Asian Pear, You are Beautiful
Korean café serves delectable dishes with a smile
It all began with a boring Wednesday night spent flipping through hundreds of options on Netflix, looking for something interesting to watch. I tried out the basic popular shows but my interest waned within minutes. Then I happened upon a show called “You're Beautiful” about a girl who pretends to be her twin brother to hold his place in a famous boy band. Hijinks and love triangles were sure to ensue. I'm pretty sure every girl born in the '90s has dreamt of hanging out with a boy band *coughBackstreetBoyscough* at some point. It was in Korean, but I figured there's no time like the present to watch your first Korean show, so I clicked the button to watch it. Next thing I knew, I could hear birds chirping, my eyes were like sandpaper, and the warm blush of the morning sun was beginning to glow across the blinds next to my TV. I'd done the K-drama time warp and come out the other side with five words that I could confidently speak in Korean and a newfound interest in Korean culture.
In search of all things Korean, I dropped by Asian Pear and found some incredible hospitality and beautifully delicious food. My first visit, I walked into the nearly empty joint for a late lunch. The interior was bright and cheery, painted in tones of vibrant green and carrot orange. The windows at the front brought in lots of natural light and there was what sounded like Korean pop music playing in the background. There were wood tables in three lines going down the arched, tunnel-like room. I approached the counter, attended by a friendly server in a bright orange apron and ordered the bi bim bob with Korean BBQ chicken ($7.99), kimchi and a Thai iced tea ($2.99). I picked up utensils and sauces from a cart against the wall and sat down to wait. I received my tea quickly and was surprised by how huge it was. It was dark, creamy orange and served in a tall glass. It wasn't as sweet as I was expecting it to be but it was still refreshing and tasty.
Next came a small cup of Korean egg drop soup and a tiny plate of jeon dribbled with a spicy sauce. Apparently, these are simply included in your meal. The soup was thinner and lighter than the Chinese version and had crunchy circles of green onion floating on top. The bites of jeon, a Korean vegetable pancake, were delicious with bits of zucchini and carrot peeking through the batter. The crispy edges in particular were heaven, and the dark red spicy sauce was the icing on the … well, pancake.
My entrée arrived shortly thereafter, artfully presented in a lopsided black and orange bowl that allowed for all the layers to be properly displayed. My rice of choice (steamed white) made up the base layer, covered in a layer of fresh greens, ribbons of purple cabbage, twigs of carrot and rings of green onion. Nestled atop all this was a generous serving of juicy Korean BBQ chicken. I dumped my tiny bowl of kimchi on top, added a spoonful of an unidentified spicy red condiment, mixed it all together and dug in with my chopsticks. The salty-sweet sauce on the chicken spread to the rest of the layers, unifying the array of textures and flavors. Yuuuuuuum. The dish was filling but didn't feel heavy. I ate the whole thing, and when the owner came to take my dishes, she was delighted that had I devoured every bite.
“Do you want some ice cream too?” she asked. “Uh, sure?” I managed to utter, trying to hide my giant food-baby. She brought out a small cup of red bean ice cream and placed it in front of me. I thanked her and gazed at the dessert. My experiences with red bean sweets in the past has been dismal so I was admittedly suspicious of the pale pink frozen cream with chunks of red bean. I took a small bite and my eyes widened in pleasant surprise. The flavor oddly reminded me of the smell of strawberry Lipsmackers chapstick, and I was surprised to note that the texture of the red bean pieces didn't bother me at all. I took another, larger bite and before I knew it, I was scraping the bottom of the bowl.
Before leaving I walked up to the counter, complimented the proprietress on the wonderful cuisine, bowed my head and mumbled, “Kamsahamnida.” Her face looked confused for a moment at my funky pronunciation, then lit up. “Oh, yes! Kamsahamnida! Do you speak Korean?” I admitted that I only knew a few words, and she asked where I had learned them. We chatted for awhile; she was so friendly and just a delight to speak with.
Over the course of my next handful of visits, I tried as many different dishes at possible: don kasu, dak gui, ramen, shrimp rolls, chicken pot stickers, udon-avocado salad, bulgogi tacos, green tea ice cream. The don kasu ($7.99), a fried pork cutlet served with a mild, buttery curry, vegetables and rice, was amazing. Particularly so because I'm not even a fan of curry. The udon-avocado salad ($9.99) was light with creamy avocado, firm red tomato slices, carrots, spinach and other leafy greens, all drizzled with a light sesame dressing that was flavorful without being overpowering. The best way to describe the udon was, to quote The Lion King, “slimy yet satisfying,” but after I took some home in a to-go box, I found that if you give the noodles some time to soak up the extra dressing they are divine. The ramen ($5.99) was pretty basic, but better can be had at the restaurants in Burque that focus solely on balancing the richness and simplicity of a perfect bowl of ramen.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Korean taco, but the bulgogi (beef) tacos ($7.99) were rockin’. Two tacos came on a square plate with a triangle of white rice sprinkled with sesame seeds and a side of greens. The rice was more on the dense side than the fluffy. The tacos themselves were filled with dark, savory beef topped with a light slaw and a creamy orange spicy sauce. The first bite was decadent, and the second was even better after I added the greens.
I could wax poetic for quite a bit longer about Asian Pear, but there's no more room on this page. So go try out this happy little spot Downtown. The food will not disappoint, and who knows? Maybe you'll feel inspired to watch a K-drama to acquire the vocabulary to start a conversation with your hostess in her native language.
508 Central SW
Hours: Monday-Friday 10am-4pm
Vibe: Bright, happy subway tunnel
Alibi Recommends: Bi bim bob, don kasu, bulgogi tacos, jeon