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1.360 Grilled New York Strip Steak


-Cycle 1, Item 360-
31 December 2010

-American-
Grilled New York Strip Steak

* * *

at Isabella's Porterhouse

-Itaewon, Seoul-

A growing trend on the foodie scene here is dry-aged steaks, small boutique steakhouses popping up around the city, mostly in affluent neighborhoods, that take already ridiculously overpriced Korean beef or hanwoo (한우) and then take great delight in finding another reason to jack up the prices even more. At Isabella's, the first place I've tried thus far, they charge 25,000 won per 100 grams for a dry-aged hanwoo ribeye. But, the smallest cut they offer is 400 grams. Plus 10% VAT. So that's 110,000 won. They also offer a bistecca fiorentina for 250,000 won. And a few other cuts at various prices in between. On the other half of the menu, wet-aged Australian beef steaks for about half the price. They also do that thing where they charge for sides separately, which range from 7,000 won for fries to 13,000 won for grilled asparagus. [Editorial note: I could be a bit off on these prices.]

Being New Year's Eve, and having loads to celebrate, the wife and I invited my parents out for some of these new-fangled dry-aged heartstoppers--but no, it wasn't to be. The recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease throughout the countryside has, apparently, left hanwoo in short supply, or so the manager informed us as she pointed us to the wet-aged Australian beef section of the menu. Strange, since the dry-aged steaks are supposedly aged for 21 days, and the major culling of cattle from the FMD outbreak has only been in past few week or so, which would mean that they should have some inventory from before the supply restrictions came down. And for a place that specializes in dry-aged steaks, I would think that they might consider that to be a relevant tidbit of information when taking reservations. Anyway, we got the wet-aged steaks: a smaller (400-gram) New York Strip for me and a larger (550-gram) ribeye to be shared by the wife and parents.

This division was based solely on the disparate preferences for doneness, bloody rare for me and overcooked for the rest. The over-sized ("for 2") portions offered by the establishment didn't allow us the freedom to order individual steaks.

Another problem was that it took 45 minutes for steaks to arrive, prompting my wife to say the first truly witty thing she's ever said during the 5.5 years of our marriage: "Are they aging the steaks now?" The delay was inexcusable given the fact that there were only 3 other parties in the place, 2 of which were couples.

When the steaks arrived, oddities in their methods of presentation/preparation. Mine came attached to the bone (see photo), which was weird on principle alone, being a "strip steak" after all, but also not very nice for a place that charges by the gram. The ribeye, on the other hand, was cut into slices. The slices were seared on the outside but completely raw on the inside. The server instructed us to cook them to the level of preferred doneness on the hot plate.

Seeing this, I had to ask the server why it had taken so long for the steaks if both came to us rare/raw, as cooking time obviously wasn't a factor. Her reply--and I swear I'm not making this up--was that the kitchen was backed up with orders. There was a slight pause, a silence, as we all looked around the restaurant at the other 2 parties, 1 couple had already left by this point, and then look back at the server in stunned disbelief, who tittered nervously and then walked away. Seriously, it was like watching one of those stupid sitcoms where the situation is so absurd that you're thinking, "That could never actually happen...."--only it was actually happening.

And on a final note, my steak had a trace of soy-sesame flavor, somewhat like galbi, another thing that they neglected to tell me.

5 meals left.

1.359 Vegetable Curry Set

-Cycle 1, Dinner 359-
30 December 2010

-Indian-
Vegetable Curry Set

* * * *

at Pooja

-Dongdaemun, Seoul-

The wife and I had suddenly decided to take in a movie, and this heretofore unbeknownst Indian joint next to the theater caught my eye. I can't recall the last time, in fact ever, having a meal in a restaurant on the 4th floor of a building without an elevator. When we first got married, we lived in 3-story walkup with a 4th floor/roof where we often had barbecue parties, but that's different. In any event, I can't say whether this apparent impediment to foot traffic was a factor, but the restaurant was completely empty. And judging by the fact that the heat was off when we entered--they turned on the heater as soon as we were seated--I'm guessing that the emptiness is a typical situation.

Which is a shame because the food was quite good and very reasonably priced. We ordered the vegetable curry set, which included a small bowl each of (see photo, clockwise from bottom left) dal makhani, mixed vegetable curry, and paneer butter masala, a lousy shredded cabbage salad, that sweet milky dessert thing that I never eat and so never bothered to learn the name of, a serving of rice, which was surprisingly a mix of domestic and basmati, and plain naan--all for just 14,000 won. Not the best curries by far but a good value overall.

Definitely going back for a second round, as soon as possible, before they go out of business.

6 meals left.

1.358 Kimchi Jjigae

MEAL 1.358
29 December 2010

-Korean-
Kimchi Jjigae

by me

at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * * * *

Officially, the dinner menu for the evening had nothing to do with kimchi jjigae. Two of my cousins, Eelsun and Hyunjoo, sisters, were coming over, along with their husbands, all for the first time, so I wanted to do something special. In Korea, burritos are special. The plan was to offer a variety of burritos--shrimp, chicken, beef--which I felt fairly confident in making (see 1.296 Shrimp Scampi and Broccoli Burrito), in addition to guacamole and chips and veggie soup (see 1.024 Veggie Soup with Shredded Chicken) as appetizers. In the past, I had successfully pulled off fajitas for large, 10-guest dinner parties, so I figured this wouldn't be that much different. However, rolling multi-layered burritos took more time and effort than I'd anticipated, resulting in stop-and-go service. The delays between servings wouldn't have been so bad if the food had been better, making them worth the wait, but I used low fat sour cream and non-fat refried beans, which made the burritos somewhat blah. What with the pressure and the poor outcome, I didn't really feel like eating at the time. So, as soon as the guests had left, I whipped up a pot of kimchi jjigae, which I felt fairly confident in making (see 1.301 Kimchi Jjigae), and a pair of fried eggs, and that's when the real feast began. And judging by my wife's appetite, apparently she also hadn't eaten much of the burritos. We finished the whole pot in 10 minutes.

7 meals left.

1.357 Steamed King Crab

-Cycle 1, Item 357-
28 December 2010

-Korean-
Steamed King Crab

* * * * *

at Jangteo Sikdang (장터식당)
(Noryangjin Wholesale Seafood Market)

-Noryangjin, Seoul-

One of my favorite dining options involves the seafood market at Noryangjin, the central wholesale distribution center for all the imported and maybe domestic seafood in the city (and maybe the country?). The wholesale activities, like auctioning tunas and such, occur during the wee hours, but a section of the market is open during the evening for retail business and allows regular people to come and buy whatever's available for sale--a long row of stalls with aquariums brimming with shellfish, like crab, shrimp, lobsters, but also a few fish varieties popular for sashimi. Adjacent to this area, several restaurants are open for shoppers/diners to bring their purchases from the market and eat them within. If it's a fish for sashimi-style dining, which is prepared and sliced at the stall and brought onto the premises, the restaurant will just charge a 2,000-won setting fee per person. With the bones of the fish, the restaurant will make a stew if requested, usually for about 10,000 won. If it's a crab or lobster or shrimp, the restaurant will steam it, also for a small fee, usually around 10,000 won for a large crab. All in all, it's much cheaper than a restaurant, and certainly more fun, though some don't like the hassle. I do.

On my birthday, with 9 meals remaining, I could think of no better place to celebrate. The main item was an Alaskan King Crab, a whopping 3.8-kg specimen that cost 160,000 won. I'd felt up the legs prior to purchase, making sure that they were firm with flesh on the inside, so, upon cutting the crab open, we were happy to discover sweet chunks of meat that were so immensely thick and fluffy that they seemed fake, like imitation krab sticks. With the juice from the crab, the restaurant made a sort of rice porridge that was amazing. We also had sashimi of half a yellowtail for 50,000 won, along with a stew from the bones. The restaurant charge, which included booze and setting fees for 7, came out to an additional 50,000 won. 260,000 won for a feast like that: not bad. Happy birthday to me.

8 meals left to go.

1.356 Big Mac and Chicken McNuggets

-Cycle 1, Item 356-
27 December 2010

-American-
Big Mac
and Chicken McNuggets

* * *

from McDonald's (E-Mart)
[takeout]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-


10 meals remaining for the completion of the blog's 1st cycle.

I would like to do something special for the final ten, but I'm forced to begin the countdown with McDonald's.

I still maintain that Chicken McNuggets, which just don't hold up well after leaving the store, especially without trans fat, look like the Korean Peninsula.

1.355 Lemon Chicken


-Cycle 1, Item 355-
26 (Sun) December 2010

-Chinese-
Lemon Chicken

2.5

from Toayen [delivery]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Lemon chicken is a Chinese dish.  Deep-fried chicken pieces in a lemony glaze.  Prevalent in Chinese restaurants across North America, practically non-existent in China (so they say) and Korea (as far as I'm aware).  

Surprisingly, it's on the menu of Toayen, our default Chinese delivery joint.  Delivery joints aren't known for experimenting with unconventional dishes.  I ordered it, if only as an act of approval.

It was okay.  The chicken was crispy, only partially coated by the glaze, preserving the crisp.  The glaze was more of a standard sweet & sour sauce, little actual lemon flavor.  Still, I might get it again.  A better alternative to sweet & sour pork.    

1.354 Mellow Mushroom Pizza

-Cycle 1, Dinner 354-
25 December 2010

-American-
Mellow Mushroom Pizza

* * * *

from Papa John's Pizza
[delivery]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

In a series of prior posts, I've been struggling with the categorization of American-style pizzas, whether they can be still called "Italian" despite certain obvious and significant differences (see 1.133 Combination Pizza). Here, finally, is a pizza that has so far diverted from the path that it cannot possibly be considered Italian. In addition to the distinctly American fried chicken bits and sprinkles of cheddar cheese, the base sauce was some kind of creamy concoction that tasted distinctly un-Italian. Which isn't to say that I didn't like the pizza, just that it was clearly American.

1.353 Grilled Ribeye


-Cycle 1, Item 353-
24 (Fri) December 2010

-Korean-
Grilled Ribeye

* * * *

at Il-Pum Saeng-Gogi (일품생고기)

-Oksu, Seoul-

As always, the beef at this local barbecue restaurant was excellent (see 1.287 Grilled Ribeye).

As always, the sides left much to be desired.

1.352 Jjam-Jja-Myeon

-Cycle 1, Dinner 352-
23 December 2010

-Chinese-
Jjam-Jja-Myeon

* * *

at Meedam Food Court
(Ajou University Hospital)

-Suwon, GyeongGi-

Without exaggeration, I would estimate that 90% of all orders in any given Chinese restaurant in Korea consists of either jjajang-myeon (짜장면) (see 1.012 Jjajang-Myeon) or jjambbong (짬뽕) (see 1.178 Haemul Jjambbong). Seriously. And for those who can't bear giving up one for the other, there's this combo number that puts both in the same bowl. Then again, fried rice comes with a side of jjajang sauce and jjambbong broth.

1.351 Dolsot Bibimbap

MEAL 1.351
22 December 2010

-Korean-
Dolsot Bibimbap

at Meedam Food Court

Ajou University Hospital
Suwon

* * *

As I'd mentioned in a prior post on dolsot bibimbap (see 1.249 Dolsot Bibimbap), I'm not a huge fan of the hotpot version, preferring instead the cool, salad-like simplicity of the regular kind (see most recently 1.269 Bibimbap). In restaurants where they serve it only in dolsot form, and I really feel like eating bibimbap, I sometimes request that they forego the heating part and serve it cold. I've never been refused this request, as it would make their jobs that much simpler, a win-win situation, or so I would like to imagine.

But tonight, in my first visit to the new food court in the basement of Ajou University Hospital, I was rebuffed. "Sorry, but we can't do that." "I'm not asking you to 'do' anything. I'm just asking you 'not' to do something. Just don't heat the pot." "Why not?" "I don't like it hot." "Then why don't you order something else?" "Because I want bibimbap." "Well, we only have dolsot bibimbap."

I can see why some restaurants would have policies against altering certain cooking methods. Like say, at KFC, if I were to order a bucket, but then ask that they cook the chicken to a nice medium rare, and they refused on the grounds of food safety, I would understand. I would understand if the request would cost them extra money or extra time or required some expertise that they didn't possess. But none of those things applies to heating the goddamn dolsot. IN FACT, the entire goddamn purpose of heating the goddamn dolsot is to burn the goddamn rice, which, now that I think about it, seems to be a food safety violation in itself.

Incidentally, I finally got around to taking a photo of the dish after all the ingredients have been mixed together, the way it should look just before eating.

1.350 Espanoli Chicken Rice


-Cycle 1, Item 350-
21 December 2010

-Spanish-
Espanoli Chicken Rice

* * *

at Puffin Cafe

-Hannam, Seoul-

In a prior post on Puffin Cafe (see 1.242 Pastrami Sandwich), I mentioned that I had ordered a meal there, even though I knew I wouldn't like it, both to justify my 4-hour sojourn and to have an excuse to write about the place, historically one of my favorites to get some work done (free coffee refills, smoking section, sofas, wifi--beats Starbucks any day).

On my triumphant return to Puffin this evening, I did something that I'd never done in over ten years of patronage: I ordered food that wasn't a sandwich. The decision was mainly influenced by my previous experience, which demonstrated that their sandwich standards had fallen way below a level that I felt comfortable with. That left me with two choices, either breakfast platters or rice dishes. I thought about an omelet, but the menu just said "omelet," without any additional explanations, so that was out. And I didn't feel like eating bacon for dinner. Which left the rice dishes. So, when I saw "Espanoli Chicken Rice" on the menu, an intriguing if utterly absurd name for a dish, I knew instantly that I'd found the right meal. I should've been skeptical when the server, upon my inquiry, explained with an expression of extreme pain that the dish was "like chicken and rice...with sauce...but it isn't curry....", but it just augmented to the absurdity of it all. The suspense was killing me. Turns out that the sauce is just a tomato sauce, similar to a marinara sauce, but heavy on the thyme--not curry, indeed. Actually, it was okay.

Further inquiries failed to reveal what type of cuisine this "Espanoli" purports to be, the owner being absent at the time and the server starting to look like she was on the verge of suffering an embolism from my onslaught of questions.  But I'll go with "Spanish," what the hell.

Incidentally, those are Korean side dishes on the plate, including kimchi and seaweed soup. Like I said before, Puffin is really losing it. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I admit that I ordered an extra helping of kimchi.

1.349 Ganjang Gejang

-Cycle 1, Dinner 349-
20 December 2010

-Korean-
Ganjang Gejang (간장게장)

* * *

by my aunt

at their home

-Seongsu, Seoul-

To the uninitiated, this probably doesn't look so great, perhaps quite the opposite of great. It's called ganjang gejang (간장게장), raw crabs pickled in soy sauce. That brownish slime in the photo, that's basically what crab flesh looks like when it isn't all cooked and nice and white and fluffy. The orange goo, that's the eggs. Using the shell body as a bowl, much like coastal cavemen would've done, I'd imagine, steaming white rice is plopped into that slime and goo and mixed with a spoon and consumed with savage abandon. The remaining bits, like the legs, are taken with the fingers and inserted into the mouth, shells and all, and crunched down with the teeth to extract whatever slime and goo lurk within, much like coastal cavemen would've done.

In all seriousness, they're pretty good.

The passion that this dish inspires in die-hards is astounding. My wife could eat 2 whole crabs, with 2 bowls of rice, by herself in a single sitting. And then do it again the next day. And the next. And the next. She could go on, but a batch will only last for about 4 days, after which the crabs get kinda putrid--literally--they start smelling like ammonia. She could start over with a new batch, but the dish isn't easy to come by. And expensive. My aunt's culinary claim to fame are these crabs, which she'll make twice a year on the occasions when our family gets together to celebrate the ancestral rites called jesa, a topic that I discussed in a prior post (see 1.021 Jesa Spread). Tonight was one such occasion. As soon as that platter hits the table, the scramble that ensues to secure one of the shell bodies is embarrassing--that is, for grownups who aren't coastal cavemen. From their reaction, I believe this would rate very close to 6 stars on a more objective scale, but personally I'm not a huge fan.

1.348 Shrimp Shumai

-Cycle 1, Item 348-
19 December 2010

-Chinese-
Shrimp Shumai

* *

by Ottogi
[frozen]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Not shumai, not really. I'm not exactly an expert, but every shumai that I've encountered in dim sum restaurants around the world (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore, Bangkok, Seoul, San Francisco, LA, New York, Boston, London, and even Geneva) was primarily a pork dumpling. Sources inform me, however, that traditional Cantonese recipes do include a bit of shrimp, even though the pork does stand out. The ones here were all shrimp, which would ordinarily be a good thing, but, perhaps owing to their frozen nature, the texture was a bit pasty and the taste somewhat artificial, like fake shrimp, like how watermelon candy doesn't really taste like watermelon.

I thought the bamboo steamer would be a nice touch, imparting a sense of verisimilitude, if not class. But come to think of it, all those aforementioned shumai from my globetrotting dim sum experiences have come in dented stainless steel containers lined with wax paper. Thus, in addition to lacking authenticity, I acknowledge that the fresh perilla leaf garnish is rendered even more ridiculous given that the whole thing is supposed to be steamed, a plot hole that hit upon me only after I'd eaten them all, at which point it was too late to retake the photo. So long as I'm getting things off my chest, I'll admit that the dumplings were steamed separately and subsequently placed in the bamboo, purely for the sake of the photo.

It was one of those Sunday evening dinners dedicated to cleaning out the fridge of leftovers. Somewhere in the back of the freezer, I discovered this package of so-called shumai. However, I had absolutely no recollection of ever buying it. I'm convinced that I didn't. But, try as I might, I can't imagine how it got there.

1.347 Bossam





-Cycle 1, Item 347-
18 (Sat) December 2010

-Korean-
Bossam

4.0

at Pureun Chojang (푸른초장)

-Sinsa, Seoul-

As if I'd been building up to it, I finally get around to my favorite restaurant for bossam (보쌈) on the 4th post concerning the dish (see most recently 1.229 Samhap).  What this place does best, better than any bossam joint that I've ever been to in my entire life, and I've been to plenty, is the spicy radish called "mumalaengi" (무말랭이) (see photo, top right) that's served as an accompaniment to the meat. The term more-or-less translates to "dried radish." Mu (무), a large white radish virtually identical to Japanese daikon, is cut into strips, salted and left to shed moisture until the strips achieve an almost leathery chewiness, and then partially reconstituted with various seasonings to create a kimchi-like side dish. While the spiciness pairs perfectly with the taste of the pork, the dense texture provides excellent contrast to the pork's softness. It's my favorite topping for bossam, the only one necessary. The mumalaengi here is so good that I've often asked for some to go, so that I could eat it on its own, without the pork, at home (this is actually against their policy, due to demand, but I've been a regular for nearly 20 years).

I would've taken a better photo of the radish, but I was completely wasted by the time the photo op presented itself. The entire afternoon had been dedicated to the wedding of one of my best friends, Hong Shik, a high school buddy. Part of the festivities involved a quasi-reception that I had organized for the newlyweds at the Banyan Tree Resort in their honeymoon suite, which the grooms' friends had chipped in to provide the couple as a wedding gift. Because the party was immediately to follow the twelve-o'clock wedding, which included a buffet lunch, my primary focus had been on the booze--40 bottles of wine for about 25 people, you know, just in case--not really on the food. What I'd failed to consider was that I would not have time to eat lunch, as I had to get to the hotel early to check in and set up. What I'd also failed to consider was that I hadn't had any significant amount of alcohol in over a month, which left my body both hungry for booze but not in any condition to have a lot of it. So, 5 hours later, after the party had dispersed to pursue individual dinner plans and leave the newlyweds in peace, I found myself at the bossam restaurant, too drunk to think about photographing the radish from a better angle. I'm surprised the photo is even in focus.

Address: Seoul Gangnam-Gu Sinsa-Dong 572 (서울시 강남구 신사동 572)
Phone: 02-517-8884

1.346 Seafood Stew


-Cycle 1, Item 346-
17 December 2010

-Korean-
Seafood Stew

2.5

at Dongdaemun Dak Hanmari^

-Nonhyeon, Seoul-

This evening was possibly the happiest day in my kid's life thus far, for 3 reasons.

One, he participated in his first pageant, a holiday-themed affair put on by his nursery school, held in a local community center, on a stage with spotlights, all glitz and pizzazz, complete with costumes and props and balloons and instruments and live music and MCs. Dominic performed in 3 numbers, to thunderous applause and ovation. During the 1st, however, he was somewhat distracted trying to spot us in the auditorium and was visibly crestfallen that he couldn't. At the beginning of the 2nd, when we shouted his name is unison to get his attention, he saw us and grinned and started pouncing up and down like he was possessed, delaying the start of the song until he settled down. Too cute. He played a panda in the 3rd.

Two, Dominic had the most family members in attendance, 8 in all, which made him feel like a star.

And three, for dinner, we went out for his favorite food of all time: octopus. More specifically, he likes a dish called yeonpo tang (연포탕), which I've discussed in 2 previous posts (see 1.194 Yeonpo Tang; 1.207 Octopus Ink Fried Rice). The restaurant, however, located around the corner of the community center, only had various spicy stews with mixed seafood, not yeonpo tang per se, which is mild and thus kid friendly (kid friendly for the odd kid who'd actually eat octopus, that is). They tried their best to accommodate us, but, without their signature recipe, it ended up as a hodge-podge of mixed seafood in a bland stock. Still, it's the part about watching the live octopus squirm to death that Dominic relishes, so he was happy.

1.344 Salsa Dogs


-Cycle 1, Item 344-
15 December 2010

-American-
Salsa Dogs

*

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Blech. After one bite, I tossed the buns and salsa and ended up just dipping the hotdogs in ketchup, and even that wasn't so great.

I'm beginning to wonder if the consumption of a hotdog is inherently unpleasant, or at least not pleasant, thus requiring some kind of context to make it pleasant by association, like eating it at a ballpark or at an amusement park or at a backyard BBQ.

1.345 Sundubu Jjigae with Steamed Rice


-Cycle 1, Item 345-
16 (Thu) December 2010

-Korean-
Sundubu Jjigae with Steamed Rice

2.5

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Ho-hum.

On the bright side, I've come to the conclusion that sundubu jjigae (see generally 1.315 Clam Sundubu Jjigae with Steamed Rice) is best in its purest, simplest form, without clams or pork or any type of animal; this is good news because the vegetarian version is easier and cheaper to make, and probably more healthful to eat.  But the egg remains a must.

1.343 Manhattan-Style Clam Chowder with Barley and Corn

MEAL 1.343
14 December 2010

-American-
Manhattan-Style Clam Chowder
with Barley and Corn

at home (by me)

Oksu
Seoul

* * *

My kid liked it--gave it 12 stars, in fact.

1.342 Nasi Goreng with Shrimp


-Cycle 1, Item 342-
13 December 2010

-Indonesian-
Nasi Goreng with Shrimp

* * *

at home

by me

-Oksu, Seoul-

Asian Home Gourmet, Part 3 (see most recently 1.093 Kaang Kiew Wan with Shrimp, Eggplant, and Bokchoy over Steamed Rice).

If nasi goreng is one of Indonesia's "national foods" as discussed in prior post (see 1.038 Nasi Goreng with Chicken), and Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, and Muslims, to my knowledge, are prohibited by their religion from eating shellfish, then it seems strange that the company's packaging for nasi goreng sauce would feature a photograph of shrimp and call for shrimp in the instructions on the back, clearly suggesting that shrimp is the preferred way to go. It'd be like seeing beef curry at an Indian restaurant.

Cognitive dissonance notwithstanding, I went with the shrimp as instructed for the dish here. Then, I deviated from the instructions, which only mention scallions for garnish as far as veggies go, and added onions and cabbage and bean sprouts, which created moisture and made the rice all soggy.

1.341 Dubu Kimchi

MEAL 1.341
12 December 2010

-Korean-
Dubu Kimchi

at Modern Bapsang^

Sinsa
Seoul

* * * *

In a prior post, I discussed my home-made version of dubu kimchi (see 1.176 Dubu Kimchi), which was similar to the restaurant version presented here, the main differences being the tofu, mine being boiled whereas this one was pan-fried, and the pork, mine having none whereas this one featured slices of pork belly buried under the sauteed kimchi. Both are perfectly legit, depending on personal preference.

The food at Modern Bapsang (모던밥상), the latter part of name meaning "dining table" but referring more figuratively to the spread of food on the table, is not bad, by which I mean it's pretty good. Although it touts itself as a "fusion restaurant," everything we saw was strictly Korean, except perhaps for the plating of the mandu, which came on a long platter along with a banana leaf. The dishes, as well as the overall menu design, were skewed northerly, where food tends to be simpler in preparation, less spicy, relying less on pickling or fermenting or other forms or preserving foods necessitated by the warmer weather down south. (For example, southern-style kimchi contains copious amounts of red chili powder, fish paste, and other spices, which makes it dense and intense, compared to northern-style kimchi, which is much "whiter" in appearance and almost salad-like in comparison.) Modern Bapsang is the kind of place where I'd take a foreigner on a first visit to a Korean restaurant. The only drawback was the prices, which seemed unreasonably high across the board, such as 15,000 won for a small bowl of ddeok-guk.

1.340 Spaghetti Nero di Seppia with Black Olives in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce

-Cycle 1, Dinner 340-
11 December 2010

-Italian-
Spaghetti Nero di Seppia with Black Olives
in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce

* * * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

The sauce turned out just right, using a blending technique that I'd learned several months back (see 1.206 Capellini with Basil in Saffron-Tomato Broth). This time, I added tomato paste to intensify the tomato flavor, as well as the rind of a parmigiano reggiano wedge, which may have been the kicker. Rich luscious cheesy smooth bright sweet scrumptious ambrosial.

And that swipe thing, whatever it's called in the industry, which I generally tend to regard as pompous haute cuisine nonsense, does look kinda cool when photographed--or so I would like to think.

1.339 Bugeo Guk


-Cycle 1, Item 339-
10 December 2010

-Korean-
Bugeo Guk

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Called "bugeo guk" ("boo guh gook") (북어국) by the natives, this is a simple soup (guk) made by boiling water and adding strips of dried pollack (bugeo), bean sprouts, tofu, radish, leeks, garlic, and usually egg. I can see how it would make a fine breakfast, being so light and lean--Koreans consider it to be one of the better remedies for hangovers--but I'm thinking that it's a bit too light and lean for dinner, at least for someone with a normal appetite who's not on a diet, unless it's accompanied by a substantial main or a lot of additional sides. As I write this, I'm already considering chili dogs.

1.338 Deep-Fried Tofu in Brown Sauce

MEAL 1.338
9 December 2010

-Chinese-
Deep-Fried Tofu
in Brown Sauce

at Dongbuk Hweogweo Wang ^

Dongdaemun
Seoul

* * *

At what "may very well be my favorite Chinese joint in the city" (see 1.037 Yangjangpi; see also 1.233 "Home-Style" Tofu, 1.136 Mushiu Pork), I had my first less-than-enthusiastic response to a meal, part of which was this tofu dish that had been a consistent crowd pleaser in the past. We also had 3 other dishes, none of which fared much better. Maybe the chef was having an off-night. Maybe the lingering symptoms of my illness from a few days earlier adversely affected my appetite. Maybe it was the absence of alcohol (I've been on this sort-of-sober bandwagon for over a month)--seriously, food just doesn't taste as good without something, even beer, to wash it down with. Or maybe I've just grown tired of the place. I'm really hoping it's not the latter, not so soon after losing yet another one my previously favorite restaurants (see 1.330 Guksi).

1.337 Roast Chicken

-Cycle 1, Item 337-
8 December 2010

-Korean-
Roast Chicken

* *

from Goobne Chicken
[delivery]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Granted, I was still in recovery from my near-death experience the night before (see 1.336 Pork Jeon), so I didn't have such a great appetite, which is precisely the reason that I ordered roast chicken, something that's always a winner or at least never a loser in this house, but I made the mistake of ordering from Goobne Chicken (굽네치킨), a chain that I'd never tried before, and it didn't turn out so great.

So long as I'm writing about it, and this will certainly be the last time, I'll mention that goobne (굽네) is a play on the Korean word for "roast." In fact, when I was placing my order over the phone, I asked to confirm that what I'd ordered wasn't deep-fried, and the guy said, "We don't use any oils on any of our products." At the time, I found that hard to believe.

Anyway, I was influenced 100% by advertising, particularly the oh-so-cute TV commercial and catchy jingle performed a few years back by the immensely popular k-pop "idol group," Girls' Generation (소녀시대), in a now-discontinued marketing campaign (see TV spot for Goobne Chicken). Incidentally, I read in the newspaper that securing a chicken chain endorsement gig for celebs here in Korea is akin to athletes in the States landing a deal for a shoe brand or a soft drink or whatever they said on Jerry Maguire. What's surprising is that the commercial has been in my YouTube favorites list for years, and I still watch it every once in awhile, but I'd never gone to the trouble of writing down the nation-wide toll-free number to be used when that sudden craving for delivery chicken hits, which is not infrequent, at least twice a month. But we recently got some book full of delivery menus, and Goobne Chicken was in it, and so it happened.

Getting back to the chicken itself, it was dry and bland. That statement about not using any oils on their products, turns out it may be true.

As for the boiled egg, I have no explanation.

1.336 Pork Jeon

-Cycle 1, Item 336-
7 December 2010

-Korean-
Pork Jeon

* * * *

by Nanny 2

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Having read somewhere that most illnesses are food borne, I find it hard to swallow the notion that stale taco shells could've done me in, even ones that were over a year past their printed date of expiration, but I ate them (see 1.335 Beef Tacos), and ex post facto I succumbed to a severe and acute state of illness, the likes of which I'd never experienced in my life. For a period of several hours in the middle of the night, I was feverish to the point of delirium. In the throes of death--I believed/hoped that I wasn't going to die, but I imagined that this is what it would feel like when the time came--I recall my wife touching my forehead and saying dismissively, "Oh, you're not that hot." Insulting in so many ways, especially for a person about to die.

When I managed to crawl out from bed 20 hours later, I discovered that the nanny, who usually cooks whatever she feels like and doesn't give a rat's ass whether anyone's going to enjoy it, had prepared the only thing in her repertoire that she knew I actually liked: pork jeon (전), which are like flattened meatballs but with more veggies and seasoned with soy sauce. Food was actually the last thing on my mind, but I had to eat something, if only for this infernal blog, so I gratefully forced down a few.

1.335 Beef Tacos

MEAL 1.335
6 December 2010

-Mexican-
Beef Tacos

by me at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * *

I hesitate to call them "tacos" and to categorize them as "Mexican," because recent experiences have led me to believe that these crunchy shell ground beef shredded iceberg lettuce crumbled cheese salsa concoctions don't resemble actual tacos and don't seem to exist by any name in actual Mexican cuisine. But having grown up in California, growing up with Taco Bell, these will always be the real tacos to me. And yes, I also insist that burritos are authentically Mexican.

Real or not, I actually never really liked crunchy tacos. I can't remember the last time I'd even had one, probably not since Taco Bell introduced the "soft" taco, whenever that was, though even before then I was probably eating burritos. Anyway, while rummaging through my mother's cupboard, I discovered a beyond-the-date-of-expiration box of taco shells that she told me to dump, but I opted to give them a try. She even tossed in a packet of taco spice mix, the kind to sprinkle over a pound of ground beef and a cup of water for a quick and easy taco night that the whole family will enjoy! So I went through all the motions, going so far as to make salsa from scratch, shredding the lettuce, crumbling the cheese (muenster, as they don't sell "Mexican cheese" here). About that beyond-the-date-of-expiration thing, I guess I was thinking that, so long as the food didn't have mold or some other overt signs of decay, it wasn't really going to kill me, but the shells were a bit off, not to the point of rancidity, but stale beyond being comfortably edible. I ended up dumping the shells and just eating the fillings, which wasn't so bad.

1.334 Grilled Chef's Combo Beef Plate


-Cycle 1, Item 334-
5 (Sun) December 2010

-Korean-
Grilled Chef's Combo Beef Plate

* *

at Samwon

-Hannam, Seoul-

This is neighborhood BBQ joint that's been around for decades. (It's located in the same building as Haddon Market, where I do a lot of my imported food shopping, like, say, for bottled saurkraut.)  I'd been looking to try it ever since we moved back to Oksu a few years ago.

Though it was a long time coming, I was completely underwhelmed by the experience. Perhaps too much anticipation. While the "chef's combo" was reasonably priced at 20,000 won for a 200-gram serving, the photo shows 2 servings, consisting of whatever combination of cuts the chef felt like giving us, the meat itself was entirely devoid of flavor, which isn't to say that it was bad or off in any way--it just didn't taste like anything.

Maybe I was distracted by the family at the next table, a white guy with a Korean wife and a teenage daughter wearing a Seoul Foreign School sweatshirt, all having some inane/insane conversation about how mushrooms are so yummy even though some of them can be poisonous and so isn't it right daddy that you're like not supposed to like eat like wild mushrooms like in the forest because you could like die?  SFS sucks, like still.

1.333 Agu Jjim


-Cycle 1, Item 333-
4 (Sat) December 2010

-Korean-
Agu Jjim (아구찜)

4.0

at Busan Jip

-Nonhyeon, Seoul-

According to legend, the monkfish caught by Korean fisherman in the East Sea were once discarded as being too hideous to eat. (The livers, on the other hand, were harvested and shipped to Japan, where they were and continue to be prized as a delicacy called ankimo (see 1.099 Ankimo)).Until one fateful day, sometime in the mid-1970s, at a time when food in Korea wasn't entirely abundant, an enterprising restaurant owner in the Korean port city of Masan realized it was a shame to waste so much fish and created a dish that didn't showcase the fish as much as it buried the fish under piles of bean sprouts and gobs of spicy sauce. And so it goes, the perhaps apocryphal though much beloved origin story of agu jjim (아구찜).

Looks aside, a creature consisting primarily of a huge mouth with a relatively tiny tapering body, the fish offers little in the way of flesh, mostly rubbery skin and cartilage, though the bits of meat in between are sweet and succulent. The name of the dish simply breaks down to agu, the Korean word for monkfish (agwi (아귀), an alternative spelling, is supposedly the proper spelling and can be commonly seen on signs and menus, though I've never heard anyone pronouncing it as such), and jjim, which literally means "steamed" but often refers to braised dishes or casseroles. A small platter, usually priced at 30,000 won and serving 2, provides about 2-3 pieces of fish per person, mostly rubbery skin and cartilage, of course, and a whole lot of bean sprouts--not exactly cheap, especially for a dish that's one step beyond the refuse pile. After the fish and bean sprouts are consumed, the remaining sauce is often mixed with steamed rice and dried laver to make a kind of fried rice, which some would consider the highlight of the meal.

This place, Busan Jip, serves the best I've ever had. Actually, it's not what they do that sets them ahead of the pack but rather what they don't do, which is that they don't add unnecessary amounts of chili powder in their sauce. It's hot but not fiery, perfectly balanced, allowing for delectation without perspiration. (I maintain that any cook who resorts to intense heat probably does so to overwhelm and therefore distract the diner from the dish's other failings.) It's a hole in the wall, with a capacity of maybe 30 at most. Anytime after 6:30 PM, the crowds will already have amassed, requiring a wait of an hour or more: they mill around the small alley where it's situated, consider the 3 other agu jjim restaurants literally next door on either side (2 to the left, 1 to the right, which are all completely empty), contemplate whether the wait is really worth it, remember with regret that such impatience had once prompted an ill-advised venture into one of those other joints, and conclude that yes it's worth the wait. The restaurant also serves their signature rice balls, as shown in the photo, which they swear is nothing but dried seaweed and steamed rice but must have something else in them, because they're too good to be that simple.

Address: Seoul Gangnam-gu Nonhyeon-dong 16-1 (서울시 강남구 논현동 16-1)

1.332 Nagasaki Champon

-Cycle 1, Item 332-
3 December 2010

-Japanese-
Nagasaki Champon

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

5 minutes of on-line research, 3 of which were spent at Wikipedia (see entry on Champon), failed to uncover a convincing history of this dish. Though many would seem to agree that it originated in China and became famous in Japan and transformed into the spicy noodle soup called jjambong ubiquitous to Chinese restaurants throughout Korea (see generally 1.178 Seafood Jjambbong), I didn't see any citations to reliable authorities in support of what largely appeared to be "common sense" theories and urban legends. Whatever its origins, Nagasaki Champon has emerged in recent years to become a mainstay on the menus of izakaya, Japanese style pubs, throughout Korea. While the broth is traditionally made from pork, the solid components of the dish tend to be primarily seafood (e.g., shrimp and squid and fish cakes and the like) along with various vegetables (e.g., typically onions, cabbage, carrots, bell peppers, bean sprouts, and scallions). Whatever its ingredients, the key to getting it right is singeing/scorching/searing them all over high heat in wok to give the dish a distinctive smoky flavor.

Costco here sells an excellent packaged Nagasaki Champon that includes the noodles (uncooked) and powdered soup mix. After doing the singeing/scorching/searing thing, I swear, it's about as good as any I've had in any izakaya (though on this occasion, not so much, due to a lack of proper ingredients).

1.331 Tuna, Salmon Sushi

MEAL 1.331
2 December 2010

-Japanese-
Tuna, Salmon Sushi

from Costco
[takeout]

at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * *

Unfortunately, I regret that the enormity of these rolls may not be adequately conveyed by the photo, even with the chopsticks that I'd included to provide scale. Each roll was so big that I couldn't wrap my fingers completely around it, so big that it had to be eaten in at least two bites. Particularly amazing were the tuna rolls, which featured whole cubes of tuna; by contrast, the salmon rolls were made of salmon slices packed together. It was a strange sensation, a new sensation, biting down on such a large chunk of raw fish, reminding me somewhat of the "too much of a good thing" adage that I'd discussed in my post on the McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese a couple days ago (see 1.329 Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese). I wonder if the size of the rolls was a conscious design choice on the part of Costco, the person in charge of developing their ready-to-eat meals: "We're Costco--we don't do anything small."

This also got me to wondering whether these rolls are available at Costco branches in other countries and, something I'd once remarked in a prior post on Costco (see 1.038 Nasi Goreng with Chicken), whether the ready-to-eat meals offerings are generally the same throughout.

1.330 Guksi

MEAL 1.330
1 December 2010

-Korean-
Guksi

at Duru^

Cheongdam
Seoul

* * *

Derived from the term guksu (국수), which refers to noodles in broth, the variation guksi (국시) simply reflects a slight difference of pronunciation in certain southern regional dialects. In theory, a dish called "guksi" is made in the style of said southern regions. Typically, most modern-day guksi consist of flour noodles in a beef stock, similar to its mainstream big brother kal-guksu (칼국수) (see 1.149 Chicken Kal-Guksu), which has wider noodles and is made from chicken or some seafood stock--but they're all essentially the same idea.

I used to love this place, Duru (두루), thought it was the bees-knees. In particular, I was all over the two side dishes that accompanied the noodles: perilla leaves in a soy-garlic sauce and kimchi made from chives, both of which are shown in the photo. The guksi was passable, just good enough to provide an excuse for eating the sides. (Incidentally, the menu also offers other traditional Korean dishes.) I've never been much into noodle soups, much less guksu, even less guksi, but there was a time a few years ago when I would make a conscious effort to drop by Duru at least 2 or 3 times a month. I can't recall why I stopped frequenting the place, though my move north of the river probably had something to do with it.

In any event, I went back for the first time in years. I don't know what has changed--either me or the restaurant--but nothing was like I remembered, neither the guksi nor the sides. It was alright, as far as noodles and perilla leaves and chives go, but that's about as positive a response as I can muster. In my bitter disappointment at the time, as I anticipated writing about the experience here on this blog, as I'm doing now, I was suddenly reminded about the various works of fiction I read as an English Lit major in college, stories about coming-of-age and loss of innocence and disillusionment, as well as the nostalgia that accompanies the memories of an idyllic reality that can no longer be had, and the question as to whether those memories accurately reflect the past or represent a romanticized version thereof. Lest I appear to be overdramatic, I assure you that it was a brief thought. But seriously, I have noticed, say, in the past year or two, that I seem to derive progressively less satisfaction from the foods that once were guaranteed to give me great pleasure, if not pure joy. And that makes me sad.

1.329 Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese

MEAL 1.329
30 November 2010

-American-
Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese

at McDonald's

Apkujeong
Seoul

* * *

A few weeks ago, in my post on the McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese, the newest addition to Korea's ever-growing collection of dubious cultural gifts from the States, I noted with some enthusiasm that it was beefy and "actually tasted like a real burger" (see 1.308 Quarter Pounder with Cheese), knowing then with absolute certainty and not a little dread that the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese lay waiting in my near future. Never one to protest the inevitable, I ordered one. And ate it. And regretted it. And regretted ordering and eating the fries (but that's a different issue, McDonald's french fries' fall from grace, something I reserve for comment in a subsequent post). The Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese exemplifies the adage about too much of a good thing, beefiness in this case. Yes, it turns out that a burger can indeed be too beefy. Ideally, a burger should be a proper balance of bun, beef, cheese, condiments, and fixings, each of which should synergize with the others rather than conflict or overwhelm. But here, there was so much meat that it was all I could taste (which may not necessarily be such a bad thing, if the beef were top quality). At 760 calories a pop, it's definitely not worth putting on a few extra pounds, or half a pound as the case may be.

I see Chicken McNuggets coming up next.