If you've passed by Buga recently, you can't help but notice the new sign. Well, that's not the only thing new at Buga. According to my sources, there's been an ownership change. One of the partners of Manna has taken over Buga. This also explains the slight remodel of the interior as well.
So it was only natural for the Missus and I to drop by and check the place out, right? We ended up visiting twice over the last couple of weeks and though we didn't order BBQ, we had a couple of interesting dishes.
Things have been modernized, from the signage to the menus, to the addition of a "wine" and dessert list as well.
Buga's menu design has been modernized in terms of lettering and style...gone are the Korean Romanizations, all items are either spelled out in English or Korean.
There's a large list of new appetizers and though I believe that many of the other dishes existed in the old menu, this fresh rewrite actually had me looking it over.....and trying to figure out what they were, since the Romanization was gone.
I'm thinking the panchan is a great place to start. On our first visit, we noticed that the variety of panchan, along with the quality and flavor were sorely lacking.
This seemed like really cheap AYCE quality panchan. Nothing very interesting and the item that I consider my baseline, the standard baechu (napa cabbage) kimchi tasted like sour cabbage with very little spice and none of the wonderful fermented flavor I really enjoy.
During our visits, I went with a couple of appetizers, items I believe are new. Like the Kobe Beef on Sizzling Stone ($13).
For the price I didn't expect much....surely not "AAA" Kobe.....this was decent wagyu, nice flavor, the stone adding a good crust on the bottom. Lightly seasoned, the beefy flavor came through, though this was a more chewy cut, we both thought it was not bad.
You know me and chicken wings....so I had to try the Buga Crispy Chicken Wings ($7). The wings were frenched, an attempt at creating a more refined look.
To me this backfires when you send out product like the drumette whose bone had snapped, making this look rather amateurish. The coating was too light, more flaky than crispy. The sauce was a rather fruity, much too sweet, chili sauce.
The Japchae ($10) was cooked to perfection; not too oily, the noodles having a nice pull to them.
I thought this needed a bit more flavor. We asked for sesame oil which added a savory nuttiness that definitely brought the flavor up.
The Missus was looking for Her favorite hot weather dish; the Yukkwe Bi Bim Bap. I found it on the menu as Beef Tartare Bibimbap ($15).
She had this on both visits. The hot rice for the dish is now served separately, probably due to health code. The portion size seemed a lot larger. Along with cho-jang and sesame oil....well, this is still a favorite.
I actually went with the Kalbitang, yes soup, on one of our visits. It's on the menu as "Kalbi" Beef Rib Soup ($12), something I don't recall having at Buga before. I'm not sure it was on the old menu....
This was just rich enough with enough beef flavor for us. I do wish that the place had sea salt instead of iodized salt in a shaker...maybe that's coming? The ribs were just soft enough, without falling apart nor being mushy in texture.
We've got a pretty long history going with Buga, going back to August of 2005, so a change was probably in the cards. It seems that quite a few of our regular haunts are going through changes in the last year. I guess we've been doing this for quite a while now.....
I'll do another post after we check out the Korean BBQ.
Buga Korean Restaurant
5580 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92117