Friday, December 30, 2011
I think I'll have to embark on making my own napa cabbage kimchi at home. Of course, my Mom makes it look so easy. This kimchi was so fresh, crisp and just no comparison to the mass produced store-bought kind. It's obvious, I know, but I really think I can't go back anymore.
I know it's not photogenic but I go back to the humble bean sprouts that are stir-fried in some sesame oil with some water and makes for the best side dish. All I need is rice, soup, kimchi and these nutty-tasting bean sprouts.
Unlike many duduk roots, it was so tender and soft. Most importantly, it was super moist but not overly so (most duduk tastes dry).
The nuts added another crunchy and, well, nutty dimension to this classic side dish.
The bottom line is consuming all these non-over-seasoned, non-overcooked and non-over-preserved foods inspired me further to cook Korean food more here even though it's so easy to drive to Koreatown Galleria and buy all my side dishes and kimchi.
I'm also on a quest for excellent quality rice. I yearn for the piping hot pots of rice that came to our table where the first bite into the grain was so unforgettable.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
This beef broth-based dish is very hard to get right. I still haven't found a great place in LA. I got a taste of the OG back in Korea at Hanwoori, which incidentally also serves a very mean jeongol guksoo, or beef noodle soup cooked tableside, that I reviewed a while back.
Here are other highlights.
1. Gamjajeon, or potato pancakes, similar to latkes but less shredded, served at Marohwajeok, which also serves killer yookhoe, excellent quality raw marinated beef strips with Asian pear strips and bulgoki.
Jeongdaham, which was like the original kogi "taco." Usually made out of flour and water, the wraps were colorful based on the additions of black sesame (dark grey) or spinach (green). And the fillings are traditionally different kinds of delicately sliced vegetables or meat. This one had vegetables but dressed in a light spicy mustard sauce that gave it an interesting kick.
4. And the myulchi bokkeum, with the "candied" dried anchovies staring you in the eye, was crunchy, salty and slightly sweet -- hitting all the right notes.
Yeolboonshik (열분식) -- It delivers!
6. Freshly made tofu at Dubu Maeul: Everything else was mediocre but the huge block of fresh tofu with stir-fried over-ripe kimchi was something I really missed in LA. I used to be able to go to any market's basement and sample piping hot tofu blocks fresh out of the tray. This tofu, made fresh every morning at the restaurant, took me back. Time to make my own tofu at home, perhaps?
Dubu Maeul (두부마을)
7. Galbi and Nakji jiim at Moodol: I'd never had braised short ribs with octopus before, so it was an interesting treat trying this version that was a specialty from Cheolla Province in Korea's Southwestern region. Octopus could easily be rubbery if overcooked but combined with super soft short ribs, they were tender and had just the right level of chewiness. The marinade wasn't overly sweet or salty but just right.
8. Moving on to desserts, I had a revelation with this rice cake called duteopttuk from Chaegeundam. I could tell it was made with extreme care and skill. It's not sold in your typical rice cake shop but take one bite and you'll taste the cinnamon, pine nuts, chestnuts, walnuts and jujubes, as well as the hints of sweetness from honey and essence from dried yuja rind, also known by its Japanese name, yuzu.
9. For some serious desserts, we headed to Be Sweet On and had the most spectacularly grandiose and sweet indeed St. Honore cake, apple tartine and a strawberry layered wafer cake. The St. Honore was, in a word, ridiculous. The puffs were perfect, topped with a dark brown and glossy caramel with custard cream on the inside. Wow.
Be Sweet On
I wish I could have tried more places and traveled outside of Seoul but I'll have to get a rain-check for that. Please share you Seoul eats stories here!
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
restaurant I just reviewed of the same name), which is a full meal where the table is literally covered with loads of side dishes and main dishes. The stars also included gyejang, or raw marinated crab and bossam, steamed pork belly wrapped in cabbage leaves with some fiery kimchi.
The grilled fish was soft, smoky and just salty enough from the salt added when the jogi (fresh fish) was turned into the dried salted kind, goolbi, similar to bacalao (salted cod) popular in Portuguese cuisine.
I didn't appreciate the excellent quality of the rice as much when I was there, until I returned to LA and made some rice in my humble rice cooker and...realized how each grain had a good bite to it and was cooked just right -- not too soft, not too hard. Oh my. I miss that rice.
Probably the most fascinating thing about this place besides the pretty good fish and crab was this:
The restaurant is based in Icheon, a city southeast of Seoul known for its ceramics, rice and peaches. The stone pot rice will undoubtedly make the city proud. It has three additional locations, including this one in Bundang.
Chungmok (청목 나들애)
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
I visited Junsikdang, of NY Times' Junsik fame and allegedly Korea's answer to molecular gastronomy, the next horizon in globalizing Korean food once and for all.
The verdict is that while expectations were indeed high, results were mixed. I liked the main dish, a glorious pork belly slow cooked to perfection -- super soft and tender on the inside and crispy on the outside like bacon. But as a whole, I don't think it's there.
story on just the dish alone.
The whole grandiose thing lay atop pureed potatoes with onions and a pickled garlic leaf has become the most elusive ingredient for me to buy at a market as it's not available in regular markets but adds so much to meat dishes I'm trying to get my hands on it.
Then the pork belly slices were topped with some sweet and tart blackberry and ginger jam and pickled Korean green peppers. It was an explosion of flavors and textures but I loved the softness of the pork that (despite the cliche) really did melt in your mouth.
The dish I liked least but held lots of promise was the sea urchin bibimbap that came with seaweed, quinoa, sliced onions, green onions and to my outrage, watered down kimchi. It tasted so bland I had to tell the manager who checked in with us. Why water down the kimchi, I asked? For the foreigners, I was told. I think this is one of the biggest mistakes Koreans make about Korean food and foreigners. People, non-Koreans like spicy food too.
The less photogenic but much more flavorful anchovy broth-based rice topped with toasted seaweed was far better. More humble but more comforting.
There were choices for four courses of the meal. The other notable was the classic galbi, or short ribs. The meat was extremely well cooked (again, melt in your mouth) although the marinade was a tad on sweet side. The interesting thing was it came with fried rice cake balls that gave some crunchy texture to the dish.
The other starters were unremarkable. Beautiful, yes, but not particularly mind-blowing. There was a deconstructed Caprese salad of arugula sorbet, chopped tomatoes, basil, mozarella and some micro greens that was nothing special. The sorbet didn't work on a cold, winter day. Maybe a summer dish.
The beet and cucumber salad was an amazing architecture project and gorgeous to look at but there was too much going on so it was hard to appreciate any one element of it.
The second thing I was most taken by was its crusty bread. It had just the right amount of saltiness with the butter spread on it, it was fantastic. Probably the best bread I've had in Korea.
I was looking forward to dessert, where it served makgeolli cake. Makgeolli is a traditional rice wine that's recently taken on more popularity. Alas, I was disappointed.
Edward Kwon's cooking -- call him the Bobby Flay of Korean cuisine -- but I suspect it's overrated.
Monday, December 26, 2011
If you asked me whether I was a jjajangmyun or jjamppong-kind of person, I'd say jjajangmyun in a heartbeat. But it's rare that you find a restaurant that only serves the latter so I got curious. Both are staple noodle dishes served in Korean Chinese establishments. This place called itself Hong Kong Ban Jeom 0410, and proclaimed itself famous for this seafood noodle dish, usually served in a red hot broth reflecting its heat level.
What was interesting was that this joint served variations on the classic jjamppong, namely broth-less stir-fried jjamppong and jjamppong fried rice. Hard to believe no one's thought of that so far, right? The stir-fried jjamppong was basically the same ingredients (except shrimp, carrots, mushrooms and green onions added) as my noodle soup except they were stir-fried and not as spicy. It was excellent and gave jjamppong another dimension I hadn't appreciated before.
No outing to a Korean Chinese restaurant is complete without a taste of its tangsuyook -- deep fried pieces of pork or beef smothered in a salty and sweet sauce (not sweet and sour, mind you). The beef morsels were tender, unlike many joints that skimp on the quality of the meat and mask it with dough and globs of disgusting sauce. The sauce was just gooey enough and had the right amount of sweetness.
Despite it being a lot of food, we diligently finished it off, especially me with my spicy noodle soup, although I think it isn't for the weak of stomachs. It's potent so beware.
It was an amazing deal at less than $4 for my noodles... I predict a rant pending about the quality of jjamppongs in LA.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Today's entry is about tonkatsu -- remember that ethereal fried thing featured on my rant a while back? Well, I'll be damned, because I came to the sad realization that Korea has better tonkatsu than LA.
Saboten, probably one of the world's largest tonkatsu franchises. I suspect it may be easier for a Japanese mega-franchise like Saboten to open a branch in Seoul, but hey, what about us over here in humble Los Angeles? I had other puzzling moments, wondering why the Korean website and the main Saboten Japan site were both so hard to find (I smell a major opportunity with SEO and web business).
But I digress. Ok, so what if it has like 500 shops throughout Asia? It serves excellent tonkatsu and that's all that matters.
I tried the most luxurious of them all -- a mix of quality pork tenderloin and loin in 17 layers! So not only was the outer shell incredibly crispy with perfectly fried bread crumbs, but the meat inside was also extremely soft -- even softer than if it were one chunk of tenderloin because it consisted of thin layers of meat that was tender and easy to bite into. We've all had the experience of trying to vigorously bite off the tonkatsu flesh off. This layered approach gets rid of the problem.
The lunch set came with rice, a cabbage salad, miso soup, pickled daikon radish and a mild soy sauce-based dipping sauce that had grated radish and green onions that went well with the fried beauties.
I didn't crave the classic mustard and thick soy sauce-based sauce usually had with tonkatsu but it was available.
Not sure if this is the norm, but management at the Myungdong location was shaky with poor service and lax restroom maintenance.
I later learned Saboten shops were indeed ubiquitous throughout Seoul and the suburbs. All I want to know is, WHEN ARE YOU COMING TO LA? THE MASSES DEMAND IT. That's it. I'm starting a petition and sending it to Saboten HQ. Who's in?