My lunchtime group used to play “Volume Sweepstakes.” It’s a bang-for-the-buck game. Whoever ordered the greatest bulk of food for the lowest price was the winner. Why seek quantity over quality? When you’ve bit off more than you can chew (late-’80s, 11-percent mortgage) it’s the thing to do.
The old gang would have loved Do Re Mi House (8199 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Kearny Mesa). For starters, take the banchan, the array of intensely flavorful small plates (think kimchi and similar dishes with daikon, bean sprouts, cucumbers, potatoes, fishcakes) that arrive at your table to accompany a Korean meal. Every Do Re Mi lunch includes eight banchan (most restaurants offer fewer), refilled endlessly and with uncommon happiness. These banchan are quite tasty, too.
The spicy bean jelly was exceptionally good. The fishcakes are particularly savory, almost meaty. And steamed broccoli with spicy mayonnaise is a banchan I’ve never seen in San Diego.
But Do Re Mi’s lunch is more than these starters. The menu offers value, but is also varied and flavorful. At the expensive end ($12-$16) are combinations of tofu stew and grilled meat (think Korean BBQ) or bibimbap. While neither portion is as large as the entrée versions, you won’t walk away hungry. A bento-style box including an order of grilled meat with some fried dumplings, rice, salad and a seafood salad is less expensive.
Do Re Mi’s tofu stews, however, are not their strong suit. The kimchi jjigae (fermented kimchi tofu stew) was a bit angular, the spice and heat of the aged kimchi dominating without balance from the pork broth. The dumpling soft-tofu stew was watery, the dumpling working overtime in vain to provide flavor to the dish.
The grilled meats were far better. The kalbi (marinated beef short ribs) was excellent, the quality of the meat shining through and the marinade providing the perfect balance of sweet and savory. Pork kalbi was even better with richness joining the party. The spicy pork (daejibulgogi) added a heady layer of heat.
My favorite lunch choice was the bibimbap. The dish arrived at the table in three parts: bowls of rice; a variety of sautéed and seasoned vegetables, sliced beef and a fried egg; and a bottle ofgochujang (a slightly sweet Korean chile paste). It’s the diner’s job to mix them all together (“bibimbap” means “mixed rice”).
It’s a near-perfect meal: varied, tasty, healthful and filling. It’s an explosion of different flavors (vegetables, meat and rice) with, ultimately, the rice being the star of the show. And it’s a Volume Sweepstakes winner every time.