Montreal bibimbap specialists le Bibim bring Korean picnics to Petit Laurier
Taking over the commercial space left over from 2020 downsizing of Frite Alors on Laurier E. is le Bibim, a charming bibimbap take-out counter that has introduced Montreal, and particularly the residents of le Petit Laurier, to Korean picnics.
Back in early 2020, when talk about COVID-19 amounted to little more than headlines of trouble far away, husband and wife Gino Choi and Lena Cho uprooted their lives in Vancouver in pursuit of work in Montreal’s exploding visual-effects industry. Gino managed to secure a job with TechniColor and the couple settled into a new chapter. As is the tale of the times, that far away trouble hit closer to home and as was the case for so many, Gino’s job vanished just as quickly as it appeared, leaving the couple with very few prospects and an urgent need to make a living.
“My mom used to run a bibimbap shop back in the ’90s — I used to help her out all the time,” says Gino, a first time restaurateur himself, as he reflects on growing up eating Korean food back in Vancouver. Without an obvious path forward, Gino and Lena, who met when Gino lived in Seoul, started exploring what Montreal had to offer in terms of Korean food. “We started going out to some restaurants in town and we started to think that maybe we could have a chance to shine.” Using his mother’s recipe, Gino is attempting to recreate a semblance of his mother’s shop with a few tweaks here and there to suit the tastes of the area’s predominantly French clientele.
For my part I would love to see them adjust less and cook without compromise but then again, what do I know? Since opening, Le Bibim has sold out hours before closing every single night — the neighbourhood has spoken and they love what Gino and Lena are cooking. I’m an advocate for traditional, uncompromised cooking but at the end of the day, this is a Korean-owned and operated business with the goal to help establish Korean food as part of the mainstream. If, for them, that means less chili and more baby spinach — so be it. Although, after tasting the food myself, I’m convinced their clientele would love anything they make so long as they continue applying the care and attention to detail used in all that’s on the menu to date.
The format is simple: choose your protein (pork, beef or tofu) and your sauce (soy or chilli). All bibimbaps are served with marinated cucumber, shiitake mushrooms, red onion, mung bean jelly, baby spinach, shredded carrots, daikon radish, zucchini and thin ribbons of egg all served over warm steamed rice. It is a plentiful bowl served in a generous portion. They hope to eventually serve a selection of beer and wine for take-away but Quebec’s notoriously slow permit system means that day might still be a ways-off. For now, there’s a selection of drinks including the beverage sensation of the season, Zamalek’s hibiscus juice and a few Korean classics including a green-grape and aloe juice (one of my all-time favourites) and a surprisingly complex and refreshing “cinnamon punch.”