. Deok is a rice cake. Hmm… how to describe… it reminds me of Styrofoam (but then most rice cakes do), but has a slightly sweet flavor. The first time I didn’t like it, but by the second meal it really grew on me.

As you can see, the hanjungshik meal is a great introduction to Korean food. Most likely, you will sit back at the end of the meal, stunned not only by the variety, balance, and complexity of flavors, but also by the bill which seems impossibly low at $24.95. The same meal is also available with five wine pairings for $39.95, but I like to be daring and order the chilled Korean rice wine. Once you have had the prix fixe meal, go back and try some of the other dishes. A great starter is the dotorimuk salad of lettuce, Korean pepper and acorn jelly, tossed in sesame soy ($6.95). A traditional dish is stir-fried small octopus in red pepper sauce ($14.95). Tender and loaded with flavor, once again not hot spicy, but very complex. For another surprise, try pajeon – egg battered glazed pancake with scallion, pepper, and assorted seafood. ($12.95).

BeWon is fun, an adventurous place to go when you are tired of the usual routine. Go with a group of friends and each try something different. You’ll have a great time.

  • Phone: 503-464-9222
  • Address: 1203 NW 23rd ave, Portland OR. 97210 Google Map. Free parking is available in the rear of the building, enter on Northrup St.
  • Hours: Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30, Dinner Sun-Thurs 5pm-9pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-10pm. Reservations recommended on busy nights.
  • Website: BeWonRestaurant.com.

Bewon Korean on Urbanspoon

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. pollo elastico says

    Thx for the writeup. Be Won has been on my short list for some time, and was considering it for a recent birthday dinner until the babysitting arrangement fell through. I heard their bim bap is excellent.

  2. Ellie says

    We’ve been fans of Be Won for some time now. It’s a great change of pace from the usual boring-ass NW lunch spots. We recently tried the Hanjungshik on our first dinner visit. It was a great experience, to say the least. Thanks for the background on Korean etiquette, FD. We’ve asked some questions of the staff at Be Won, but still feel somewhat underinformed as to how best to enjoy the preparations.

    Korean food fills me up the way Vietnamese food does – I never leave feeling uncomfortably full, and always feel as though I’ve eaten a relatively healthy meal.

  3. TDP says

    I love Korean food, but reading those “rules” makes me glad I am not similarly bound. I mean, come on- “Elders,” “death chopsticks” etc.- I would much rather focus on the food and company than those type of cultural quirks. I go for smiles and stains!

  4. Pork Cop says

    The rules aren’t any more strange than the ones we have. They’re just different. When I lived in China the Chinese always laughed at all of our rules. They said it took all the pleasure out of eating.After a while I realized they had a lot of (if not more) rules than us. They just didn’t see them as restrictions.They just are.

  5. Food Dude says

    Tradtions are what give each culture a big piece of its own identity. These days when you can walk through any city in the world, and in one block pass a Starbucks, a McDonalds, and a Coplands Sporting Goods, traditions are the only thing we have left. Personally, I like some of these. They show respect for elders, which I think is very important. And while the dude is constantly looking for good dining partners, I never eat twice with someone that chews with their mouth open, or eats very noisily. Those are also important in Korean culture.

  6. Kris says

    FD – did you note/partake of any soju on your visits?
    Besides enjoying Korean food, I love soju (plus it’s various additives) and have been looking for a venue in PDX that serves it.
    –kris

  7. Sir Loins says

    Unless Bewon’s gone all Soup Nazi lately, I don’t recall them pushing any rules or suggestions for dining etiquette.

    In fact, the last time I went to Bewon, two large parties of Asian folks were also there and they were definitely not eating quietly! Most of them seemed to know the owner.

    Everyone was having a good time enjoying each other’s company, ordering lots of food, and breaking a lot of the above rules.

  8. cuisinebonnefemme says

    I think knowing as much as possible about the culture and customs of an ethnic restaurant makes the whole experience better. I don’t think they need to be rigidly followed, nor are they by the cultures themselves in all cases, it’s just a way to be able to gain respect and in some circumstances “save face” which an important part of Asian cultures in particular. I’ve also noticed that it’s a way to get a better “in” with the establishment and has led to some wonderful disoveries of things not on the English language menu (and sometimes some freebies as well).

    As for the chewing and slurping thing… I once briefly dated a guy that did that, and trust me becuase of it, it was brief, but in many Asian cultures slurping and loud chewing is a sign that you like the food, almost like a compliment to the chef, and some Japanese claim it is the only way to properly eat noodles (something about the air mixing with the food is supposed to make it taste better?). Anyway, yeah, our bad manners are good manners elsewhere (and so it goes).

    Also, nothing pisses me off more than when people point with their chopsticks or use them as drumsticks and is a sure fire way to be labeled as an uncivilized idiot. Just my little pet peeve.

    Me, I like New Seoul Garden Yakiniku out in Beaverton. The lunch deals are terrific. The spicy tofu stew (Soon Tubu Jjigae) will magically fix any sinus problems or head colds, and they have an “all you can eat” kimchee/pan-chan bar that is all homeade and very fresh. Also, Hands down, I think they have the best Bi-bim-bap in town (rice with vegetables, optional beef, a soft egg on top, and red hot bean-paste sauce to be mixed up together). They will ask you if your want it served in either in a hot stone cauldron (which makes a delightful little crunchy rice crust on the bottom) or in a normal bowl. Not too many places in town do that.

    As for kimchee. Remember that like sour kraut, it has been a way for cultures to preserve much needed vegetables for the winter and kimchee is a great source of vitiman C, contains lots of lactobacteria and bifidobacteria (same good stuff as in yogurt) that help with producing much of the B-12 we need in our diets as well as promoting intestinal health and fighting off bad bacteria.

    Kimchee certainly does stink, but remember, so does good cheese.

    P.S. Best airline meals I’ve had are on Korean Airlines where the food can be quite good (even outside of airline food standards) with such things as fresh vegetable pan-chan, miso soups, chap-chae noodles, a very soothing chicken soup with ginger and ginseng, and bi-bim-bap.

  9. Food Dude says

    Sir Loins, I’m just trying to give background into the culture, not saying everyone there follows those rules.

  10. pollo elastico says

    cuisinebonnefemme – thx for the tip on New Seoul Garden. I am definitely going to check it out next time I make a Uwajimaya run.

    When we lived overseas when I was younger my father always booked us on Singapore Airlines -the best food I’ve had on airplane. I remember getting bumped up to first class on a flight from Hong Kong to Honolulu and getting a 7 course meal, including satay and peanut sauce, smoked salmon, filet mignon. Travel was much different back then.

    You don’t want to be around while my daughter and I slurp ramen…lots of noise going on. Drives my wife insane – always has. But since I was young, slurping rice noodles from my pho, soup spoon in one hand, chopsticks in the other, if I didn’t wolf it down as soon as possible with the most amount of noise my Mom or aunt would probably wonder what was wrong with their soup.

  11. Me me me!!! says

    Singapore Airlines is hands down the best airline in the world. Even in coach you get a very nice meal, and they offer more leg/elbow room than anything I’ve ever had by a domestic carrier.

  12. Dante Amorphic says

    I have heard and been to all the Korean places identified so far and consider them second fiddle to my favorite. The restaurant is called Ho Soon Yi, it specializes in amazing and authentic Korean style tofu soup. For those of you not experience with Korean style soups this will be a remarkable treat. The soup comes out from the kitchen in individual serving size earthen bowls – literally boiling like molten lava. The wait staff, at the table then crack an egg into your soup and dust it with dry seaweed. This soup consumed with rice, panchan (Korean pickles/side dishes – that come with
    every meal usually between 6-8 little dishes of different types of
    pickles and salads) is awesome.

    Although the soup is the flagship specialty, their other dishes are
    also really good. The Haa-mool-pah-juhn or seafood pancake is delicious with a nice mix of squid, shrimp and green onions with a soy based dipping sauce is a often an accompanying dish at our table. Recently we have been ordering the sister dish Kim-Chee-jun, or Kim Chee Pancake with pork which is also really good.

    Now my favorite Korean restaurant, back in Hawaii would bring little hibachi caldrons filled with natural wood charcoal so you could cook your own Kal-bi (BBQ short ribs) or Bool-go-Ghee (marinated beef) right at your table. Unfortunately Ho Soon Yi doesn’t have the set up to allow you to cook at the table, but they do do a nice job bringing various grilled meats out to you on searing hot cast iron pans often with a bed of onions under the meat. I haven’t had anything that I didn’t like and that says a lot. They have
    lots of seafood soups and dozen or so seafood dishes on their menu so this isn’t just a carnivore hang out.

    The wait staff are prompt and efficient – English is very much a second language given the vast majority of the clientele is Korean but I have never had a bad time communicating or getting my order right.

    This place is a destination restaurant – it is on a strip of SW
    Beaverton Hillsdale Highway that is a wasteland and folks could easily drive by and never notice this place. It is at 6620 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Highway just East of SW Oleson Road. On the South side of the highway (across the street from a strip mall with a Safeway in it)

  13. cuisinebonnefemme says

    Dante, Thanks for the tip. I’m always looking for new Korean places to try. Have to mapquest that one though, Beaverton is such a maze!

  14. buck says

    I have to second Dante Amorphic’s reccommendation. We went the other night for the first time, and it may just be the best Korean in town. The Soon Du Bu is amazing.

    It is in an odd location, replacing what used to be a Japanese restaraunt on Beaverton Hillsdale. Well worth the drive for east-siders. Really not all that far past Hillsdale.

  15. Tansy says

    I’m going to second the Ho Soon Yi restaurant – it’s great to have a restaurant that focuses on different kinds of soon dubu (the spicy tofu stew.)

    Responding to CuisineBonneFemme though, I’ve found several places, some not even very good, who have bibimbap in the stone bowl. Ho Soon Yi doesn’t, but a Korean grocery store, Paldo, off Canyon Rd and 217 (this is more of Beaverton being a maze – it’s behind the Subaru dealership and you can only turn right into it when heading toward Beaverton) has a fantastic restaurant on the second floor. Very little English spoken, good banchan, dolsot-bibimbap and boricha (barley tea) brought out before any of the food. The soondubu isn’t as good as Ho Soon Yi’s, but otherwise, it’s fantastic comfort food.

  16. Umami-Breath says

    Has anyone tried “Hae Rim” in the Beaverton Town Square, yet? It is located right next to the “Chicken Bar,” in the parking lot near Fred Meyer and Trader Joes. Hae Rim is fairly new Korean restaurant in the Portland area and the owners/cooks take a lot of pride in their excellent and very inexpensive food. I’d give them a try.

    Regarding BeWon, as a first generation Korean who has eaten a lot of Korean food, I’d say the food is OK (no complaints) yet the overly stuffy/haute cuisine environment is my biggest complaint the establishment. You simply don’t see that kind of environment for Korean food because – in my experience – Korean food is more social. A little bit rowdy, a little bit casual and very unpretentious.

    Many of you know that social constraints on the eating environment can really define the eating experience; with this in mind, I would say that the very familiar food of BeWon seems very unfamiliar given the unusual dining experience that BeWon provides…

  17. tax_hottie says

    I’ve been to Bewon half a dozen times over the last few years and I have to say they’re pretty good. As a Korean-American, I still can’t get over paying $17.95 for kimchee stew, when it’s $7.95 or $8.95 everywhere else, especially since it doesn’t taste any better. Their lunch menu is more reasonable. They have good pork bulgogi (spicy), kalbi, and beef bulgogi. Their kal gook su (noodles in soup) is pretty good–I think the noodles are hand made, but not sure. The only beef I had with this dish was that they didn’t serve nearly enough seasoned soy sauce with it. I had to ask for seconds and thirds because they bring it out in a ridiculously tiny bowl. They are also skimpy on the ban chan. And their portions are on the small side. Overall, I’d probably go back for lunch if I was in the neighborhood. But for a more authentic Korean experience, you really have to head to Beaverton.

    I hate New Seoul Garden. Their kimchee, ban chan, and entrees were mediocre at best. My non-Korean friend I took there, however, liked it. But as a Korean, I thought the food was “Americanized” and just not good! You see very few Koreans eating there, which is a sure fire sign that it’s not true Korean food. The ambience is kind of trashy too.

    Koreana (on Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy) used to be my favorite and still remains a solid player. They have good kimchee jigae and do everything well. It’s just not outstanding.

    My new fave is Hae Rim (on Canyon). Their food is truly amazing! One of the very few authentic places in town. I usually get the kimchee jigae there (which is my favorite Korean dish of all time). But their Korean bbq is delicious too, as is their Bi Bim Bap. My cousins also claim that their mandu (potstickers) are also quite yummy. Their kimchee and other ban chan are fresh, tasty, and plentiful, including an egg custard dish that I love.

    I like Umma’s too (above Paldo grocery store on Canyon). It is definitely authentic, but still the food isn’t excellent. Just good.

    I’ve got to try this Ho Soon Yi place soon. If it’s a soon doobu restaurant, I wonder if it’s related to the Ho Soon Yi in Seattle (techinically, Edmonds,WA). They’re famous for that dish up there.

  18. Cuisine Bonne Femme says

    Korean Dining: Thanks for all the new tips. Does anyone know where I can get Hoedeopbap? (sashimi over rice with vegetables and korean hot sauce). I haven’t found it in our area.

    Wow, it’s nice to have such a plethora of Korean food lovers out there. Man, if any of you experts were interested, it would be great if someone did a Korean dining tour at one of the above mentioned places to better explain the food and customs. I’d be the first to sign up and I bet there would be a lot of others too. You’d certainly get a free meal out of it.

    I’ve loved Korean food since I was a young girl, have actually been to Korea twice (briefly), and I used to have a couple of Korean friends, but it’s still such a mysterious and not very well documented cuisine for this blue-eyed whitey girl to navigate.

    I’m going to check out at least one of the above menioned places this week.

    I gotta say it though, the “Chicken Bar” sounds really scary for some reason.

  19. La Foi says

    This is so perfect for me, because I just got back from a trip to Vancouver, BC where I had Korean food for the first time and fell in love with it. Since my return to PDX, I have been bemoaning the absence of Korean restaurants… turns out I was wrong! Though I will say, going all the way out to Beaverton is tricky, and Be Won sounds swanky and out of my price range. The great thing about Vancouver was how many places there were dotted throughout the city, easy to walk to, or stop in on your way home, or pop in on your way to a movie. Sigh… perhaps that will happen someday in Portland?

  20. Dante Amorphic says

    Tax Hottie….

    Ho Soon Yi is actually run by the same owners of the location in Seattle….. I used to go there about once a week back when I lived up there. From what I understand the owner sold his restaurant up there and moved his family down here. His wife is one of the primary cooks and I immediately recognized both of them when we went for the first time down here.

  21. pdxbrew says

    FD, generally I think your reviews are spot-on, but I’ve got to part ways with you on this one. Bewon’s food tastes very Americanized to me — it mostly hints at what Korean food is like. I prefer Nakwon in Beaverton on SW Watson — their spicy cod soup is the best I’ve had — or Toji on Hawthorne when I don’t feel like the drive.

  22. Marshall Manning says

    cuisinebonnefemme Says:

    “Also, nothing pisses me off more than when people point with their chopsticks or use them as drumsticks and is a sure fire way to be labeled as an uncivilized idiot. Just my little pet peeve.”

    I guess that means you’re probably against putting them in your mouth and pretending you’re a walrus, too?

  23. Cuisine Bonne Femme says

    Yes, I am.

    I guess that means you’re probably against putting them in your mouth and pretending you’re a walrus, too?

    But, stabbing an annoying dining companion in the eyes with chopsticks, naw, that’s par for the course.

  24. tax_hottie says

    Cuisine Bonne Femme,

    I think that Hae Rim has that hwe dup bap you are seeking. I could be wrong, but for some reason it’s ringing a bell. Pay them a visit anyway. You won’t be disappointed, even if they don’t have that particular dish!

  25. umami-breath says

    I had lunch with tax-hottie today at Hosoonyi on Bvtn-Hillsdale.

    Verdit: eh.

    The ingredients in the sonndoobu soup I had wasn’t fresh and the banchan (side dishes) were lacking. The price was very reasonable though.

    My experience today makes me want to go back to Hae Rim (see post #17.)

  26. tax_hottie says

    I think Umami is being overly critical of Ho Soon Yi. I REALLY liked the dish I got (kimchi soon doo bu). Enough to order it both times I’ve been there. And I enjoyed the ban chan too. I need to try other dishes there before rendering my final verdict, but so far it’s in my top 3 Korean places in town, after Hae Rim of course. Plus, it’s closer to downtown Portland than any of the other restaurants I like.

  27. skudguppy says

    Ho Soon Yi #3 is awesome. There soup, Bi Bim Bob and BBQ Pork is some of the best I have ever had. I highly recommend paying them a visit.

  28. Charlotte says

    ‘Never been to BeWon, but I agree with #17…environment is a big part of the experience. Hae Rim is an excellent palce. It is run by a nice Korean couple, very authentic and reasonably priced. My older Korean friend highly recommended it. The two of us split one order each of jabchae, soondooboo and bulogi for $32. Great deal, with free tea and sweet dessert.

  29. teamsplashi says

    Very disappointing Korean food with an overly “slick” atmosphere. Be bim bop was terrible and the bulgogi was overly sweet. Not impressed at all. They didn’t even have OB Lager!

  30. cw says

    This review and the comments are cute and funny. But a bit inaccurate. I’m Korean and I’ve never heard of some of the “rules” that you included in your review. I eat my rice with chopsticks all the time. In fact, in Korea, I’ve been complimented for how well and dexterously I use my chopsticks, and what good form I have. No one has ever looked at me cross-eyed for using them to eat rice.

    There are certain dishes you can use your hands for. It’s the same as other cuisines — you wouldn’t dive into a big ol’ plate of pasta with your hands and fingers if you were over the age of 5, so why would you do that in a Korean restaurant either? That said, if you’re eating BBQ, it’s generally OK to eat with your hands a little.

    Speaking of which, bulgogi (which the review weirdly spells pulgogi) is generally eaten wrapped in lettuce, with some rice, kimchi, and a dab of kochujang or dwenjang. You wrap the whole package up and pop it into your mouth with… your hands!