Have you ever heard of Bibiya? No? I would imagine you soon will; it’s quickly becoming a hot spot in south Springfield for those who appreciate healthy, fresh Korean cooking.
Located on S. Fremont and E. Republic, Bibiya (pronounced “bib-ee-ya” which means “mixing house” in Korean) opened in the fall of 2011 to an almost instant success.
My experience at Bibiya began after a somewhat hectic afternoon. I walked into the storefront restaurant and was immediately enveloped in the soft green and brown décor, low lighting, and understated sophistication. I immediately felt my tension begin to ease.
I greeted my classmate, who was seated at a high top table, pictured below:
I must admit, my first reaction to the seating arrangement was not positive. I’m rarely comfortable at high top tables, and feel as if I’m going to fall off. However, once I sat down in the faux ostrich covered seat, I forgot I was at a bar height. The chairs were every bit as comfortable as a regular chair. For those who are most comfortable in traditional seating, there are booths in the back of the restaurant.
I did not realize that Bibiya is not a full service restaurant; that is, you order at a counter. One down side of this aspect is that both my classmate and I had a dozen questions regarding the cuisine, and the dinner rush came in the door right on our heels, so we felt a bit rushed in receiving our tutorial. Had our orders been taken at our table, we would have felt no urgency to move along.
Although Bibiya offers several entrée dishes, their most popular offering is Bibimbap, meaning “mixed meal”. Here is a tutorial in a nutshell:
Basically, you select the type of bibimbap you want; salad type, traditional, or hot stone bowl. Then you decide what type of rice you would like, one of the four pictured above. For an additional $1, you can add a protein topping, selecting from Bulgogi(beef), Teriyaki chicken, Tofu, or Spicy Shrimp. Finally, you choose your sauce; Kochi(spicy), Sesame (Nutty), Bibi (Sweet BBQ), or Lemon Soy(Citrus). You can select more than one saucem and as many additional toppings as you are willing to pay $1 for .
I selected the hot stone bowl, with black rice, teriyaki chicken, and sesame and lemon soy sauces. The concept of this dish fascinated me. The bowl is literally a black bowl that is heated and is indeed hot. Next goes your rice selection, topped with a generous serving of vegetables, including zucchini, cucumber, carrots, bean sprouts, shitake mushrooms and Korean Royal Fern, as well as any protein selected. The sauce comes on the side, so the customer can choose the desired amount of flavor. I also selected a side of edamame, soybeans which are slightly blanched and salted.
Bibiya offers Coca Cola products (a plus in my book), as well as beer and wine and hot tea. The soda beverages are self serve. I was given a number to set on the table for the server to identify my location, and I took my Diet Coke to the table and sat down to wait.
I didn’t have to wait long; five minutes passed, and our server Roy brought my food. I was concerned about the hot stone bowl, trying to figure out how I was going to eat without burning my accident prone self, but the stone bowl arrived on a wooden tray. The presentation was only eclipsed by the wonderful aroma rising from the sizzling bowl. Server Roy (who by the way, is a Drury University junior) explained that the sauces on the side were to be poured over the veggies and meat in the bowl, and stirred with the chopsticks provided. Rounding out the offerings on the tray were a bowl of bean sprout soup and a small dish of pickled cabbage and onion. I did not care for the bean sprout soup, which I found to be rather bland, but the pickled dish was a pleasant surprise. This dish was more sweet than sour, and provided a nice finish to my meal later.
Now, I’m not very good with chopsticks, so I was a bit nervous, since only chopsticks were offered, but I did ok. There was enough starch in the rice that I was able to use the chopsticks as a sort of shovel, and haul in some decent portions. From the first bite, I was hooked. The flavors simply meshed together for one of the freshest, most flavorful eating experiences I’ve ever had. Another aspect that I appreciate is texture in my food, and the bibimbap did not disappoint! The rice had a crunchy, nutty texture, probably because it was frying on the sides of the hot bowl. The vegetables were not overcooked, and each individual texture was distinct. After Roy passed our table and realized that I had used all my lemon soy sauce, he brought me a bit more, and that’s when the flavors really went POW! Although I didn’t finish everything in the bowl- I left a bit of black rice-I would say the portions were just right, and I didn’t have that awful stuffed feeling you sometimes have when eating a dish with a large concentration of rice.
While I understand that the primary reason for going to a restaurant is to eat, I am just as impressed or turned off by atmosphere and cleanliness. In the case of Bibiya, I’ve already mentioned that the understated décor was immediately relaxing and comfortable. Once I’d slowed down on my shoveling operation, I sat back and looked around for signs of the establishment’s attention to cleanliness, and those signs were everywhere. Even out of the way nooks and crannies had been dusted. The floor was spotless. A trip to the restrooms showed the same care.
Just before we left, our server Roy came by to see how we enjoyed our meal, and then he did something that I thought was a brilliant move for any restaurant server; he practiced suggestive selling for my next trip to Bibiya, saying that he really thought I would enjoy the buck wheat noodles. Hmmm… I think I’m ready right now.