...isn't the ever-growing food court. Yes, the cheap dim sum is good for a thrill. And the pre-packaged barbecue beef buns are great for taking home to snack on while you watch a movie. But the best part about eating at 99 Ranch -- on a Sunday evening in particular -- is the discount pastries afterward. But more on that in a second.
Sunday night, I met up with my friend Dr. Ricky to try one of the new Korean places that's opened up just off the main food court at 99 Ranch (1005 Blalock, 713-932-8899). We headed over to Yori Yori and set about deciding on a few dishes from its vast menu.
We finally settled on bibimbap with kimchi (seen above), oyster pancake and spicy tofu soup. Ricky grabbed a can of sujeonggwa -- a cold, sweet ginger and cinnamon beverage -- and I grabbed a trusty bottle of orange-flavored Ramune.
"Do you know how to open this?" asked the girl behind the cash register. I nodded, having already been schooled in this fine art at Sushipop by another cashier who made me feel utterly ancient. Her face fell a little bit.
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"Oh, that's my favorite part, opening it," she said. "I love it when people buy Ramune so I can open it up for them." I handed her the bottle and told her to go for it. She lit back up and popped the thing open with a supremely satisfied look on her face.
It was a short wait from there for our food. My kimchi bibimbap was fine, especially with the runny egg poked open and allowed to drench the rice beneath. But although I let the rice sit for quite a while in the stone bowl, it never achieved that crispy, crunchy texture that I crave. And the entire thing was quite bland -- yes, even the kimchi -- and I had to drench the thing in gochujang to up the spice level to enjoyable standards. Ricky's tofu soup fared better, being ideally spicy and lusciously silken. The oyster pancake was too heavy on the scallions and wasn't cut into pieces, making it difficult to pull apart and eat. But it was far from an abysmal meal; it was just average.
Afterwards, we headed over to the bakery inside the grocery store proper to grab dessert when we were greeted with news that perked me up after that very average dinner: On Sunday nights after 8 p.m., the pastries in the bakery are buy-one-get-one. Half-price pastries! We went bananas, scooping up "Mexican chocolate cream" pastries and red bean-filled buns to our hearts' content. I spent a total of $5 on a huge box of pastries, half of which made it back to my office the next morning.
Caveat: Not all of the pastries are buy-one-get-one on Sunday nights, but the woman behind the cash register is quick to point out which ones aren't. Either way, they're not terribly expensive even when you pay full price, so go nuts.