Who could dislike a dish called bibimbop? Or bibimbab, as Wasabi spells it, or even b-bop. The name rolls off the tongue, and the food itself is equally satisfying, in a different way. You could think of bibimbab as Korean comfort food, though it's served with fiery hot sauce; comfort food, after all, is what makes you think of mom and home, which tends to mean soft and bland for white-bread Americans but something else altogether for other folks.
I asked some recently arrived Wayne State students from Korea about Wasabi, and they were affirmative (though they moaned that the $9-$10 for bibimbab was double what they'd pay at home). The owners, manager Chul-woong Kang and chef Seonghun Kim, are Korean, and I found the Korean dishes far superior to the few entrées I tried from the Japanese side of the list.
Bibimbab is best served in a dolsot, a heated stone bowl. Chef Kim tops a big pile of white rice with little piles of julienned beef and vegetables — carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms, daikon — mostly cold, and a fried egg. Squeeze on the gochujang, a chili-based hot sauce, and mix it all together. It's huge and infinitely satisfying on a cold night, and the fact that it can easily be made at home from leftovers surely contributes to its popularity in Korea.
The other famous-to-Americans Korean dish is bulgogi, which here is marinated rib eye. The marinade includes not only sake, ginger and various fruits but Sprite!
For the pleasurable sensation of a fire beginning in your nose and quickly spreading to scalp and then brain, try the wasabi shumai, steamed wasabi-flavored pork dumplings. Even if they didn't taste good (which they do) these would be fun for the thrill. The usual fried vegetable gyoza are also available.
We also enjoyed the yakitori appetizer, grilled chicken, onions and carrots on a skewer, with a hearty roasted flavor. The accompanying teriyaki sauce, though, is too thick for my tastes; it clashes with the delicacy of Japanese preparation methods and presentation.
Likewise yaki soba — fried noodles with vegetables and either shrimp and scallops or chicken — was distinctly clunky, with none of the lightness and grace that characterizes Japanese food. It was all one flavor — too sweet — so you couldn't discern anything specific in the miniature seafood morsels.
Salmon teriyaki — ordered against my better judgment — came in American-sized portions — two big slabs — but also with too much sweet sauce. My usual policy is to order no teriyaki dish that's not been vetted.
Other possibilities from the Japanese column are beef, pork or chicken katsu. They are breaded and fried and served with a mixture of ketchup, butter, sugar, chicken broth, tempura mix and bottled tonkatsu sauce.
Sushi in all the usual varieties is offered. For the record, both the eel-avocado roll and the chef's choice we ordered were fine. It's a great day in America when people can be ho-hum about good sushi. (For some gorgeous sushi art, look at wasabidetroit.com.)
Some entrées are served with a heap of fresh fruit, and all come with a small carrot or cucumber salad and a heartier-than-average miso soup, with seaweed. For dessert, Japanese ice cream is the best bet, especially green tea flavor. Unless it's a comfort food for you, don't bother with mochi, which is ice cream wrapped in a layer of "cake"— glutinous rice pounded into a rubbery paste. There's also a tempura cheesecake, i.e., deep-fried cheesecake; enough said.
One of the best things about Wasabi is its location in the core of the Cultural Center — especially for Park Shelton residents, who can get room service. Nearby CCS students are taking advantage of the delivery option — and Wasabi even offers them a meal plan card, with $250 worth of food for $150. Kang says that not only students but also DIA customers are asking him about the plan.
Wasabi is open Monday through Saturday. Parking is free in the Park Shelton's garage, and a liquor license is in the works, hopefully for December.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.