I am partaking in a journey where I will appraise every non-franchise restaurant in town and review their food as well as their service. It is an attempt to expand my mind and appetite. Simultaneously, I will also be taking what I learn from these establishments and attempting to remake them with my extremely limited skill.
For anyone believing they’ve got me figured out, predicting my preferences, I wouldn’t presume to assume. Alternatively, you could even accuse me of being schizophrenic in my opinions, lamenting one type of restaurant while praising another for apparently doing the exact same thing. The truth is, two restaurants could produce similar food but go about them in different ways, resulting in divergent reviews. You’ll observe that some locations, family restaurants in particular, appear to receive uniform condemnation despite a few being clearly superior to others. It’s not that I expect bad food or bad service; I just don’t expect anything extraordinary. Is that a presumption, culinary bias? When I walk into a restaurant, I always expect to be satisfied…because we all should, because it’s a service industry and we pay to be serviced. It’s actually something Canadians are good at, what our economy is mostly based on. Don’t believe me? It’s true.
Sitting down on a lightly padded folded chair in front of an orange plaid plastic covered table, you’d expect instant disillusionment from having to endure another diner more suited to the back alleys of Bangladesh. Sim’s Lunchbox has only three tables, adding a fourth outside depending on weather, something I won’t be attempting given this nippy late September afternoon. It certainly matches its name—lunchbox—with just enough room for a half -dozen comfortably. Chocolate bars and crates of bottled pop obstruct an otherwise functional interior. The married owners greet me with an obsessive fanatical desire to please, quickly pointing out the various dishes, none of which I understood. It’s not often I’m broadsided by culinary lingo, but these items threw me, forcing me to Google a few options on my iPhone for clarification. The confusion stemmed from the geographical region being offered. Friends mentioning Sims described it as Japanese, while I assumed in passing that it was Chinese.
It’s actually Korean, and I don’t mean Korean cooks slicing sashimi; I mean Korean-named dished. Stuff called gimbaps and bulgogis. I found something called bibimbap, and honestly, don’t you think someone just spelled out random noises coming out of R2-D2? I found donkatsu, yaki soban, and chicken teriyaki. Okay, that last one I knew, but I had to look up a few of the others. From an expert, I’m told gimbap is a Korean maki which is usually a combination of vegetables, meat, and rice. Unlike sushi, it’s not “vinegared” (his word). The nori on the outside is often glazed with sesame oil. He didn’t mention that it’s also presented in geometric shapes other than a roll (I got a triangle). Yakisoba is Japanese, literally meaning fried noodles in sauce. Donkatsu are pork cutlets. Bibimbap is a mixed rice plate. Bulgogi is a fried meat dish…I know, kinda disappointing, isn’t it? Bulgogi sounds like something naughty.
I know I’m tempting retaliation by summarizing a country’s cuisine, but for the layman, there’s really no other option. Sim’s food can be best described as askew of Japanese (since Sims claims to sell both Korean and Japanese, this can be excused). Most people aren’t aware of what Japanese cuisine is outside of California rolls and bento boxes. And what I’m served looks like a bento box, but nothing placed inside of it was familiar, save maybe for the miso soup, and the salad…and the—OK, so most of it was familiar under cursory examination; it’s the details of the meal I’m talking about. It simply tasted different. Not different bad, just different. The sauce over the pork cutlet was literally indescribable. The egg roll didn’t resemble anything I had enjoyed elsewhere.
I had ordered the larger combination, which for $12.95 was a considerable amount of food. The pork was a little on the dry side, resting on a deceptively generous portion of sticky rice. I’ve seldom enjoyed breaded pork cutlets as I’ve never had one that didn’t have the texture of leather. About the only element I felt could have used more was the salad. Not for the lack of trying on the part of the owners, whose obsession to pleasing customers was ranked up there with Michelin star restaurants and 10k/night callgirls. One orbited around the counter to point out the individual plates and their explanations, constantly smiling and bowing throughout. It was somewhat a disappointment when they failed to offer a drink.
And for some strange reason, I had no knife but two spoons.
The greatest praise I can offer Sim’s lunchbox is the observation that they make their own food, even the basics of food. Those gimbaps wrapped on a shelf are made on site (at least I think so). His teriyaki sauce is homemade. These are a pair of workers that for a handful of hours every afternoon move at the speed of a ferret on a double espresso to satisfy the flood of customers that occur between 11 and 1. Located in an industrial area of town, Sim’s competes with the likes of Rita’s Place and Simmy’s Bistro but unlike those places, has no comparable cuisine. And this bothers me somewhat because I worry about the appeal of Korean cuisine among car mechanics and pipe cutters. Considering the customers swamping the checkout counter as I spoon-cut my breaded pork, my concern may be unfounded. However, during my meal, one customer wandered out unfulfilled because the owners had run out of both soup and noodles (although this might have been a simple misunderstanding).
I know it reads like I am making excuses, and maybe I am, but I really want to like Sim’s Lunchbox. Here are two people running from the seat of their pants in a frantic furry to make all dishes they offer on their menu, stumbling when demand overcomes supply. Show up too early, and one might not be able to order the beef curry, too late, and you have to lose out on the Korean pancakes. Given the region, with little else as competition, I could see Sim’s succeeding. I have this lingering desire to try these other dishes. That happens when there are selections I had never heard of. I mean who wouldn’t want to see what bulgogi tastes like? The idea is certainly more appealing than going to a family restaurant and measuring their burgers to the fifty other places in town. To those working in the area, Sim’s offers a nice alternative to your typical soup and sandwich places.