There was this cute cafe down the street from my work that I liked – Umbrella Cafe. I mean, technically I was only there twice, but the one time I had some kind of vegetarian goulash that made me feel like I was making out with a Romanian. It was wonderful and rustic!
Anyway, like most good things, it closed up around the beginning of summer and I was so sad. “You act like you ate there everyday,” Henry scoffed. (I guess I do this a lot.)
Shortly after, a large piece of paper went over the window that said “Bae Bae’s Kitchen coming soon” with a cute little outline of a house. For some reason, I thought that maybe it was going to be Southern comfort food? I kept picturing someone’s adorable grandmother who goes by the name Bae Bae, pulling out some fucking delicious corn bread from an oven and setting it down next to a platter of fried okra.
Months went by without an update, until one day a few weeks ago, there was a new sign next to the door, kind of not easy to see unless you’re actively searching for clues, which I was (I have little going on in my life, you guys, please let me have some thrills). On this new sign, I saw my favorite word in the whole entire world: KOREAN.
A FREAKING KOREAN RESTAURANT WAS GOING IN DOWNTOWN!
Immediately though, I wondered if it was going to be some kind of American-Korean bastardization because it seems like all of the “hip” American restaurants lately have some kind of twist to Korean cuisine on the menu. And Pittsburgh has very few traditional Korean restaurants. So I wondered.
Finally, it opened, but of course it was the week I was off work. Several people texted me about it and I was like HELLO I HAVE BEEN ALL OVER THIS. Lori said she would go with me, because she was with me one of the two whole times I went to the Umbrella Cafe, so it seemed fitting to ask her. But then she wasn’t at work on Monday or Tuesday and I wasn’t sure of her whereabouts and didn’t even consider to check the department calendar. I figured I would just wait it out. I’d make it there sooner or later.
But then! I walked past it yesterday on my break and my heartstrings were all sorts of tugged and tangled. I started to keep walking but then something in my gut stopped me and I backpedaled my ass straight into Bae’s Bae’s Kitchen, where I was greeted by a friendly Korean girl wearing a bandanna in her hair, and I was immediately so happy, why am I this way.
This is one of those joints where you order at the counter, so I walked up with a purpose and when the guy behind it said hello to me, I blurted out, “I HAVE NEVER BEEN HERE BEFORE” and he was like, “OK! Let me help you…” He started explaining to me what various menu items were and I was trying so hard not to be a Hallyu know-it-all, so I just kept nodding and let him finish. I asked if the kimbap (I pronounced it the correct way, thanks) had meat in it, and he showed me that there was also a vegan version.
“Are you vegan?” he asked, and I said I was just vegetarian.
“I just pretend like I don’t know that kimchi is made with anchovies,” I laughed.
“I’m pescatarian, myself,” he said, and I savored this beautiful moment of camaraderie. I WAS HOME. Then he started to explain to me what japchae is and I was like, “Dude, I have like four bags of that in my house right now” except that I just smiled giddily instead. You guys, you should have seen me. I was literally bouncing from foot to foot with my hands clasped under my chin.
I had already eaten my daily oatmeal lunch (I’m a sad person), so I decided to just get something light for that day. I opted for a take-out container of vegan kimbap, kimchi, and milk tea.
“Do you want boba in that?” he asked me, and when I exclaimed, “Yes!” he gave me a smile of approval.
“You get to pick a straw!” he said, offering me a selection of fat, neon straws. I picked pink, of course. And then he handed me my receipt with both hands!!!!!!
While I waited for him to finish making my milk tea, I gushed about how excited I was that they opened up downtown, and he thanked me. I wanted to be like, “I AM GOING TO SOUTH KOREA NEXT MARCH!” and also “DO YOU LIKE RUNNING MAN?!!?!?” but I took deep breaths and forced myself to bring it down a notch.
“There are utensils over there,” he said, pointing across the restaurant and in my head I was like, “LOL, OK, I have chopsticks in my desk, but thanks.”
I wanted to take some pictures of the interior and the menu, but I was the only one in there (it was after 2pm, so kind of an off-hour) and felt like everyone working there was paying attention to me. So I left with my food and immediately called Henry.
“Was he Korean?” he asked me after I told him about my exchange with the guy at the counter. Like I said, we weren’t sure if this was going to be some Americanized joint, so it was a valid question.
“Yes, they all were,” I answered.
“Did you just say ‘we all were’?!” Henry asked incredulously.
“No, I said they all were…” I said, but to be honest, I was a bit unsure and kept trying to play it back in my head.
“You totally said ‘we.’ Wow, what a Freudian slip,” Henry laughed. Fuck off Henry.
I was still on a Bae Bae’s high today and was telling some of my co-workers about it.
“You could have just checked the calendar!” Lori said when I told her I went without her because I didn’t know when she was going to be back in the office. “We could have went today!” And then later, I accidentally left her off of a department-wide email, so I’m losing points with her left and right. Now she will never make me another Special Event countdown calendar!
Meanwhile, I had talked such a good game that Todd was totally geared up to check this place out today for lunch.
“Where is it, again?” he asked.
“It’s down by where my favorite homeless person sits,” I said matter-of-factly, and Todd knew exactly where I meant because I have dragged everyone down into my crazed abyss. Unfortunately, Todd was on late shift today so he got to Bae Bae’s at 4 and apparently they were only serving drinks at that time because they were preparing to open back up for dinner at 5.
Lauren said she could appreciate that, but Todd was all, “I walked so far out of my normal radius for that!” But then Amber suggested that maybe our next group team building exercise could be lunch at Bae Bae’s. SHE IS THE BEST!
(Would it be embarrassing if I ask them if they’re named after a BIGBANG song?)