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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mori Sushi: Overpriced & Overrated

I must document the outrage I felt after having tried Mori Sushi for the first time. My first choice, Hiko Sushi, was closed for the holidays, so I figured I'd give Mori, which I had heard was decent, a shot. How would I describe my experience there? Sheer highway robbery.

First of all, restaurants or bars without signs are a pet peeve of mine. A drawing of a fish displayed outside doesn't count as a sign. Let's drop the gimmicks and focus on the food. It's also a bad sign when a supposed sushi joint serves things like "miso cod" and has different kinds of omakase (chef's choice) by price and number of pieces. Then I made the colossal mistake of ordering the all-out omakase that would later set me back quite a bit of dinero.

The first thing was good -- lobster tossed with some citrus juice that made the texture feel like the lobster meat was the actual citrus pulp. Then came two kinds of raw oysters and another two poached kinds. I'm not a big fan of oysters but they were fresh enough. Then came crab soup with fish in a pretty bowl that left me perplexed. Wasn't this supposed to be omakase as in sushi and sashimi? The soup was a bit salty but fine. But that's not what I had come here to eat. I decided to take matters into my own hands and asked the waitress to give us sushi and/or sashimi -- "no cooked foods, please." This was the first incident where I ruffled the sushi chef's feathers.

So they brought out two to three different kinds of sushi on a plate at once. I like innovation as much as the next person but there's probably a good reason sushi is traditionally served on a small plate either as a single piece or two pieces. It keeps it more fresh. There was a parade of sea bass, three different kinds of tuna and other more fishy sushi that were highly underwhelming. I asked that the wasabi be placed not between the fish and the rice as it is too strong for me (that even the notorious Hiko sushi chef Shinjisan gladly does for me) and I prefer to dissolve it in my soy sauce but the chef politely declined. There were some eyebrows raised for ruffling his feathers again.

I happen to be partial to sushi that is paired with warm rice and this one didn't even come close. The rice was cold to room temperature but more importantly, had been made a while back and was crumbly and flavorless -- just awful. The fish was not that fresh and I soon found myself seeking refuge in some sake. I couldn't get over the container it came in -- what looked like vintage crystal that I remembered seeing a lot of in Prague. Sake drunk in beautiful Czech crystal glasses? Nice but one more reason to believe this place seem to put style over substance. And yes, there was one final thing I asked for that probably didn't endear me to our waitress. I know this was omakase but given that the fish wasn't anything to write home about and our bill was adding up by the minute, I flat out asked for uni (sea urchin), one of my favorite things in the world, as our last one.

As it turned out, this was the best one, its final redeeming offering. It served Japanese uni and uni from Santa Barbara (the one on the right in first picture), the latter of which was creamier and delicious (minus the bad rice, of course). The anti-climactic finale came with dessert that was a tangerine jelly (when what I craved was tangerine sorbet or something more refreshing than, uh, jelly -- given the price tag, I think they can afford to do something a tad fancier than jelly). How could a place like this stay in business? Totally beyond me. To think that I spent upwards of $100 on this bad to mediocre meal is mind-boggling. But at least you won't have to make the same mistake. In fact, I won't even tell you where it is. If you want quality sushi, get thee to Hiko today!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Get Your Burger Fix

After many disappointing outings, our burger club resumed to mild success at Fix Burger in Silver Lake. While the beef burger cooked medium rare with avocado, American cheese and barbecue sauce on the side was above average, the patty was a bit pasty for my taste. I loved that it offered sweet potato fries, but was bummed to see that the fries had been fried a while back and flash-fried just before coming out. I could tell because they were crispy but too hard. Just didn't taste as fresh as, say, the amazing sweet potato fries at Mr. Bartley's in Cambrige, MA (which, by the way, has great burgers too).

Let's talk about the burger. The bun was too flimsy and didn't hold its own to the patty and toppings. This place apparently specializes in unusual burgers like ostrich and buffalo burgers, and also has vegetarian options (but you know how I feel about that). I've had buffalo burgers before but I'm not feeling the ostrich kind, not least because I like my burgers pretty bloody. The thought of consuming a bloody ostrich burger (if they'll even cook it that way for me) isn't too appealing but I will probably try it one day.

Bottom line is that Fix ranks higher than Lucky Devil's, the Hungry Cat's Pug Burger and Weiland Brewery's burger for its taste and value, and similar to the one at 25 degrees in Hollywood, but nowhere near, yes, my all-time favorite Houston's California burger. Granted, Fix's quarter pounder is half the price but also half the flavor, half the juiciness, you get the idea. I think key is the fat content of the patty that will make it juicy. The way it's ground also matters so it's not too pasty but just chunky enough.

It's strange. Everyone at the burger club agrees Houston's has the best burger and yet we've never gone as a group to savor it. It's like we're forever in a quest for a better burger in L.A. but inevitably we haven't found it. We are limited by our budgets but I am willing to try Comme Ca and other high-end burgers (although heard Grace's burger was underwhelming, agree?).

The atmosphere was a bit sterile (Pinkberry meets Yogurtland -- wait, don't they have the same decor?) but service was fine and it was so baby-friendly that almost all the other customers seemed to have babies in tow. Its shakes are supposed to be good but alas, I'm no shake fan. I am a fan of BYOB, though, which I happily complied with by bringing my own Pacifico.

Stay tuned for my best of 2008 list!

Fix Burger
2520 Hyperion Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 661-8494

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hot Off the Grill in Tehrangeles

Angelenos on the West Side are fortunate enough to have Tehrangeles, that enclave of Little Iran where stores sell books in Farsi and ice-cream parlors have saffron or rosewater ice-cream that some naysayers say tastes like soap (but I like). I finally ventured to Shamshiri Grill after frequenting Shahrzad a few doors away for years. I couldn't resist the fresh-out-of-the-oven breads at Shahrzad that came with butter that I would bury between breads to melt and later spread on the slightly toasted bread (not sure what this bread is called but it's a type of flat bread like nan). I would always have to pace myself since the pending koobideh portions were quite massive. I'm glad I tried Shamshiri. Its fish kebab (pictured above) was excellent and lamb shank fantastic. The fish was sea bass, I think, and very fresh. It came with herb rice, a nice variation from the standard saffron basmati rice. We can't forget the usual accompaniments of perfectly charred tomato, green pepper and onion. It's grilled right in front of you in the kitchen that's separated from patrons by glass. Seeing rows of tomatoes and peppers on huge metal skewers on the grill only add to the anticipation when waiting for our food.

Fortunately, my eating partner had ordered some baba ghanoush as a starter so we dipped away with the bread. I liked that the fish kebab came with a choice of tabuli or a cucumber and tomato salad called shirazi (pictured below) that was very refreshing. The mint and tang in the vinegary dressing was a good counterbalance to the meats, although the fish was definitely lighter than the lamb shank dish (Shirin Polo, which came rice mixed with slivered almonds, pistachios and orange peel that added sweetness -- delicious).

I also tried the bamieh (pictured below), which is a stew with okra, onions, potatoes and mushrooms in a saffron tomato sauce. Buried inside the red mass of goodies was a sizable chunk of lamb shank, just like the Afghan treasure I had in Tempe, AZ. As you may know, I'm a huge fan of Persian cuisine. So much, in fact, that I made a Persian feast with my cooking buddy for the Persian New Year. I will keep on cooking but in the meantime, I'll be stopping by these neighborhood joints that have the kind of atmosphere you only get around the Westwood Blvd. stretch between Wilshire and Santa Monica/Olympic. Service was also very good and one order could easily last at least two subsequent meals because of the portions.

Shamshiri Grill
1712 Westwood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 474-1410

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Spanish Fiesta Just Because

What better time to whip out the Sangria and paella than the end of the year, the supposed festive time of the year? I was never a big fan of the holiday madness but my partner in crime and I just wanted an excuse to make simple fare with lots of wine flowing and Spanish food seemed to fit the bill. It definitely was not inspired by Spain On the Road Again, that annoying PBS show that should really be dubbed Beauty and the Beast. First of all, it's not really a food show because the footage of Mark Bittman canoodling with eye candy in the form of a gorgeous Spanish woman young enough to be his daughter around Alhambra is longer than a two-minute meal they have. The other eye candy is Gwyneth Paltrow driving around with Mario Batali in a convertible making the car sponsors happy. I mean, she doesn't even eat meat! Hello? The only redeeming part was the episode where they all go to Albert Adria's (Ferran Adria's brother) joint Inopia in Barcelona for a positively amazing-looking Spanish feast.

But I digress. Here's our menu:
-Jamon Serrano and Arugula Salad with Pomegranate Salsa
-Roasted Root Vegetables Salad with Persimmons (the only non-Spanish thing)
-Classic Tortilla Espanola and a nuevo version made courtesy of Ferran Adria
-Tuna Croquettes
-Leeks with Romesco Sauce (pictured right)
-Lamb Meatballs with Red Pepper and Chickpea Sauce

As for drinks, we had Sangria, Cava and red wine.

Out of the dishes I made, I enjoyed the ham and arugula salad the most because I usually find salads very boring and this one was both interesting and flavorful. It also met my strange criteria of cooking a first-time ingredient -- and ricotta salata took the prize. I don't like ricotta cheese in its gooey, watery form (let's face it -- we have it because it's good for us). But this hardened, dry version was wonderfully dense, clean-tasting and complemented the salty serrano ham, nuttiness of the arugula and tanginess of the pomegranate dressing perfectly. The ham could have been softer and better quality but it sure saved me a trip (and more) to the Cheese Store in Beverly Hills. Interesting factoid: it's Suzanne Goin's recipe of Lucques and AOC fame although I'm not a big fan of her restaurants.

I also liked the nuevo estilo tortilla espanola made with potato chips (and piquillo peppers and ham) but I think the downfall for this dish was that I premade it too much in advance so the egg part was too hard by the time we reheated it. It was a bit too salty for me as well. After all, potato chips are super salty and even though I didn't add any salt, the serrano ham bits added more saltiness and the result was sodium overload even for a salt-lover like me.

The classic Spanish omelet version (left) was clean and simple. I really liked the broiled leeks with the wonderfully nutty (from the almonds) and smoky (from the roasted piquillo peppers) romesco sauce. I fondly recalled a great No Reservations episode where Spaniards tossed a bunch of leeks in their skins on a massive grill and later delightfully peeled the skins to reveal a perfectly cooked beauty that they dipped generously with romesco sauce and just stuffed into their mouths with their hands. Primal eating at its best.

The unequivocal star of the evening was the paella. It's always a crowd-pleaser to begin with, but think juicy chicken thighs, meaty clams, pale pink shrimp sprinkled with my personal favorite, chorizo slices. It was made on a barbecue grill after browning the chicken on a skillet, which not only gave it a slightly smoky flavor but also delivered the best part of making rice on a pan -- the crunchy, toasted bits that form in the bottom that you must scrape with all your God-given strength (and so worth it).

We made sure to balance out the meatiness with some vegetables and the root vegetable dish (pictured above) was just that. It's decidedly non-Spanish but I had made it before and it's such a winter dish that I had to serve it. It includes rutabagas, turnips, parsnips and carrots that have been roasted and become incredibly sweet in the process. Then tossed with some juicy and sweet fuyu persimmons, caramelized shallots with some oil-based dressing tossed with some Belgian endives and frisee. The icing: blood-red pomegranate seeds adorning the dish like jewels. They make a great garnish for salads and entrees and have such a tart taste and unbeatable texture (pop!) when you bite into them.

There were certainly some misses. I thought the lamb meatballs were far too dense and needed some oil to be added in the patty mixture. The yogurt sauce ameliorated the dryness but not by much. It's Nancy Silverton's recipe but as much as I love her breads and pizzas, these didn't do the trick for me. The tuna croquettes were a disaster. Maybe it was my use of whole wheat flour and lactose-free milk that threw off the recipe.

We finished the meal off with pears poached in wine and other goodies topped with vanilla ice cream. The pears were soft and tinged with the Merlot's deep red color and full-bodied flavor. All in all a good meal and we're already planning for our next one in who knows how many months. We're thinking Moroccan... Stay tuned.

PS: a special thank you to ctg for her great food styling and photos.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tamales for a Good Cause

Here's a quick one. I love tamales, but I'm very picky. I like the Mexican variety, but I recently discovered the ones from El Salvador and Guatemala served at Mama's Hot Tamales near McArthur Park that are wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks. I decided I like this variety better. The chicken with red sauce one I had wrapped in banana leaves was addictive. The chicken was tender and moist. The red sauce could have been spicier but you could add salsa verde for some kick. The best part besides having a less doughy corn dough than their Mexican counterparts is the olive. What a pleasant surprise as you bite into this delightful gem. The meshed flavors of corn masa, chicken, olives, potatoes topped with a red (and green sauce depending on how you like it) sauce blended perfectly. At $2.75 each, they're also a bargain. So take the red line to McArthur Park station and wash them down with some jamaica like I did.

The restaurant is a training program where apprentices cook and serve these lovelies. Because the wait staff are also trainees, sometimes the service can be spotty but I'm more interested in the food anyway (I mean, who hasn't been to a Chinese or Korean place with amazing food and awful to nonexistent service?). There are chicken, pork, beef and veggie options as well as the usual burritos, enchiladas and other Mexican fare. But why have anything other than its namesake? I liked having the combination tamale with salad option. The house salad included mixed greens with tomatoes, cucumbers and queso fresco, with a very refreshing avocado and cilantro dressing that I'm going to try to replicate from home.

Mama's Hot Tamales
2124 W. 7th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90057
(213) 487-4300

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Korea Dining Guide II

Don't mean to belabor the point of having eaten well in Korea, but can't help but gush about the food there. Here's my third and last entry. It spans different parts of Seoul, the West Coast in Choongcheong Province as well as the fancier fare that has cropped up in trendy areas.

There are oldies and new finds. This one's an oldie but oh-so-goodie. Hanwoori is first and foremost a barbecue place where you can grill meat table side but the one thing I go for time and time again is its guksu jeongol, a beef noodle dish that has the most complex broth and thinner-than-udon noodles topped with green onions, shiitake mushrooms and my favorite ingredient, kennip, the peppery green I anointed most underrated in an earlier posting.

The beauty: it all happens right before your eyes, at your table. Sure, there is the anticipation-filled wait, but it's so worth it once you dip your chopsticks into the garlicky and slightly spicy noodles with razor-thin slices of Korean beef. Korean beef is the equivalent of Kobe beef here -- meaning it's rare (pun intended) and people pay a premium for its distinct taste that can't be found in imported meats (mostly from Autralia and Brazil -- there was such a scare from U.S. beef and with anti-American sentiment still at-large, it's now the law to state the originating country of the beef your restaurant uses -- very bizarre). While I am a proud carnivore, I'm no meat connoisseur to the point of being able to tell where the meat originated from. I did like and appreciate the Korean beef called hanwoo (where the restaurant hails its name), which tasted very fresh.

The boiling pot soon turns into a beautiful brown and reddish tone, which signals it's ready. The noodles' rough edges lead me to believe they are hand-made on-site (or at least freshly made if not by hand). But the wait staff know exactly when the noodles are done just right and they are indeed done to Korea's version of al dente, not as underdone as in Italy but just enough to feel the chewiness. The greens perfectly complement the meatiness of the, well, meat and "carbiness" of the noodles.

As if that weren't enough, just when you're feeling bloated from all those noodles, the lady comes with a little bowl of rice, some chopped veggies and an egg. It's juk time! Yes, Koreans believe that having porridge at the end of a meal helps with digestion and this is no exception. It's delicious but by God was I full. The noodles had been replaced with rice. What a meal.

Almost a stone's throw from Hanwoori is Jejuhang (named after Jeju, an island off the southern coast of Korea), which satisfied another craving of mine. I recall having the meatiest pieces of grilled and braised fish when I visited Jeju Island a few years ago. Jeju is known for its kodeungeo (mackerel) and kalchi (hairtail). The fish is usually so fresh that I like them broiled just with some salt. Here, they were also braised with spicy pepper paste, sugar and some vegetables. The natural oils from the fish blended very well with the garlic and sauce and the fish was basically "like buttah" by the time it was served.

I was in fish heaven. While I preferred the broiled silvery kalchi, the braised mackerel was also excellent. The fish was fresh, almost as good and juicy as I remembered it from Jeju Island.

If you ever travel west from Seoul toward the coast, there are certain things you must have, especially in fall season. The coast is known for prawns (called daeha -- look at the size of those!) and crab. So if shellfish is your thing, that's the place to be. We had plenty of both (even though summer is usually the season for both, the heat -- yes, global warming -- extended it to fall) at a al-fresco restaurant overlooking the ocean crammed with people and massive tour buses. I didn't necessarily see the tour buses as a bad sign as I usually do. This was a recommendation from a guide book I trusted and I was going to eat there even if my life depended on it. It was Bogeum Hoegwan in Southern Choongcheong Province (or Choongnam).

I admit the prawns were a bit tough for the price, but were still good grilled on a bed of salt. The kicker, though, was the crab. First they served kyejang, which is raw crab marinated in a mix of soy sauce, garlic and other aromatics. I couldn't believe how meaty the crab was. It usually takes so much work to scoop out the flesh because the crabs are borderline anemic. But these had plenty of flesh to spare. Then they had kkotkyetang, which is a stew with crab, spices and some greens. Wow. Hope this doesn't offend anyone but the crabs were literally moving before they were dropped into the pot.

We made a pit stop at Dogo hot springs nearby and boy, did we find some gems. Both were recommended by locals. One was Chojeong Shikdang, a hole-in-the-wall in a small alley of restaurants that serves two things -- a beef broth soup boiled for hours from bones and cow head (known as someorikukbab) and a soup made from cow's blood and known to be a good remedy after a late night of drinking, sagolhaejangkuk. Neither may sound very appetizing and I'm no huge fan of cow head and other innards (not to mention blood), but I got to give it to them. The broth of the cow head soup was excellent -- complex and really tasting like bones and beef. Mix some rice, chopped green onions and salt and we're in business. We liked it so much we went back for breakfast back to back during our stay.

Another find was a restaurant catering exclusively to taxi drivers called Gohyangkisa Shikdang, loosely translating to Hometown Drivers' Restaurant. This place is also no-frills but I had very solid cheongkukjang, a stew much like duenjangjjigae using fermented soy bean paste with some vegetables and tofu. The difference is that the paste is a LOT stinkier than the regular paste of duenjang. Although different, it might help to say that cheongkukjang is to duenjang what nato is to Japanese miso. It's definitely an acquired taste but it easily became my favorite comfort food.

This area is known for its sweet potatoes and they are out of this world. At every stop on the road, local farmers sell them by the boxes at a bargain and hand you a few piping-hot ones cooked in those old-school devices with tiny round drawers circa 1970s.

Two restaurants I'd recommend in Seoul: Han Moe Chon and Ru, both near the Blue House. Han Moe Chon is a traditional jeongshik restaurant serving mostly vegetarian fare in a gorgeous setting reminiscent of a traditional Korean home. The lunch had many courses but my favorites were the acorn jelly topped with cucumbers and pine tree leaves seasoned with sesame oil and some red pepper flakes; and the braised duck wrapped in steamed cabbage leaves. The latter reminded me of the excellent pork belly and garlic leaf dish I had at Soseonje, although not quite as good. The namul or steamed and seasoned roots and vegetables were really fresh and unlike anything I've had in L.A.

The other one is Ru, which is slightly trendy but had interesting takes on traditional Korean food. Perched up on a hill overlooking an artsy neighborhood, the most interesting thing we had was very thin "noodles" made out of raw potatoes smothered in a black sesame sauce. It was refreshing and likely perfect for the summer months. It had the usual suspects of japchae (glass noodles with meat and vegetables in a soy and sesame oil sauce) and jeon (pancakes) as well as other more unusual offerings, such as tofu patties.

In conclusion, there were two things I had to have on this trip -- ttukbokki and just plain old ttuk. Both are rice cakes and variations of Korea's favorite dessert. One is a spicy snack that I can't seem to get a version of in a place like L.A. I also wanted all kinds of rice cakes, including the plain old white garaettuk (it's the block of ttuk used for ttuk guk eaten on New Year's Day), songpyun and many others.

I can't tell you how happy I was browsing through the food court area in the basement of Hyundai Department Store. Though the other items we bought at shops were bad, the ttukbokki, or rice cakes in spicy sauce with a boiled egg and noodles, was good. It hit the spot with its spiciness. I simply don't understand why it can't be replicated in L.A. I tried making at home to no avail.

Good rice cakes are hard to come by in America, so it was only natural that I hoarded all kinds of ttuk when I was introduced to a small shop in a new suburb called Bundang. It's called a View with Rice Cakes and is incredibly good. I baked the white rice cake in a toaster oven under high for a few minutes to get it crunchy and browned. I then dipped it in a soy sauce and sesame oil sauce before taking that immensely satisfying bite. Suffice it to say I still savor my rations of white rice cakes that I brought frozen from Korea.

Then there were the bean rice cakes that were conveniently wrapped individually and the songpyun, typically eaten during the Chusok Harvest holidays in fall. The rice cakes were soft and a bite squirted either a delicious honey and sesame seed mixture in its heart or just sesame seed paste that was equally nutty. I just about overdosed on them.

Hanwoori (한우리)
Kangnamgu Nonhyundong 91-18
(02) 545-3334

Jejuhang (제주항)
Kangnamgu Shinsadong 628-21
(02) 512-7071

Bogeum Hoegwan (복음회관)
Choongnam Taeangoon Anmyuneop Changkiri (Baeksajang Beach)
(041) 673-5349

Chojeung Shikdang (초정식당)
Choongnam Asanshi Dogomyun Kikokri 160-5
(041) 542-0359

Gohyangkisa Shikdang (고향기사식당)
Choongnam Yesangoon Yesaneup Kanyangri
(041) 334-8200

View with Rice Cake (떡이 있는 풍경)
Jeongjadong next to Citibank building
(031) 713-9494

Han Moe Chon (한뫼촌)
Jongrogu Jaedong 46-8
(02) 766-5535

Ru (루)
Jongrogu Samcheongdong 25-7
(02) 739-6771

*Whatever you do, make sure you stroll around any of these restaurants to check out the local neighborhoods. You may just discover another gem. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Coast to Coast Dining Guide for Korea I

Since there were too many good places, I'll do a roundup of all the best eateries I experienced during this Korea trip in several installments. Most restaurants don't have Web sites so I'll link them to Korean blogs for those of you who speak Korean or just want to see more pictures.

Jaha Sonmandoo's specialty is dumplings. The restaurant is a converted house that sits on top a hill overlooking a beautiful view of the neighborhood near the Blue House. It's a bit tricky finding it but the trip is worth it. I had pyunsu, which are square dumplings containing beef and what sets it apart is it contains crunchy strips of cucumber, which is very refreshing and provides good texture.

The mandoo soup was a nice bowl of beef broth with large and round mandoo with some variation in color depending on what they added to the mandoo skin. I'm not sure what they add to the dough but it's likely pumpkin, spinach or strawberry water. The most memorable thing about this place was the combination with its just-ripe kimchi because it went so well with the garlicky and meaty taste of mandoo.

I traveled to Seoraksan by the East Sea to get some air and enjoy one of the most gorgeous foliage there is. Well, it was a bit early for foliage but I still got my share. Besides, the food and company were superb so I wasn't complaining. One of the first things I did when I arrived in Korea was to search religiously for food guides since I hadn't been back in a while. I wasn't disappointed. My first stop was, interestingly enough, not from any of the food guides except by our hotel's recommendation -- an impromptu find whose name escapes me (I think it was Seorak Sketch). It was jungshik, with a huge spread of side dishes and my personal favorite, the piping hot rice in a stone pot topped with all these goodies that are good for you -- chestnuts, jujubes, gingko nuts, etc.

The best was yet to come. We had excellent Korean-style Chinese food and a cornucopia of perfectly charred charcoal-grilled fish varieties the next few days.

Behold this perfect platter of crispy morsels of tender pork smothered in a sweet and sour sauce that has just the right amount of tanginess and sweetness. It's the classic tangsuyook and I daresay it was one of the best I've had. The restaurant, Wangbu, was originally in Seoul's trendy Samsungdong but its urban owners decided to move to the countryside where the air is better. I suspect the batter probably had corn starch to get that kind of ultra-crunchy texture. The sauce didn't drown the airy pork pieces but complemented them perfectly.

The even more classic Korean-style Chinese dish, jjajangmyun, noodles topped with jet black, glistening black bean sauce. The sauce had the usual zucchini, onions and pork. Samsun jjajang as opposed to Gan jjajang comes with shrimp and squid, but I prefer Gan jjajang for its simplicity. The noodles were chewy and I could taste the black bean flavor in the sauce. Many restaurants in Korea and L.A. mix too much caramel into the sauce to sweeten it and make it taste nasty, but Wangbu's sauce was just right.

I ordered the jjampong, a spicy seafood noodle soup that came highly recommended by my trusty guide book. The jjampong was definitely spicy in a good way. Even as a jjajangmyun person, I enjoyed it for its fresh seafood flavors and got my daily intake of vegetables.

The view wasn't bad either.

A real find was this true hole-in-the-wall smack in front of the Seokcho port that you can only get to through the narrowest of streets (no SUVs allowed). I mean, check out the contrasting view from this joint. At the busy dinner hour of around 7pm, 88 Sengsun Gooi was the only restaurant along the waterfront that any customers. I also noticed this was the only restaurant serving cooked fish as opposed to hoe, or sashimi, which Koreans love to consume near the ocean (live! straight from the tank!) but I'm not a huge fan of. Being a sushi/sashimi snob, the way the fish is cut in most Korean restaurants just doesn't "cut it" for me.

Each tiny table was equipped with a smoke absorber that slowly comes down to cover your tableside grill as soon as you sit down. The thing to order is mixed fish, which includes about half a dozen types of fish including sardine, squid, a flat gajami and the super oily mero, among others that I can't find translations for.

The fish was incredibly fresh -- so fresh that all it needed was salt and some serious charcoal to char it to perfection. Sampling a variety of fish was such a treat and for those who like spicy, the restaurant offered some soy sauce and wasabi as a dipping option. I tried both and while I appreciated the simple flavors of the fish seasoned only with salt, there was something to be said for the dipping sauce. I do like salty. I highly recommend this place.

Back in Seoul, I had excellent home-made bulgoki courtesy of HB. These stir-fried lovelies marinated in soy sauce and garlic, among other things were made even better by the addition of glass noodles and oyster mushrooms. Thanks HB! A recipe that I will definitely steal.

You may have to call most places to find them.

Jaha Sonmandoo
Jongroku Buamdong (on way to Book-ak Skyway)
02)379-2648, 394-4488

Seokchoshi Nohakdong 1000-7
(033) 635-6012

88 Sengsun Gooi
Seokchoshi Joongangdong 468-55 (by the waterfront)
(033) 633-8892