Awhile back when strolling along Solano Avenue—the quaint neighborhood street in Albany just north of Berkeley—I dropped into Bowl’d Korean Rice Bar for lunch.
I’d heard about this Korean restaurant with young owners serving up traditional Korean classics. The décor was modern and contemporary, with wood finishes that looked untreated and funky, oversized eating utensils hanging on the wall.
The menu, however, isn’t reinterpretations of Korean dishes but classics served up fresh and simple. Unlike other Korean restaurants I’ve visited that have pages and pages of food options, Bowl’d keeps it simple with the basics of Korean pancakes, soft tofu soup, BBQ, and rice bowls (or bibimbop). Of course, there’s a sprinkling of other recognizable Korean favorites like jhap che (glass noodles) or mondoo (dumplings), but it’s all very familiar.
I started off with kim chi dumplings ($6), which I’ve never had before (usually sticking with the pork version) but thought it would be good to eat an all-vegetarian dumpling. They were nicely wrapped with a decent skin but, yeah, having a whole dumpling of kim chi can be too much of that spicy vegetable.
Of course, I got the classic rice bowl of bimbimbop. At Bowl’d, they organize it so you feel like you’re creating your own bowl, choosing the regular or stone pot (dolsot), then the rice, followed by the protein. I played it pretty safe with a chicken dolsot ($14).
The sizzling stone bowl of rice was topped with the traditional assortment of vegetables and fried egg, along with a portion of the BBQ chicken. I dug in after mixing in the spicy sauce, and all the vegetables were fresh and tasty. The rice on the bottom of the hot stone pot was especially crispy because this pot was super hot.
There were also the complementary side dishes, known as panchan or banchan, but I found Bowl’d’s version to be a bit lacking in both creativity and flavor. I’ve seen a better assortment of panchan elsewhere.
Still, Bowl’d’s friendly young staff and welcoming décor makes it a sure bet if you’re trying Korean food for the first time. They provide you with classic renditions—but nothing over the edge (don’t expect black goat stew on the menu)—with fresh ingredients for a mainstream palate.
Rating: 2 out of 4 camera snaps
Bowl’d Korean Rice Bar, 1479 Solano Ave., Albany. PH: 510.526.6223. Open daily, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Major credit cards, reservations accepted. www.bowldsolano.com