The core phrase of “old is new” is typically used when referring to the cyclical nature of time. It follows that tracing its precise origins would prove tricky. “Everything Old Is New Again” was penned by Peter Allen for the Bob Fosse 1979 biopic All That Jazz. But it was Stephen King who wrote, “sooner or later, everything old is new again” in his 2005 novel Colorado Kid, which is a lighter version of George Santayana’s “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Forget the doom and gloom: At Bap and Chicken, the old really is (pleasantly) new again. The new counter service Korean restaurant on Grand Avenue in St. Paul remixes familiar signatures of other local Korean restaurants—like its adoption wall, and subtitled K-Pop videos playing on a prominently placed TV—with a selfie wall, handheld lights for foodies, while serving up one of the world’s oldest rice bowl dishes in new and inventive ways.
“Bibim” is Korean for “mixing various ingredients” and “bap” (pronounced bop) is Korean for “rice.” A variety of bibimbap top the first portion of Bap and Chicken’s menu.
The fairly traditional Bulgogi (Korean barbecue beef) bibimbap appears first, with the onions, kimchi, and poached egg—but with an added bonus of oyster mushrooms and the surprising addition of brie cheese, which adds a little funkiness and creaminess. Both times I sampled this dish I really enjoyed it, though most recently the amount of cheese present was a bit less than the first. It still works though, and wasn’t a detriment.
The Bap and Chicken namesake bibimbap consists of Korean Fried Chicken, house-made kimchi, caulilini, bok choy, soft egg, and mushrooms with nicely spiced gochujang sauce. A second visit put to rest initial concerns I’d had with the kimchi’s salt levels, but the rice wasn’t as fluffy as I’d remembered. There is a preparation method for bibimbap called “dolsot” (after the piping hot stone bowl involved in its preparation) so the rice gets a little crispy, like a good paella; I didn’t know if that was what Bap and Chicken decided to go for, but the rice in the sides leads me to believe it was supposed to be fluffier.
The Uff-Da bibimbap with Korean-fried bacon-wrapped Spam, fried pickles, cheese curds, rice tots, and ranch dressing might be the least traditional bibimbap on the menu, but it was really fun and tasty, suggesting a budae-jjigae stew with Spam and pork. A variety of quinoa bowls, including a build-a-bap option, and a burger on a rice bun round out the menu’s bibimbap section.
Chicken, being half the name, also brings half the game. Large portions of fried legs, thighs, half and whole birds with a variety of sauce choices from naked to gochujang are available to order, as is a Korean Fried Chicken sandwich. There’s also a whole Korean Fried Chicken and Moët option on the menu if you really want to do it up Gangnam-style.
If you’re looking for sides or an appetizer, an array of “Korean Bar Snacks” await. Standards of Egg Kimbap (similar to a sushi roll with egg), Japchae Dumplings (noodles and veggies in a wonton), kimchi fried rice, and tofu are on offer. Of these sides, the most interesting to me remains the Mayak Egg on Rice.
The Mayak Egg on Rice’s menu description is simple: “Addictive soy marinated egg on white rice.” That’s basically what you get, but with chiles, scallions, sesame seeds, and a little extra sweet soy, and when everything comes together it really is quite addictive. The yolk’s fattiness helps cut the heat from the chiles, the saltiness from the soy cuts the fat, the sweetness from the soy rounds out the flavors, and everything is accentuated by the slightly warm rice.
This is the only dish I’ve gotten all three times I’ve gone to Bap and Chicken—first because it’s that good, and second so I could gauge how the rice is that day. At the preview dinner? Typically fluffy rice. Second visit? As mentioned above not quite as fluffy in this or The Bap and Chicken. Most recently it was typically fluffy again. One thing that did change was the yolk’s doneness; during the preview it was a lovely jammy-soft yolk, while on subsequent visits it’s been firm. Nonetheless, the dish is still quite enjoyable.
These details are important. Rice is the foundation for most of the bibimbap and a few of the sides; if the rice isn’t consistent, the experience is noticeably different—whether upon repeat visits, or for those trying a dish based upon someone’s recommendation.
As for the doneness of the yolk? If the yolk’s neither soft nor hard, but a good spreadable consistency that allows for the egg to be cut without leaking, it becomes a sort of binding sauce that allows for incorporation into the entire dish’s experience. A firm yolk’s one-note, bite-and-done can’t do that.
If you still have room for dessert, and I’d definitely save room, I highly recommend the ice cream sundae. Really good vanilla ice cream is served with fried cookie dough (it was snickerdoodle when I had it) and a ginger matcha syrup. Local and Korean beers as well as reds, whites, and a rice wine are available to wash it all down, along with a variety of soft drinks.
Overall, Bap and Chicken is a great addition to the local rice bowl scene, thanks to abundant creativity. I only hope their consistency will one day match it.
Bap and Chicken
1328 Grand Ave., St. Paul