Panda Express Goes "Koreanish"

The measure of a food's success isn't how well it's generally prepared, but how frequently it gets screwed up.

A dish enters the mainstream when dilettante cooks start messing with it, producing their own pitiable versions of a food that seemed fail-safe in expert hands. When top chefs years ago caught the vertical food bug, their columns of avocado and crab meat were classy; it was only when lesser chefs' misbegotten towers of micro greens and bacon fat started toppling over that the trend went from elegant to everyday.

And so, by that standard, it's time to declare Korean barbecue officially humdrum. The beefy obsession migrates from urban darling to suburban shopping mall snack tomorrow with the debut of Kobari Beef at Panda Express, the 1,300-outlet Chinese steam-table chain. The entree -- which a release is careful to describe as "Korean-style" -- is the first Koreanish dish to join Panda Express' line-up.

I haven't sampled the dish, so I have no idea whether it's as saucy and salty as everything else Panda Express serves. But, if it is, that represents a major triumph for Korean cooking, which was relatively unknown in the United States a decade ago.

If you'd like to revel in pedestrian Korean fare and all it means for the standard American diet, plan to do so on September 29. That's "Free Kobari Beef Day" at all Panda Express locations; the required coupon's on the chain's Facebook page.

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