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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Korean BBQ Battle

So we've been slowly ticking off restaurants on Convoy Street. If you don't remember, this is the restaurant row that has mainly asian restaurants in San Diego, but there are a few others - wings, a pancake house, mexican of course, wienerschnitzel.

So a week or 2 ago we went to one place. The name is in Korean, so I can't tell you what it's called. But it did say Korean BBQ below the Korean characters. It is about 2 shopping centers after Daggett Street if you're going north. It is the very first corner place. The decor is nice, not over the top like some of these places. It's got unfinished wood booths on one side and tables and chairs on the other. It has a nice big patio too, which we noticed after we sat down and got drinks.

So the side dishes came; that wilted spinach, soybean sprouts, kimchee (of course), shredded radish, potato, that cakey thing which we think is yam cake.

The wilted spinach is kind of bland. It's just kind of steamed or blanched with a little garlic, maybe a touch vinegar. The sprouts are kind of the same, bland. The kimchee was good. A little crunchy, spicy, kind of fresh tasting, but still having that kimchee flavor. The radish was good, very refreshing. The potato thing was good. It was glazed in this sweet sugar or corn syrup sauce. Usually the potato thing is boring, but this one was good. Then the yam noodle like thing. That was surprisingly good. Usually these are also bland. But this one was well seasoned. I assume that about half the side dishes are bland for a reason. They can't all have the same seasoning and heat. Then there would be no contrast. The bland ones balance and contrast the spicy ones, and they act as a palate cleanser. Then again, what do I know about Korean food. I know dick about Korean food. Maybe the cooks who make the bland dishes aren't as skilled as the cooks who make the tasty ones.

Anyway, everything had this kind of fresh taste to it. The other places we have been to seemed to have this prevailing earthiness, everything seemed like it was buried in the dirt for a while, like those duck eggs, but mostly in a good way. It's just this kind of asian flavor profile that is common in almost every asian cuisine - mustiness. Some of the fruits and veggies just naturally have this taste. I grew up kind of liking this kind of flavor, but then I started being more American and I think I got embarrassed of liking weird food. My friends with very American palates didn't like the fruits and sweet treats that tasted like grandma had been storing them in the basement for years. So I think I started to not like this stuff as much, it was a guilty pleasure. So even now, in large doses, I don't like the musty earthy taste.

But this place - Korean BBQ (it's a popular restaurant name on Convoy street), didn't really have that earthiness. Weird. It made the food seem lighter. I think it would be more "American" friendly.

About this whole American thing. I don't know if I've expounded on it in previous blogs, but how many readers read every single entry and remember everything I write. If you are guilty of this - you're scary. Anyway, my parents moved to Troy, New York in like 1967 or somewhere around then. Some interesting things happened to them (they moved a few times, had 2 daughters) then they ended up in Florida, and I was born. So anyway, (yeah, I know I use anyway a lot. It's kind of a writing tick I've developed over the years. It's kind of like when I speak I say uh and um alot. Don't worry though, I'm not going to run for office and make speeches, so I can say uh and um all I want. Although I am trying to interest the Food Pimp in getting into politics.).

So anyway, I am an american citizen. I have an american accent. At times my skin is so pale that I look kind of caucasian. Anyway, I grew up in the Filipino family and culture, where if a person was white, and born in the good old US of A, they were american. I was a flip. Years later, friends began to point out that I was american too. But my parents' labels for ethnicity had already been ingrained into me. Just like that Catholic guilt that I carry. And I really am not sure when the last time was that I set foot in a Catholic church. I think it was for Easter (and I hadn't even gone through the sacrament of confession prior to), or it was for someone's wedding. But you know, the whole american - filipino thing is kind of like the term colored. My parents use that word to describe (look around, left side, right side, then whisper) black people. They learned that word a long time ago, and that's the word they use. My mom also, as far as I know, (I could be wrong on this now)uses the word mongoloid. I like that word. It's very descriptive. No it's not PC, but right away, I picture Corky.

So what the hell was I writing about in the first place? Oh, Korean BBQ. You know that place on Convoy Street? You would only get the joke if you've been there. [Hint: there's a lot of places on Convoy called Korean BBQ] Anway, it wasn't as earthy. It was really tasty. For our entrees: The Food Pimp ordered the tofu, kimchee and pork stew. I got the spicy squid with rice. The stew was nice and hot when it came to the table. It was a kind of cool and breezy day, so it was a good choice. The FP loaded it up with chili sauce and soy sauce, as he tends to do. So it pretty much ended up tasting like tangy spicy, porky, salty stewed goodness. And they also gave him rice, which is always a nice addition to any asian dish. Stir fried noodles? I like a side of rice with that. Rice pudding, and a side of rice. Potatoes and rice. Yum. Double starch.

My spicy squid was effing delicious. Once again, it didn't have the must, though. It was spicy, had nice chunks of green onion and such, and it had that yummy red spicy sauce that seems to be a staple of Korean food. The squid was big chunks of curled cuts, but it was tender. And with the rice to sop up the sauce, it really hit the spot. I think I pretty much ate most of it, and the FP ate the scraps that I left on the plate. This place was so good. My only gripe is that Korean is not cheap, and I always wonder how the dishes that are like $20 and up are. If the $10 food is that good, is the $20 food twice as good? I don't know, and I'm going to have to come into some big money or save up to find out. Anyway, I give Korean BBQ six chopsticks out of eight - \/ \/ \/



So yesterday, we had to go to a Korean restaurant because the Food Pimp is teaching a Korean cooking class on Tuesday. So this was for "research". We drove around Convoy street. We passed the place that the FP was eyeing up, so we turned onto a side street and made a loop. I noticed a shopping center there, that had 2 Korean places. So we drove back around and went to the place on Convoy. We saw a big lunch buffet sign on the window. 7 days a week. So I suggested that we go to that shopping center off Convoy. There were 2 Korean and one Japanese there. The Japanese was closed. One Korean place was called Thang Thang - a family restaurant. It had tinted dark windows, and no indication if it was even open. But it did have a grand opening banner hung up. The other place was the corner spot, and it had a big obnoxious multicolored flashing LED sign in the front entrance. It seemed so authentic, so we went in there. All we could make out of the name was...you guessed it, Korean BBQ. The decor was very strange - maybe very authentic. It was a combination of "stone" and tile in different shades of green and little waterfall displays and whatnot. Each table had the cooking element in the middle and the hood above. It was very clean, antiseptic looking. It had that hotel restaurant feel to it.

The lady who seated us asked if we wanted hot tea. We said yes, and I asked for water. She came back with the tea. We ordered. I asked the difference between the short ribs soup with vegetable and the vegetable and short ribs soup. She didn't really speak engrish too well, so she was trying to explain to me but I really had no idea. She said the vegetable one was with a more miso base and the short rib one was more of a water base, in so few words. She said, do you know napa? I figured, napa cabbage, yeah I knew napa. She said one of them had napa. Then she said I should get the short rib with vegetable, some people don't like the vegetable with short rib. The FP said, I should get the vegetable one then. I thought I should, but I felt that the lady wanted me to get the short rib with vegetable soup, and I let her strongarm me into getting it. The FP got the monkfish in hot pot. I asked for water again. And she said, you can have cold water, or hot water, and she pointed to the tea.

I didn't get the ice water.

This is a huge annoyance to me when going to restaurants. I drink a ton of water. I always need a glass or jug of water around me - when I work, when I eat, when I practice, when I sleep. Okay, not when I take a piss or take a shower. Especially when I am slightly hungover. Then I need a lot of water. She wouldn't budge. Why? I was kind of scared of her though - with the language barrier and all. So I guzzled my hot tea, then I set it at the edge of the table so someone would see it and have pity and refill it. No one did. I had to wait for someone to come to the table to ask.

So the side dishes came. We asked for more tea and water. We got the tea.

I ripped open the paper package with my chopstick. Then I noticed the restaurant name on the paper - Dae Jang Keum Korean BBQ. I put the wrapper in my purse so I would remember the name. So we had the bean sprouts, the spicy pickled cucumber, the fresh cucumber, the kimchee, of course, the yam cakey noodley thing, the wilted spinach and this wakame looking seaweed. I think that was all of them. So the bean sprouts, the fresh cucumber and the spinach were bland. Not much flavor other than the main ingredient. The pickled cucumber was very nice. A bit of crunch to it, and good sweet vinegar flavor. The yam cakey thing didn't really have much flavor, but I kind of am starting to like it more and more. The kimchee was pretty good. A little more wilted than at the other Korean BBQ place. The black seaweed was pretty good. Good salt flavor, dried sweet flavor, kind of like ancho chilies. I love anchos, so I liked this seaweed.

We ate all of the side dishes while waiting for the main courses. What we started doing was take a little of a bland dish and mixing it with a flavorful one. I really don't know if that's what one is meant to do.

So finally my soup came. I was expecting a tray of garnishes, but none came. I thought, maybe she'll bring it in a bit, her hands were full with...with my bowl of soup. So I tasted it. It was bland of course. It was meat water with chunks of short rib, some 2.5 inch pieces of green onion, fat clear bean noodles and egg floating around all wispy. It was hot. I was spooning up the soup because I was thirsty. I started to put kimchee and seaweed in my soup. That made it spicier and a little saltier.

I saw a server bring a tray of soup, 2 squeeze bottles and ice water to a table. I started to get pissed. They brought the FP's hot pot. The lady was startled that we had finished the side dishes, so she made a move to clear them. We asked her for more tea and soy sauce and chili paste. She didn't understand what we meant by chili paste. The FP said, the hot chili paste. So she asked, hot sauce? Yes, hot sauce. We were doubtful as to whether she would bring anything. She actually brought tea and a little dish with two compartments with about one ounce each of soy sauce and chili paste. We both looked at the dish disappointed. I asked, I know this won't be enough hot sauce, can we have more. So she brought another one ounce of soy and one ounce of chili paste. And she brought a whole more round of side dishes.

So we each dumped the contents of a dish into our bowls. At this point, my soup was getting cold - well, it was warm. It was spicy, but not salty enough. Still meat water. So another server walked by, and the FP flagged her down and asked for salt. She brought a salt shaker of iodized salt. Okay. A couple shakes and it was fine. Not great. The meat was bland. I wanted to shake salt on each side of each piece of meat before eating, but that was too much effort. I was already pretty weary from this culinary experience by this point. I was just eating for biological reasons. I mean, the soup was better, just not good. When we went to Young Dong in LA, we started with two bowls of meat, noodles and broth. But the condiments were on the table, and we both ended up with maybe the best beef soup I have ever had. I ate all the meat and half the broth. That's how hungry I was.

The Food Pimp's hot pot looked delicious. It was all red and bubbly and had monkfish and tofu and green onions. It was not delicious. I tasted the stew/sauce after he had doctored it, and it was pretty good. I asked how the monkfish was. He said not good, overcooked. So I tried to take a chunk off a piece, but it wouldn't split, so the FP took the whole chunk and chopsticked it to me. I took a bite. It was gross. Overcooked, dry, but fishy tasting in a bad way. It reminded me of something my mom might have cooked when I was very very young. (She is 100 times better than she used to be, but back then she had only been cooking at all for maybe 10 years. She never cooked anything until after my parents married and moved here to the states.) So I immediately spit it out and put the chunk of offensive fish in one of the side dish dishes. The FP laughed. But I couldn't help it. It was a gut reaction. So we finished this nasty lunch, and the bill came. The FP told me to stiff them on the tip as much as possible. I think I tipped $4 on $26. I really stuck it to them. I'll teach them to not give me ice water and to not give me condiments until I ask. Who do they think I am? Is it possible that they didn't know that I was the Food Ho? Although, I wouldn't want special VIP treatment just because of who I am. When I go out to eat, I want to eat with all the common folk and get treated equally like everyone else.

No, in all seriousness, I kind of felt discriminated against. Why did someone else get ice water and squeeze bottles of soy sauce and whatever the other thing was, and I got tea and one ounce of soy sauce? And the weird thing was, that the other people who got treated so nicely were AMERICANS! If they had been Korean, I would have completely understood. But this unnerved me. If the servers had understood engrish better, I would have asked them. Maybe they still don't like Filipinas or Filipinos because they think they are superior to them. Maybe they thought we'd give a shitty tip, so they gave shitty service. (Well, I guess they ended up being right.) I really didn't understand how much of our horrible experience was because of a language/custom barrier and how much was from discrimination or just plain bad service. I don't know, but I won't be going back. There are just too many more places to try, and not enough money or meals in the day to waste another meal at this place. And maybe I'll miss out on something really amazing.

So anyway, I give them one chopstick \ The Food Ho has ruled against. Dae Jang Keum Korean BBQ restaurant.

Korean BBQ is the winner.

1 comment:

snogglethorpe said...

I've been told (by Koreans) that in restaurants in Korea, they traditionally don't serve water at all. The cold drink they give everybody for free is cold tea (toasted corn tea). But they call it "water".

So, "water" is tea, and the tea is "water".

Thus, I presume, your waitress thought she was giving you exactly what you asked for...