Saturday, July 30, 2005

korean restaurant, part II

This time around, Seppo got the fatty pork (the non-spicy kind) and I got a potato stew, starting with the bin de dduk again. In most places, the fatty pork is cooked by itself and served with the sauces (generally one or more of three: the typical bean paste/red pepper paste combo; a mixture of sesame oil, salt, and pepper; and a fermented shrimp sauce), to be eaten wrapped up in lettuce with rice. This place cooked it up with some garlic, peppers, and onions, which lent a nice fragrance to the meat, but did not explicitly apply other flavors to it, if you know what I mean. This dish got a thumbs up from me.

The potato stew was a half-winner, half-loser. The potatoes and pork ribs were really perfect. I could not ask more of the flavor or texture. But the stew itself was too... peppery or something. It had both red pepper and black pepper, and was really spicy in a way I did not expect from this dish. It felt like someone had cooked the dish, and at the last minute, put in a large handful of black pepper. The flavor of the stew that I could discern under the pepper taste was good -- it was rich and had a good mouth-feel (wow, that sounds so pretentious). But it was just too spicy, and I honestly felt like it was spicy in a way that it was not supposed to be. I don't know. It could just be that the chef is from a different region of Korea than my family. Update: See notes below.

They gave us plenty of side dishes and were quite attentive with the water and tea. The check came out exactly when we wanted it. At the end of the meal, they served us what I think is called su jung gwa, a cold spicy, sweet, reddish drink with bits of dried jujubes and a couple of pine nuts floating on top. It tastes a little like chai, but has no tea in it. Seppo and I really like this drink.

I would definitely recommend it. When I remember the name, I'll be sure to post it. :D [Update: It's called Sahn Maru. I think means the foot or base of the moutain, but I might be misinterpreting.] It's across the street from Koryo BBQ, one door down from the corner. The corner is a new sushi-boat restaurant that we suspect is run by Koreans, as a lot of the business there is Korean-run. We haven't tried there yet.

Update: I found a couple of reviews, all of them positive.
The reviews solve the mystery of the soup. It seems they use a similar broth to the black goat stew, which at least two of the reviews refer to as flavored with mustard. I think it threw me off because I wasn't expecting the flavor or the intensity of the heat, but now that I can retroactively apply this new knowledge to my memory of the dish's flavor, that makes perfect sense. My mom doesn't use mustard very much in her cooking, so that probably just confused me. As the last review mentions though, "The owner is from the Cholla region in the southwest." My mom is from the same region, and that region is famous country-wide as having the best cuisine, so it makes sense that I like this restaurant.

Another bonus is that it is open until midnight! Nice. Another nice thing is that they bring you refills of the side dishes without you having to ask them. The waitstaff (which I suspect is just the owner's wife and daughter) are dressed in modified traditional Korean clothes (hanbok). It was genuinely a pleasant dining experience.

Warning: They are not a bbq joint, so don't expect to cook at the table. Well, except for stews. Some of the stews are cooked at the table if you order for 2 or more.

They are located at 4315 Telegraph Ave in Oakland. [google maps]


Blogger Seppo said...

Sahn Maru is the name of the place. I liked it quite a bit, but one of the side dishes had a bit of a weird, musty aftertaste that put me on edge for the whole meal. Everything else was completely delicious, though, and I'm willing to bet that it was just a taste I wasn't used to.

1:04 AM  
Blogger A_B said...

On the topic of Korean restaurants, obviously (to me), there are tons of them in NYC. When I visited my parents I went to one in Cambridge and had the fatty pork (I always have it). It was like you described it is normally.

In any case, this place served it up on a plate and it was a pretty bright orange (like the default text of Blogspot subject lines). There was no lettuce to wrap it up and none of the sauces.

Biting into it, the sauce was chalky in texture and had a really strange flavor.

Overall, it was just awful. I couldn't eat it. I haven't done that to any meal in years. I eat everything (because I order what I liked). This was awful and wholly unique in my experience.

Ever heard of such a preparation?

9:11 PM  
Blogger A_B said...

Here it is:

9:14 PM  
Blogger A_B said...

I think it might have been this: 54.
Pork Bulgogi / 돼지 불고기 $14.95
Sliced pork, marinated in Korean chili paste.

God, it was awful.

And I eat the same damned dish at every Korean restaurant I go to. It was never like this.

9:15 PM  
Blogger ei-nyung said...

There are two commonly broiled pork dishes:

fatty pork sans any sort of sauce of marinade (might be salted and peppered): I am not sure what the most commonly used name for this is other than "fatty pork" (Korean for it would be "san gyup sar" and less frequently, "oh gyup sar", meaning "three layer meat" and "five layer meat", respectively)

spicy pork: this should be the same fatty pork, but marinated in a sauce made of gochujang (red pepper paste), garlic, sugar, sesame oil (maybe), scallions, ginger (sometimes), and toasted sesame (rarely). In the US, everytime I go out to eat, I see that restaurants make this with the leaner meat now. Pshaw. Boo. Hiss. Should be made with the fatty pork for the right flavor. This is the dish commonly referred to as "dweji bulgogi" (or "daeji bulgogi"), the pork counterpart to the beef bulgogi dish, which is not spicy. This spicy pork is one third of the Holy Korean BBQ Triumverate along with bulgobi and garbi that you most frequently see at Korean BBQs. I see far less of the first type in the US, even though it's more popular in Korea as far as I can tell.

It sounds like you had the second kind, but some sort of awful variation on it. It should have been served at roughly the moistness level of regular beef bulgogi, a tad glazed looking (from the sugar and fat) with maybe some tasty charring. The marinade should taste roughly like the spicy squid sautee, if you've ever had that. But never should it be chalky! It sounds like they served you up a bad, bad dish.

9:45 AM  
Blogger ei-nyung said...

And I have no idea what was with the lack of lettuce and sauces. Boo!

Some restaurants have adopted the [relatively] new Korean style and no longer serve rice with their meat-lettuce wrap dishes. It weirds me out because I'm just an old fogey and I don't understand kids and their new-fangled ways.

9:48 AM  
Blogger A_B said...

The color, I should have mentioned, was also matte. Basically, it not only tasted chalky, but it looked like the pork was coated in an orange chalk sauce.

There was no glazing or charring. It almost looked boiled.

It doesn't seem like any version. My wife was a little confused by it as well.

9:26 AM  

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