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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Palsaik Samgyeopsal: Take Your Pork Belly Pick (Choose Spicy)

Palsaik Samgyeopsal, translated as eight-colored pork belly in Korean, sounded a tad gimmicky. "Pork belly, marinated and seasoned EIGHT different ways!" The verdict is that it was good but there wasn't a big difference in flavor among the different marinades.

Adding to the gimmick radar was having a sloped grill, presumably to allow fat to slide into a receptacle; a wooden plate when all the pork belly slices first come out that is labeled in three languages (Korean, Japanese and English) what the marinade or seasoning is, suggesting the sequence in which they should consumed (from mild to spicy).

The eight kinds include red wine, plain, ginseng, garlic, herbs, curry, fermented soybean paste and spicy red pepper paste. I was ready to savor the pure flavor of the meat and fat, but I didn't like the milder ones. The wine didn't add anything, the meat wasn't flavorful enough to warrant a full-blown appreciation of the plain one; the ginseng was barely noticeable (read: bland); the herbs (I tasted some parsley but it was probably a mix) one wasn't that good either; the curry one wasn't bad but call me a traditionalist, my favorite was hand-down the last one -- the most strong flavored one. The dwenjang (fermented soybean paste) one was ok but not good enough to warrant anything more than a brief mention.

 Here are the things I liked most about this joint.

1) The spicy red pepper paste pork belly (gochujang): the spicy marinade hit the spot but I did miss the most complex marinade for pork ribs and bulgoki that also includes garlic mixed with some sweetness.
2) Upon pre-heating the sloped grill, the server dumps these huge heaps of kimchi on one side and another pile of semi-spicy kongnamul, or soybean sprouts.
3) Pickled daikon radish that you can use to wrap the morsels of pork with. As pretty as it looks, I didn't love the bright pink coloring action. But they tasted good and a must for any heavy meat fest like this one. It acts sort of like a cleanser to balance out the greasiness. Wonderful combo.

I wasn't impressed with:
1) Greens selection and quantity: They gave us lettuce, Korean green pepper and perilla leaves but unlike other joints, this place decided to skimp as much as possible and give out perilla leaves in multiples of three leaves. That was annyoing. We kept having to ask for more. "Please give us more than three sheets."
2) Anemic vegetables selection: The combo we ordered came with some vegetables but they merely included a single slice of sweet potato, an even smaller slice of yellow pumpkin, two sad slices of oyster mushroom, two button mushrooms and some garlic and pepper slices. Oh, and a radish cube on a stick our server used to flavor the grill. I couldn't taste but it was different, I guess.
3) Green onion and lettuce mix: This is the stringy green onion and shredded lettuce mix that also wasn't flavorful or as plentiful as I'm used to in other joints.

Did I mention the combination is a great deal? There's plenty of food for a party of four and after the meat-grilling is over, we got the seafood soup, which was good. It had some crab, which is always challenging to suck out the flesh from but a nice change from the usual fermented soybean paste stew. The seafood was fresh, which was a nice surprise.
Then, as if we weren't already beyond stuffed, we were offered complimentary cold buckwheat noodles that Koreans have at the end of a barbecue meal. Cleanser #2.

The noodles were just ok but at least very cold with ice broth floating, which is always a good thing. I'm still in search for excellent nengmyun, the Korean name for this noodle dish.

Made from beef broth, it comes with sliced radishes, one slice of Asian pear and half of a hard-boiled egg. Usually there's a slice of beef but not in this version and that was ok.

I know it's crazy that I was even expecting to get complimentary dessert like at other barbecue joints (a glass of shikhae, a cold rice drink or at least a slice of orange!) but alas, there wasn't any.

While I do like pork belly, I think I liked Dongdaegam better for its variety and fried rice at the end (this would be what people call mindless eating).

Honey pig is a close second. Gimmicky? Yes. Worth the hype? I think I'll venture to old standbys DDG and Honey Pig for now.

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