Words by Camille Ong
Photos by Trina Armedilla
Recently, Korean restaurants have been populating the Metro. More specifically, Korean BBQ restaurants; unlimited meat and side dishes, tables with built-in grilling stations, a smoky atmosphere that will leave you smelling like barbecue once you leave. While this is definitely enjoyable and something you should experience, sometimes we should take a rest from what we’re familiar with. Step out of our comfort zones in terms of food, if you will.
Gaja Korean Kitchen, while still very Korean in its taste, offers a dining experience like no other. They use different techniques in cooking and plating, that’s why you’ll find some of your favorite Korean dishes unrecognizable in terms of appearance, but familiar (if not better) in terms of taste.
Samgyeopsal Kimbap (360)
An example is their Samgyeopsal Kimbap. We usually grill the samgyeopsal on our own and then wrap it in lettuce with rice and sauce. At Gaja, we don’t need to go through the process of making our own lettuce wrap because their kimbap combines samjjang rice, pickled radish, lettuce, garlic, kimchi all wrapped in thin slices of samgyeopsal.
Seoul-Style Bulgogi (350)
The beef bulgogi almost melts in your mouth! The glass noodles and the tasty broth makes this a very comforting bowl of soup.
Osam (PHP 450)
In Korea, osam is squid and pork belly chopped and then sautéed together in a spicy sauce. Gaja’s osam, on the other hand, is deconstructed. The different textures of the chewiness of the squid and the crispiness of the pork belly was an unexpectedly good combination!
Ribimbap (PHP 480)
A beautiful take on the bibimbap. Instead of the usual raw egg on the top, they replaced it with a poached egg. The chef told us that Koreans usually fight over the crunchy rice found at the bottom of the pot.
Galbi-jjim (PHP 850)
Their Galbi-jjim is also something you should look out for. Sous-vide (way of cooking in which food is placed in a plastic pouch to retain juices and aroma) for 48 hours, their kitayama wagyu short ribs came out really tasty and tender. It’s usually cooked with chopped potatoes and carrot, but the chef at Gaja decided to puree them instead.
Kimchi Lasagna (350)
Since the galbi-jjim is bursting with flavors, pair it with their kimchi lasagna for a balanced taste. Instead of pasta we have toasted rice layered with pulled pork, kimchi, all over clarified kimchi butter.
Korean Chili Lava Cake (280)
For dessert, we got to try their Korean Chili Lava Cake. The chili powder mixed with the melted chocolate can be found inside the cake itself. The chili is more of an aftertaste, really, so the ice cream served with it tones down the spiciness.
Guava Lemonade (110), Banana Milk (110), Mint Aloe Soda (110)
The Guava Lemonade is aloe vera juice with sugar syrup, lemon, and guava. Oddly enough, the taste reminds me of my favorite candy: sour candy.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Banana Milk because I was expecting convenience store banana milk but instead, I got the real deal: banana, milk, and crushed nuts combined.
The Mint Aloe Soda was very refreshing. You can never go wrong with the combination of cucumber, mint, and lemon!
Kimchi Sour (280)
Aside from their juices, they also served us soju cocktails from their hidden bar. Their Kimchi Sour is surprisingly fragrant. The kimchi taste is very subtle and it goes well with the sourness of the lemon. All in all, it was a refreshing drink that I couldn’t get enough of.
Smoking Tiger (250)
The presentation of the Smoking Tiger is one for the books. They serve it under a glass dome reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast and then they smoke the inside to add a smoky finish to it.
Even though ODD Seoul, the hidden bar inside Gaja Korean Kitchen, was still closed (they open at 4PM) when we visited, they still showed us the entrance to the place. Hidden behind the wall, it was quite hard to find. Who knew the painting on the wall was actually the door? To open it, you need to press down on a bottle of soju. Entering it is already a unique experience in itself!
Craving for Korean food? Check out the newly opened Gaja Korean Kitchen at Poblacion and don’t forget to drop by their hidden bar!