5.360 Mul Naeng Myeon

-Cycle 5, Item 360-
31 (Wed) December 2014

Mul Naeng Myeon


at Samwon Garden

-Nonhyeon, Seoul-

with the family and the folks

The Prodigal Son Returns to Welcome the New Year, Day 3 (see previously 5.360 Jaengban Ban).

After spending Christmas with the family in the Philippines (see most recently 5.357 Chicago Cowboy Steak), I've come back with them to Korea to celebrate the New Year, arriving Monday night, returning to Manila on Saturday evening.

Whereas the mul naengmyeon here (see generally 4.308 Mul Naengmyeon) has consistently capped out at a 3.5 rating (see most recently 5.083 Mul Naengmyeon), probably because of a lingering prejudice on my part against MNM that isn't strictly PYS, technically CS-PYS (see generally 4.261 Pyongyang (Mul) Naengmyeon), I've finally decided to give this dish the full 4.0 that it deserves.  Personal preferences aside, this may objectively be the best MNM in Seoul.

Perfect meal to wrap an excellent year.

The following is a geographic breakdown of where I spent 2014 (unit: days):

Philippines: 259
Republic of Korea: 55
Taiwan: 3
Japan: 5
Lao PDR: 3
Fiji: 6
Hong Kong: 2
Spain: 7
Thailand: 4
Papua New Guinea: 7
Australia: 7

That's 12 countries, including 12 cities that I experienced for the first time (Mabini, Tagaytay, Taipei, Kobe, Osaka, Nadi, Suva, Getxo, Bilbao, Barcelona, Port Moresby, Melbourne), not counting 4 cities that I touched in transit, even though I did register meals in them (Frankfurt, Munich, Hanoi, Doha).

Can't wait to see where 2015 will take me.

5.359 Jaengban Ban

-Cycle 5, Item 359-
30 (Tue) December 2014

Jaengban Ban


at Pyeongyang Myeonok

-Nonhyeon, Seoul-

with Jang HJ, Lee SW

The Prodigal Son Returns to Welcome the New Year, Day 2 (see previously 5.358 A Typical Korean At-Home Meal).

After spending Christmas with the family in the Philippines (see most recently 5.357 Chicago Cowboy Steak), I've come back with them to Korea to celebrate the New Year, arriving yesterday night, returning on Saturday evening.

On this final trip home at year's end, the evening after getting in, I'm eating the same dish* at the same restaurant that I had on the evening before I shipped off to Manila at the start of the year (see generally 5.003 Jangban Ban).  Full circle.

The last time that I had dinner with this group of friends was exactly the same date last year (see previously 4.359 Yangjangpi).  Full circle.

Maintaining this blog, I appreciate the patterns that it reveals, however coincidental they may be (see for example 5.351 Chili Prawns; 5.349 Lumpia).

 Because the noodles in Pyeongyang-style mul naengmyeon contain little if any starch to provide structure, overcooking by mere seconds will result in an unpleasantly doughy texture; a clear sign of overcooking is when the noodles don't lump together, as shown above--if that's the case, demand a redo, as we did...

...until the noodles come out properly coherent, as here.

*Wasn't as good tonight, the meat being a bit gamy.

5.358 A Typical Korean At-Home Meal

-Cycle 5, Item 358-
29 (Mon) December 2014

A Typical Korean At-Home Meal


by the wife's aunt

at home*

-Apgujeong, Seoul-

with the wife

The Prodigal Son Returns to Welcome the New Year, Day 1.

After spending Christmas with the family in the Philippines (see most recently 5.357 Chicago Cowboy Steak), I've come back with them to Korea to celebrate the New Year, arriving this evening, returning to Manila on Saturday evening.

A couple major changes since my previous visit (see most recently 5.295 Grilled Hangjeongsal): first, we've abandoned our perfectly good apartment in Oksu and taken to renting out a stranger's apartment in Apgujeong--home sweet home* (as a bonus, it's right next door to the In-Laws, yay!); second, in lieu of a nanny, the wife's aunt has moved in to look after the kids and take care of the place--one big happy family.   Awesome.

BTW, I hate it when two broth dishes are on the table simultaneously, kinda like how I hate more than one carb or protein in a single dish.

5.357 Chicago Cowboy Steak

-Cycle 5, Item 357-
28 (Sun) December 2014

Chicago Cowboy Steak


at Chops Chicago Steakhouse (Greenbelt 5)


with the family

Christmas with the Family in the PHL, Day 5 (see previously 5.356 Soy Cake with Three Kinds Mushrooms).

Family in town.  Arrived Wednesday.  Their second visit to the Philippines since I relocated here (see previously 5.121 Lechon).  We fly back tomorrow to Korea together.  Having everyone around, just hanging out, made it feel like home.  We should do this more often.

Following the urban allure of Manila and the coastal charm of Anilao, the final day was spent amidst the modern glitz of Makati, an afternoon walking around Greenbelt Mall (see generally 5.013 Tinapa Roll...).

 I've been wanting to try this place...

...seeing it on the way to Peking Garden next door (see generally 5.244 Scrambled Egg...).

Even after 20 attempts, they still couldn't synchronize the jump, dumbass kids.

Dumbass kids.

Chops Chicago Steakhouse is an American restaurant.  Specializes in steaks, offering various cuts and grades and sources, some dry-aged.  Based on prices (high), menu (detailed), sides (separate), and location (Greenbelt), the place would seem serious about steak.

5,100 PHP (115 USD), though about half of the 21 oz. weight comprised bone and fat, so I'd estimate 5,100 PHP for 300 grams (172 USD per pound)--the most expensive American-style steak that I've ever had; the Japanese-style steak in Kobe was far more, 19,100 JYP for 160 grams (456 USD per pound) (see generally 5.143 Good Award Kobe Beef Steak Course).

As a direct consequence of today's experience, I shall henceforth impose upon myself 2 limitations where steaks are concerned (at least when I'm paying for it): (1) no more ribeye--an all-around reliable cut in terms of flavor and tenderness, but it typically comes with way too much excess fat; from now on, sirloin or tenderloin only; (2) no more dry-aged--I suppose that I could the difference in a side-by-side comparison, but that difference in taste/tenderness is subtle, not enough to justify the double/triple/quadruple price differential; in fact, forget about the wagyu or Black Angus or Prime or other grading/source indicator that ups the cost; at any decent steakhouse, even the cheapest piece of meat should be good.  Lessons hard-learned, conclusions long-overdue.

Caesar Salad (3.0)--on the house!

 Skillet Buttered Corn (3.5) + House Fries (3.5)--for the dumbass kinds: best corn ever + perfectly crispy shoe string fries.

The Chicago Cowboy* Steak was good, I guess.  It came with an odd spice rub, somewhat sweet, that overwhelmed the beef flavor, not in a good way.  But then, after I'd sent it back to be cooked a bit more, the meat tasted cleaner on the second serving, as if the reheat had dissipated the spices.  Tender, yes, but when is ribeye ever not tender?  In terms of either taste or texture, I didn't discern any benefit from the dry-aging--totally not worth the extra money, maybe not even by half.  Cost aside, I did enjoy the steak in the end, the little that was actually meat.

In the steak context, "cowboy" typically refers to a ribeye with the rib left in, often extending beyond the meat for dramatic effect, also called "tomahawk chop."

Too much on the rare side; though I've historically preferred my beef to be bloody, I'm beginning to lean towards medium-rare these days for the extra chew in the crust.

 Bone and fat and gristle; lost juices from lack of resting.

Happy birthday to me.

The special occasion warranted the pricey steak.

5.356 Soya Cake with Three Kinds Mushrooms

-Cycle 5, Item 356-
27 (Sat) December 2014

Soya Cake with Three Kinds Mushrooms


at Golden Fortune Restaurant

-Ermita, Manila-

with the family

Christmas with the Family in the PHL, Day 5 (see previously 5.355 Seafood Pizza).

The family is in town.  Arrived Wednesday.  Their second visit to the Philippines since I relocated here (see previously 5.121 Lechon).  We're spending Christmas here through tomorrow and fly back to Korea together on Monday.  No special plans.  Having everyone around, just hanging out, makes it feels like home.

At the crack of dawn, we packed our bags and left Eagle Point like bats out of hell.

We drove down the street to Anilao Scuba Dive Center (see generally 5.189 Gganpung Gi).  I would taken them there from the start--warm hospitality and great food and good times and reasonable prices, guaranteed--but its sparse facilities don't seem very family-friendly upon first impression; the wife wouldn't have appreciated it without the crappy experience of Eagle Point for comparison.  Awesome Korean home-style breakfast, snorkelling in the ocean all morning (I managed to squeeze in one dive), Korean BBQ lunch on the beach.  A most fulfilling day, wiping out all memories of Eagle Point, totally worth the trip.  

Next time, ASDC from the get-go for sure.

Nowadays, I can't imagine eating anything but this after a dive.

Golden Fortune Restaurant is a Chinese restaurant.  Specializes in Cantonese cuisine, particularly seafood.  Located across the street from work, the closest/only real restaurant in the area, it's a popular place for us to have lunch, especially Korean staff.  

*A perfectly respectable establishment, somewhat on the high end, not just some local lunch dive; in fact, the second and third floors consist of large banquet rooms that are often reserved for big parties on special occasions.

 But for some reason, we never think about having dinner here, probably because (a) we go for lunch so often and (b) we want to get as far away as we can from work after work. 

Tonight marks my 18th visit (as far as I can recall), but shockingly the first time for dinner*.  Among the restaurants in Manila that I've been to the most, Golden Fortune ranks second (Tao Yuan leads at 32, My Kitchen third at 12 and Seafood Market fourth at 11).  

Crystal Prawns (3.0)

  Minced Pork in Lettuce Cups (3.5)

My favorite dish at Golden Fortune is the Soya Cake with Three Kinds Mushrooms.  Egg tofu, silky and sweet and creamy.  Lightly deep-fried for a delicate savory skin. Enoki, shiitake, button mushrooms, each providing a distinctive chewy texture and woodsy flavor.  All doused in a pitch-perfect oyster sauce gravy.  Divine on its own as an appetizer, even better as a main dish with steamed rice.  Maybe my favorite dish in all of Manila, certainly the one dish that I've had more than any other here, can never get enough.  I was proud to share it with my family.

5.355 Seafood Pizza

-Cycle 5, Item 355-
26 (Fri) December 2014

Seafood Pizza


at Eagle Point Beach & Dive Resort

-Anilao, Batangas-

with the family

Christmas with the Family in the PHL, Day 4 (see previously 5.354 Deep-Fried Tofu with Shrimp & Vegetables in Oyster Sauce).

The family is in town.  Arrived Wednesday.  Their second visit to the Philippines since I relocated here (see previously 5.121 Lechon).  We'll spend Christmas here through the weekend and fly back to Korea together on Monday.  No special plans.  Having everyone around, just hanging out, makes it feels like home.

Rather than spend the entire time in the city, however, we drove down to Batangas for an overnighter in Anilao, where we could get some fresh air and splash around in the ocean. 

Although I'd never been to Eagle Point Beach and Dive Resort before, I booked us a room there for several reasons.  It's the only real family resort in the area, with full staff, restaurant and bar, and various amenities (other places in the area are geared towards divers (see for example 5.154 Kakuni Ramen), not families with young kids).  Among the four swimming pools on the premises, there's a shallow kiddie pool with a water slide! And a diving pool with baby sharks!  And a bird zoo!  They even own an island, accessible by a chartered boat for day trips, including BBQ lunch on the sandy beach!  Sounds grand.  

The first sign of trouble was, literally, a sign at the entrance that warned against bringing any food or drink on to the property.  "Management reserves the right to search bags.  Violations will result in corkage fees."  WTF?

Indeed, they charged us 33 pesos for a kettle of hot water.  

Then, as we were checking in, the receptionist saw the kids and offered us an additional mattress for an extra charge of 1,000 pesos (about $25) (the room itself cost 3,000 pesos).  Turns out, the mattress was already in the room, under the bed.  Nice try.  

Roaches, spiders, ants, flies, mosquitos.  Everywhere.  As we were dragging out the mattress, it came out encrusted with all manner of dust and hair and dead bugs.  Soon enough, their living brethren joined the party.  We huddled on the bed under the covers in fear of being eaten alive.  

As for activities, the dive shop was asking 900 pesos for a daily dive master fee (400 pesos elsewhere), on top of a separate boat fee and other bogus charges, while the chartered boat + beachside lunch would've cost us over 5,000 pesos.  Forget it.

And the food, total crap.

Looking at the crowd, which appeared to consist primarily of tourists, I'm guessing that the ownership isn't concerned with cultivating customer loyalty, just gouging the one-time guests as they pass through. 

Shoulda gone to Acacia (see generally 5.153 Buffet Crap).

Due to the weather, the ocean was cold and choppy, so we stayed in the pool.

At least the boys had fun.

We're checking out first thing in the morning.

5.354 Deep-Fried Tofu with Shrimp & Vegetables in Oyster Sauce

-Cycle 5, Item 354-
25 (Thu) December 2014

Deep-Fried Tofu with Shrimp & Vegetables in Oyster Sauce


at Seafood Market Restaurant

-Ermita, Manila-

with the family

Christmas with the Family in the PHL, Day 2 (see previously 5.353 Lapu-Lapu Chazuke).

The family is in town.  Arrived yesterday.  Their second visit to the Philippines since I relocated here (see previously 5.121 Lechon).  We'll spend Christmas here through the weekend--no special plans, daily schedules revolving around swimming pools in various locations--then fly back together next Monday to spend New Year's in Korea.  Looking forward to the long hard-earned holiday.

Lounged all day at the swimming pool in the Hyatt, across the street from my apartment.  Non-members can pay an 800-peso day-fee per person, kids free, to use the facilities.  While my apartment complex does have a decent pool, the one at the Hyatt is better because it's bigger and (presumably) cleaner and includes a heated whirlpool, with food (hot fries for the kids) and drinks (cold margaritas for me) available upon order at the bar.  Not a bad way to celebrate Christmas.

Seeing this from my window every day for the past 8 months, I've hoped to take the boys there someday.

Though rather bleak and industrial in appearance from a distance, the ambiance is quite nice and peaceful from within; for no particular reason, we didn't take any photos while we were there.

For dinner, yet another local favorite, Seafood Market Restaurant (see most recently 5.249 Deep-Fried Tofu with Vegetable in Oyster Sauce).

5.353 Lapu-Lapu Chazuke

-Cycle 5, Item 353-
24 (Wed) December 2014

Lapu-Lapu Chazuke


at Asunaro (The Pan-Pacific Manila)

-Ermita, Manila-

with the family

Christmas with the Family in the PHL, Day 1.

The family is in town.  Arrived this morning.  Their second visit to the Philippines since I relocated here (see previously 5.121 Lechon).  We'll spend Christmas here through the weekend--no special plans, daily schedules revolving around swimming pools in various locations--then fly back together next Monday to spend New Year's in Korea.  Looking forward to the long hard-earned holiday.

To kick-start the trip with a bang, I took them to Tao Yuan for lunch (see most recently 5.347 Japanese-style Corn Soup).  They were duly impressed with the food, which comprised nothing but the best of the best (indeed, I didn't order any new items, so this visit won't be counted towards TEITY).  The white pepper lobster was such a hit (see for example 5.313 White Pepper Lobster) that we ordered a second one even before we'd finished the first.  Good times.

Mo was more interested in playing with the hotpot sieve ladles, which he insisted on stealing as we were leaving--that's my boy!

Chazuke is a Japanese rice dish.  Consists of steamed rice in warm broth, typically a simple fish stock seasoned with a touch of soy, often topped with grilled fish and garnished with dried laver, toasted sesame seeds, sliced scallion. Although very common in Japan, the dish hasn't really caught on in overseas markets, though I can't imagine why.  

Geso Shioyaki (3.0) (grilled salted squid legs)--simple as it sounds, the dish only works when the squid is impeccably fresh, as here.

Ebi Tempura (3.0)--for Mo, it's all about the shrimp.

American Lobster Aburi Gunkan (2.5)--much better this time with the lobster fully cooked (see previously 5.348 American Lobster Aburi Gunkan), but still not quite there; tellingly, although the dish combines D's two all-time favorite food items, lobster and sushi, he wasn't that into it.

Kid's Udon (2.5)

For dinner, Asunaro (see most recently 5.350 Kimuchi Yudofu Set).

The chazuke was excellent.  The delicately seasoned broth paired perfectly with the light flesh of the lapu-lapu, as well as the napa cabbage.  The skin of the fish had been separately grilled to a crisp, providing a nice textural contrast.  Simple yet sophisticated--my kinda dish.

Subtle touches, like the finely shredded dried laver, indicate that the kitchen knows its craft.

5.352 Grilled Pepper Fish Fillet with Spaghetti

-Cycle 5, Item 352-
23 (Tue) December 2014

Grilled Pepper Fish Fillet with Spaghetti


at Italianni's (Robinsons Place)

-Ermita, Manila-


In stark contrast to my first encounter with this dish (see for comparison 5.049 Grilled Pepper Fish Fillet with Spaghetti), ranked as my favorite of TERRP (see generally 5.247 Original Recipe Fried Chicken...), it was very disappointing this time.  The fillet was thinner and slightly undercooked.  The sauce was runny.  And the vegetables didn't include bell peppers.  Oh well.

Hoping this isn't an ominous sign that the restaurant, which remains one of the few places in the mall where I would even consider eating again, has undergone some kind of change for the worse (see for example 5.254 Lamb Keftedes).

5.351 Chili Prawns

-Cycle 5, Item 351-
22 (Mon) December 2014

Chili Prawns


at Harbor View Restaurant

-Ermita, Manila-

with BB, DRC, EK, CAL

As mentioned a couple days ago, CAL is leaving the regional office here in Manila and heading off to HQ in Geneva.  Today was her last day.

Overwhelmingly and universally adored as she is, various groups of friends and colleagues have organized several official farewell parties for her over the past couple weeks (see most recently 5.349 Lumpia), but this evening was an informal impromptu affair, just a few close friends hanging out after work in the few hours left before she had to catch her plane.

Given a choice of venue, she chose Harbor View Restaurant (see most recently 5.089 Calamares al Ajillo)--one final sunset over Manila Bay.  

We sat down literally seconds before the sun touched the horizon.

While I could go on at length about how much I've worked with her and how much I've learned from her, I'll just note that I've eaten more meals with CAL than anyone in Manila--which says it all.

When we parted ways, I refused to say goodbye.

Before heading off to the restaurant, we all shared one for the road--another instance of full circle (see post above), this was the exact same wine that I'd brought to CAL's apartment when I was first invited over to dinner (see generally 5.081 Home-Cooked Spanish Cuisine...).

5.350 Kimuchi Yudofu Set

-Cycle 5, Item 350-
21 (Sun) December 2014

Kimuchi Yudofu Set


at Asunaro (Pan-Pacific Hotel)

-Malate, Manila-

with CAL, EK

Asunaro is now my go-to destination when I'm in the mood for Japanese (see most recently 5.348 American Lobster Aburi Gunkan).

In addition to variety and quality, the place also offers value and fun in an extensive array of mix & match set menus.  Choice of 1 main dish (among 44) + 2 mini appetizers (among 23) + 1 rice/noodle (among 3) + 1 dessert (among 7) = 42,504 possible combinations of items that would otherwise have to be ordered individually.   Awesome.

Yes, I did consider the possibility of initiating either TEIA (Try Every Item at Asunaro) or TESMA (Try Every Set Menu at Asunaro).  In either case, the scale of the task was unbearably seductive to a masochistic glutton like me.

Just in case, on my first visit, I signed up for a membership card, which provides a discount on all meals and allows for BYOB and free storage.

Sets range in price from 450 pesos (e.g., yaki gyoza) to 1050 pesos (sushi matsu), about 200-250 more than the main dish would cost a la carte.

They're "set" in the noun sense that the dishes come in a group, but certainly not in the adjective sense that the selections are fixed.

But no, I've decided against it.  Unlike the other "Try Every..." projects, I don't think that a mainstream Japanese restaurant like Asunaro carries much potential for any new/fun/exciting/learning/disturbing experiences.  I'd merely end up getting sick of what would appear to be a perfectly respectable place.

I'll just drop by whenever I feel like enjoying a nice Japanese meal.

Spicy Maguro (2.5)--rather than sriracha, as in American-style sushi joints, the "spicy" here involves Korean chogochujang, which was okay, but would work better with a white fish, like Koreans would do it.

Kimuchi Yudofu (3.0)--white Japanese-style kimuchi and soft tofu (yudofu), the dish was nice and light in flavor and texture; incidentally, the portion was so immense that it was too much even for 3 of us sharing it.  

Agedashi Tofu (1.0)--okay sauce and topping, but the deep-fry crust on the tofu was weird.

Mango (4.0).

Tonight was the first time, as far as I can recall, that I've shared a meal with CAL and EK together, which is surprising as they are the two people with whom I have broken the most bread in Manila, coincidentally both tagged at 29 GMTD dinners each, but never at the same table.