Sariwon (Thornhill)

Location: Thornhill, Canada
Address: 7388 Yonge Street
Type of Meal: Dinner

Mentioning Korean barbeque in Toronto brings up images of all you can eat restaurants where diners cram around a small table and cook thinly sliced meat on a cast iron plate. The quality of the meat is usually subpar but the prices are cheap and food is plentiful.  Sariwon is where you can go to experience authentic Korean barbeque cooking in a comfortable environment.

Located in a retail plaza on the bottom of condo buildings, the location is surprisingly large with tons of tables and several tucked away in separate rooms.  Tables are spaced a comfortable distance away from each other so you don’t feel like you’re spying on you’re the cooking skills of your neighbours.
Sariwon serves an extensive menu with Korean non-barbeque dishes (pork bone soup, bibimbap, etc.) as well as a couple of pages dedicated to Chinese cuisine.  However, you get a sense to stay away from all these as everyone who comes generally gets their barbeque mains.  To be fair, it appears this is what they do best as the goon man doo (dumplings) ($6.95) we ordered to begin was pretty disappointing – tasteless pork filling wrapped in thin oily deep-fried dough.  It needed something more - vegetables to add some texture, sauce to give it some flavour, really anything to make it taste less like store bought frozen dumplings.

Before the mains arrived, two complimentary appetizers came first - salad with a homemade orange dressing and a vegetable omelette pancake.  Nothing that blows your mind but of course appreciated.  I particularly liked that their pancake wasn’t too doughy and had a fair amount of vegetables sprinkled throughout.

 Next came a boiling bowl of deonjang jjigae (soybean paste tofu soup) filled with cubes of tofu, slivers of vegetables, button mushrooms and pieces of octopus.  I could have just eaten that with a bowl of rice.  The savoury soup had just a hint of spice from the chilies in it and with the plethora of ingredients really became a hearty stew.

Deonjang jjigae

Finally our mains arrived, which required a trolley to serve with the abundance of banchan (small side dishes to share) that came with it.  In total, we received eight dishes (not all pictured) including:
  • Napa cabbage kimchi
  • Cucumber kimchi
  • Some sort of pickled vegetable (radish or coyote vegetable) in a jalapeño brine
  • Spicy blanched bean sprouts tossed in sesame oil
  • Julienned fish pancakes mixed in a sweet and sour vinaigrette
  • Oyster sauce (?) stir fried peanuts
  • Julienned raw potato salad
  • Stir fried dried shrimp in a sweet soy sauce

With the exception of the dried shrimp, I liked them all.  I appreciated that the kimchi was not too fermented so the vegetables retained their crispness.  The various flavours and acidity of the dishes went well with the heaviness of the meat. 

For the barbeque meats, we ordered sam kyub sal (pork belly) ($18.95) and yang yum kalbi (marinated beef short ribs) ($26.95).  The pork belly wasn’t what I expected; arriving like strips of bacon except being tasteless given it hadn’t been smoked or salted.  It was bland and after cooking tasted like grilled boiled pork so I wouldn’t order again.  The kalbi was much better, tender and marinated so that it was flavourful but not overpoweringly sweet.  Additionally, it was cut to a good thickness – not too thin that it overcooked easily but also not so thick that you felt you had to gnaw at it.  

A basket of crisp romaine lettuce and a green onion soy vinaigrette salad accompanied the meats so that you could wrap them like ssam.  Each person also received a dish of sweet bean paste of peppered sesame oil to add more flavour if required.  I really enjoyed the bean paste and finished every drop of it.
Lettuce dishes

Small bowls of soojong gwa (chilled ginger-cinnamon tea) finished off our meal.  The pieces of crushed ice floating in the sweet liquid were perfect after sitting beside the heat of the grill.

Sariwon is great place to go with a group of friends if you just want to take your time having dinner.  We didn’t feel rushed and the staff generally left us alone until we called them with the button situated on the wall beside our table.  The drinks were reasonably priced; bottles of Sapporo only set us back $5 apiece.  What you end up paying is comparable with the all-you-can-eat Korean barbeque places but you’re in a more comfortable environment.  The two meat dishes was more than enough to satisfy three people and we were stuffed given the soup, salad, rice and banchan that’s also served with it.  In the future, I’ll be visiting Sariwon when I want Korean barbeque.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System
  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!
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