Sunday, February 12, 2012

All you can eat not-so-Korean BBQ. - Restaurant Tianxia

 All-you-can-eat Korean BBQ doesn't seem to be very popular in Montreal, so much so that most of the AYCE Korean BBQ places here are owned by Chinese people. Tianxia is a prime example of one of these establishments; to anyone with any remote knowledge of Chinese or Korean, the name Tianxia is very obviously Chinese. Still, it was cold out and my friend really wanted AYCE Korean BBQ, and with so few options for Korean food in the downtown area, we decided to hit up Tianxia.

The good thing about giving a Korean restaurant a Chinese name is that it sets your expectation level before you even go in. Also, since Korean BBQ involves mostly grilling meats on a grill, authenticity isn't really a factor.

... Or so we thought.

Accessibility - Grade: A
The restaurant is located on Bishop street, north of Ste-Catherine's street. It's right next to the Hall Building of Concordia University.

Service - Grade: B-
The service was standard. Our orders were brought out very quickly, and our waiter checked in with us pretty often, but the whole process was rather brisk and mirthless. Also, I was pretty amused by the fact that the waiter spoke in mandarin to us the moment we stepped into the restaurant...

Food - Grade: C

I haven't been to that many AYCE Korean BBQ, but this one is by far the... oddest one I've tried.


They start by bringing out the standard banchan, which consists of seaweed, kimchi and beansprouts in this case. They taste like the ones you buy at the supermarket, so nothing special here.

All the cooking is done on these grills, which are built into the table. The grill takes up a good portion of the table, and even border can get very hot while the heat is on, so be careful not to burn yourself!

Pork bone and potato soup

Now onto the food. Apart from the meats for the grill, Tianxia also offers a large variety of cooked foods and appetizers. I started off with the pork bone soup to chase off the cold. I thought the soup was pretty fragrant, if a bit salty. It also tasted more like the soup my mom makes at home than the potato and pork bone soups I've had at other Korean restaurants.

They also serve main dishes (noodles, rice) in small portions, such as the tteokbokki shown above. Tteokbokki (or ddukbokki) is a stir fried spicy Korean rice cake dish. Traditionally, the rice cakes are cylindrically shaped and cooked with eggs and meat. I'm not a huge fan of rice cakes to begin with, but this particular concoction was especially puzzling. They used Chinese rice cakes and Chinese hot sauce, but cooked it in a Korean way. The end result was pretty lacking. If you want to try good tteokbokki, I'd say try your luck at Chez Hwang, Hwang Kum or Maison de Seoul.
Mini bibimbap
The mini bibimbap was very cute, and was one of the better cooked dishes. The rice was a bit too mushy, and the lack of variety in the ingredients made the bibimbap a little bland, but it was much better than the tteokbokki.

We also tried the fried calamari and the onion pancakes. The fried calamari was rubbery and the onion cake was too dry; both were rather flavourless. I'd say avoid these, if you're planning on visiting this place.
Meats for grilling

Now, onto the meats! Tianxia offers a pretty good variety of meats for grilling. We ordered the pork, chicken, beef, beef ribs, lamb and shrimp. One portion gives you a decent pile of meat, so if you want to try a bit of everything, then start off with one portion of each. I particularly enjoyed the beef ribs, which were fatty and meaty, and thus sizzled and popped nicely on the grill. The beef and lamb were also pretty good, and the shrimp became plump and juicy when grilled. The pork and chicken took a little longer to cook, and were drier and more tasteless in comparison.

I'm used to having the meats be marinated at AYCE Korean BBQ places. Usually, the meats have a nice sweet and salty taste to them after they're cooked, and don't require any additional seasoning when consumed after grilling. I was surprised to find the meats here completely bland after cooking. They do supply you with two bowls of sauce and one bowl of cumin when they bring out the meats, which I thought was for dipping. After some speculation, my friends and I figured the sauce was for drizzling onto the meats while they were cooking. Still, marinating the meat would have given it much more flavour and also would have tenderized the meat; drizzling sauce only gave the meat a touch more flavour, but it was still quite tasteless.

Price - $$-$$$
We went on a Friday night, so the prices were a bit higher than on other nights. It was around $22 before tax and tip. Apparently it's only $13.95 for lunch, but has less options, and prices are a bit lower on weekday nights. If you're a big meat-eater and don't care much for the quality of taste of food, then the prices are pretty reasonable for AYCE. Otherwise, it's $25 best spent elsewhere.

Final Grade: C
Even if we do lack AYCE Korean BBQ places, I don't think I'll be returning here anytime soon. The quality is pretty lacking, and food tastes tastes like it's having an identity crisis. In the meantime, I'd recommend you check out Hwang Kum or Chez Hwang if you really want to try Korean BBQ, even if they aren't AYCE.

Tianxia Restaurant Coreen
2065B Rue Bishop
Montréal, QC H3G 2E9
(514) 288-2065


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  2. Yeah, I love eating BBQ Chicken. Last weekend I ate yummy BBQ chicken at Seattle Wedding venues in an event. All dishes there were looking awesome and the event was totally rocking. Will love to attend such events again.