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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Korea Roundup 2011: Kalguksu Pairings at Andong Gukshi Cheongwajeong

There's nothing like a nice, hot bowl of kalguksu on a cold, overcast day. That's exactly what we got at Andong Gukshi Cheongwajeong (안동국시 청화정) that's known for that very noodle dish, located in the suburban town of Suji .

I must say, the broth is key for any self-respecting bowl of kalguksu, literally translated as "knife noodles" for the way the noodles are hand-made and cut. And I wasn't too impressed with the strength of the broth of this one.

But what compensated for the weak broth was the banchan, or side dishes.
The Korean green onion kimchi above (thinner and more flavorful than the western variety) is a breath killer but a fantastic match for the mild broth.

The second side dish that did it was perilla leaves pickled with red pepper flakes and green onions. This also paired extremely well with the noodles. Usually, this side dish is consumed with rice as a way to wrap the rice (like with dried seaweed) but in this instance, it was used to wrap white noodles. Starch is starch but it was an unusual but delicious way to consume it.

And of course, how could I forget the venerable kimchi? I actually liked the perilla and green onions with the noodles and broth better but the kimchi was good too.

Also, I remember kalguksu joints used to give you a pickled green pepper relish that you could add to the noodles but this place replaced that with these strongly flavored side dishes that played that role of accents.

Check out the bowl of kalguksu by itself -- it looks lonely for sure. That's why it has these three side dishes to complement its milder flavor with punch.

Noodles + perilla leaves
Noodles + Korean green onion kimchi
Noodles + kimchi

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Rave of the Week: You're Giving Me The Sweetest Persimmon

Look at this beauty! I knew there was a reason fall was my favorite season. There's a bounty of amazing fruits including persimmons in every shape and form. I always virtually overdose on fruits when I come to Korea because they taste so fresh and sweet.

This persimmon, called hongshi in Korean, is no exception. I was never able to find a decent one in LA, honest to God. If they were ripe enough, they didn't taste sweet but ttulbeo, which is to say, not right.

I confess I've been consuming one of these babies every day. Thank God for hoarding! They're like candy except it's all natural sugar and it's addictive as heck.

If anyone knows of a great persimmon purveyor in LA, pray tell!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Korea Roundup 2011: Meaty Fish Grilled to Pefection at Jejuhang

I know I've already reviewed this place, Jejuhang, but I only briefly mentioned it and considering I devoted a whole post to ranting about a lack of good kalchi fish in LA, I thought I should have a moment of silence for this most excellent restaurant.

It certainly doesn't come cheap. And this neat row of three grilled Hairtail (kalchi) cost us a hefty $40 but then again, it came with rice specked with black rice pebbles (giving it a deep purple hue) and the delectable side dishes that I'll get into in a bit.

The fish apparently gets flown in regularly straight from the source in Jeju Island off the southern coast. I so missed the taste of seriously meaty kalchi. It was just oily enough (but not as much as a mackerel that it also specializes in but we didn't order) to give it that soft texture and grilled to perfection with perfectly charred skin.

Let's talk banchan. It had five different kinds of side dishes, including one of my favorites, doraji. It was smothered in a spicy, tangy and barely sweet marinade -- a mix of garlic, red pepper flake, sugar, sesame oil, sesame seeds and rice vinegar. Doraji, which doesn't have a universally accepted translation (platy cando is one), is basically a root vegetable that has been pounded for softening and then shredded thin. It has an earthy and slightly bitter taste that blends extremely well with the aforementioned marinade.

Then came the greens in the form of sutkat. These usually show up on your table in fresh form, accompanying lettuce and perilla leaves for a barbecue fest. But they are also a popular type of namul, which is a standard way of eating greens and roots -- blanched and seasoned with either a spicy or just garlicky marinade.

The cabbage kimchi was just ok and the pickled radish and super fine (as in not stalky -- I don't mean fancy) seaweed (parae) wasn't anything to write home about.

I will try to return to this place to re-savor the braised mackerel I had last time -- piping hot and bright red in its spicy and slightly sweet glory.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cooking: A Tuna Melt Hummus Sandwich? Yes!

I feel like I've been coming up with decidedly un-photogenic concoctions but I swear they taste better than they look or sound (eg., smoked salmon + peanut butter). This tuna and hummus combination is a case in point. Ok, it's not really cooking anything but sometimes you just have to grab and go, right?

I fully admit it doesn't look appetizing one bit. But spread some hummus on whole wheat bread (preferably toasted) and top with some canned tuna and it makes for just the right amount of saltiness. I didn't want to use mayo with my tuna so I tried hummus and to my surprise, it was good. I've also tried mixing tuna with soy mayo, aka Nayonaise, and plain nonfat yogurt, both of which were good but I wanted to mix it up a bit and try something different.

I have one slice of bread at a time as an open-faced sandwich because a whole 2-slice sandwich is too much to have in one sitting.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Beer Belly in Koreatown: Excellent Fried Chicken & Decent Beer Selection

I had heard a lot of things about Beer Belly, a gastropub or beer joint that has decent beer choices and serious food.

My friends and I were famished by the time we got there, so we got the fried chicken strips, fish and chips (in the form of garlic, herb and parmesan fries) and a buffalo chicken mac-n-cheese. And a beer flight, of course.

I can't say I remember all the beers I've had but that's part of the fun -- trying new ones, discovering likes and dislikes. There wasn't one that I thought stood out, like Hitachino's White Rice Ale that I love. But it was fun trying a Hef, a chocolate stout-like one, etc.

The fish and chips were ok. The catfish was just not as fresh as in Arkansas. I couldn't help but pine for the ethereal fried catfish I had there, so didn't enjoy it as much as my friends. This image of the fish and chips looks like it had some lighting issues but I thought it looked like the spotlight had been placed on the fish, the supposed star of the dish.

Let's talk fries. We substituted plain chips for the garlic, herb and Parmesan fries, which were good. There was definitely a lot going on and hence a tad distracting detecting the explosion of flavors, but when those flavors are garlic, herbs and salty/nutty Parmesan, it hardly mattered.

The fries came with a few dipping sauces, including ranch and spicy ketchup that were good but not sure they needed them.

The fried chicken strips were excellent. Chicken breasts dipped in buttermilk and fried to perfection...What's not to like?

I didn't care too much for the aioli dipping sauce that came with it. Again, it didn't need it. The chicken was moist and steamy with a super crunchy exterior that made me wonder how many times they had to fry it before reaching this level of crunchiness.

Then we got the buffalo chicken mac-n-cheese. We were all ooh-ing and ah-ing when it arrived at our table with the perfunctory sizzling sound. Yes, it was like cue music to my ears (or sound effects).

I determinedly dug into the scorching hot goodness with a spoon to reveal a puff of steam. Despite its promising beginning, however, the actual flavor was on bland side and a bit too cheesy for me. It used blue cheese and maybe it's because I like blue cheese in moderation, not melted all over my mac-n-cheese.

But the most interesting thing was the crust, so to speak. It's usually sprinkled with some bacon bits but this place used chicken skin bits, which I thought was interesting. Was it tasty? Yeah but I'd take bacon bits back any day. Also, the massive chunks of chicken in the mac-n-cheese kind of threw me off because I don't usually expect there to be such large pieces of meat in my mac-n-cheese and the chicken was bland, to top it off. I liked the surprise element of the chicken skin bits but overall didn't love the dish. Can't blame them for trying though.

Overall cool vibe but the no table service is annoying -- standing in line, ordering and having to bring everything to the table, etc. Ok, I'm just lazy when it comes to eating out. I don't mind cooking the meat tableside at barbecue joints but don't make me bring all the cups, silverware and stuff! Wow, that sounded snooty. Parking was a breeze on a weekday evening -- either in the lot if you want to valet (I never do) or on the street. 

Oh and a side note, it's owned by a cute, young couple that I want to support. I do think I like the food better at Biergarten, where I recently had short rib poutine that was to die for.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cooking: Smoked Salmon + Peanut Butter -- Who Woulda Thunk It?

You're at work. It's lunch time. You wonder what to eat that is easy on the wallet and relatively healthy given the sedentary nature of the job. What if at least once a week, you didn't have to worry about it and got a perfectly healthy home-cooked meal literally handed to you on a platter?

Yes indeed. I was fortunate to be part of a group that takes turns cooking healthy lunches for each other. I have so far loved both the eating and cooking parts.

So this was a recent contribution. I was inspired by a pretty standard appetizer served at Seoul's Japanese-style robatayakis, which are essentially like izakayas but a specific type of izakaya.

I took a butter lettuce leaf, placed a slice of smoked salmon, some thinly sliced onions that have been soaked in water to extract their potency, a few capers and last but not least, a generous dollop of good ol' peanut butter!

I swear it tastes infinitely better than it sounds. There's something about pairing salty smoked salmon with nutty peanut butter (either chunky or creamy would work), punctuated by briny capers and crunchy, mild onions -- all wrapped up in a refreshing butter lettuce leaf. It's a low-carb dream.

I didn't pair this unlikely pairing with any drinks like in Seoul's bars but presented a warm butternut squash soup to warm the soul on an autumn day. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Flying Fish in Little Rock, AR: Divine Fried Catfish

When I learned that I'd be in Little Rock, Arkansas, I proceeded to research some of the best food in the city -- as long as it was centrally located in downtown LR, of course, since my mobility was limited.

My good friend SF and I hit all the town's top spots, including Central High School and the Clinton Center (ok, these aren't restaurants but just as enjoyable). So it was only natural that we would end up at Flying Fish for some of the best fried catfish LR has to offer.

Yes, it is on President Clinton Avenue. Everything in LR has Clinton's imprint on it. Beautiful city, by the way. But I digress.

We were not disappointed. The breading on the catfish was perfectly seasoned with just the right amount of thickness and amazing crunchiness. Wow. It was piping hot when it reached our table (we were alerted using one of those nifty little flashing pagers), fresh out of the fryer. There are tons of farms around Arkansas that farm catfish and it showed -- the fish was super fresh and delicious.

The fries were good although not as light and delicious as the catfish. I suspected the fries had been sitting there for some time and weren't as fresh as the catfish.

We got a basket that included hush puppies. These fried cornbread balls looked extremely promising but I must say, I think I'm just not a hush puppy fan (the cornbread balls, not the shoes). They were crispy and super hot as well but a bit too starchy for me. Even though I wasn't a fan, it hails from Native American culture and has a fascinating history, including the origin of its name.

We also got a side of cole slaw, which was fine but nothing special.

The vibe of the place was interesting too. It displayed those wall decorations where the fish moves. I guess it's the namesake. It also displayed tool boxes along the ceiling.

I loved the catfish and will be pining for more whenever I see catfish out here.

LR was really a beautiful city, with the river, a lot of green tinted by the foliage this time of the year.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Indian Snacks in Artesia: Delicious and Nutritious Nut-based Goodies

I've always been fascinated by all the Indian markets and shops lining Pioneer Boulevard in Artesia, so I recently did some research and ventured to the corner of Pioneer and 186th Street that seemed to be the heart of Little India.

I was able to buy some asafoetida and black salt I had used for a dal (lentil) recipe that did wonders (helped avoid gas -- yeah!) for my stomach. I also got some paratha from the frozen section that I could just cook stove-top on a pan with some oil to amazingly delicious effect. And some ghee (clarified butter).

But I digress. I headed to a few snack shops and ended up at Surati Farsan Mart, which had the longest lines and an incredibly colorful assortment of these snacks.

I told the guy at the counter that I didn't know any of the snack names or flavors so didn't know what to get. He generously proceeded to let me sample everything and I mean everything.

I was intrigued by these silvery pink ones, which turned out to be rosewater-based with edible silver. So darn beautiful and while I'm not a huge fan of rosewater, these were amazingly flavorful, filled with some nutty cashew mix inside.

I pretty tried all the offerings that didn't have dried fruit or dessicated coconut since I'm not a big fan of overly sweet snacks or dried coconut (although I do love coconut water).

In the end, I was sold on these lovelies and got a half a pound box that cost me about $4. If this isn't a killer bargain, I don't know what is.

The friendly guy at the counter relayed that green usually has some pistachio, bright yellow has almond and beige has cashews. One of my favorites was one described as "mango cheesecake."

I can't wait to return and try its hot snacks that are made to order. I'm afraid I'll need some help there too.