August 29, 2017

Korea Michelin tour day 5: death by Hanwoooooo

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My first taste of Hanwoo beef came a little more than a decade ago, during the years when I used to fly to Seoul to visit clients.  My sales colleague used to take me to a restaurant in Apgujeong-dong called MANA - which has since closed.  I was amazed at the quality of the barbecued beef we were having, and my eyes were popping out at the bill we got at the end of the evening.  That was when I first heard about Korean restaurants having their own cattle farm, where they slaughter cattle and serve the meat on the same day - without the meat ever having been frozen or chilled.

One of the things we wanted to check off on this trip was a good meal with plenty of Hanwoo.  We knew that after a day of eating vegetarian meals at Baekyangsa, Ro Ro would be needing some, you know, ro ro (肉肉).  Hello Kitty would most certainly be in Ro Ro's camp in terms of wanting beef, and as for the rest of us... what better opportunity to see what Hanwoo beef can taste like, and how well it stacks up against Japanese wagyu (和牛)?

Once again, our friend Mikacina came up with the perfect suggestion.  Born and Bred is a butchery shop inside the Majang Meat Market (마장 축산물시장).  It's a butcher shop by day - where one can purchase different cuts of Hanwoo beef - and 3 nights a week it turns into a speakeasy serving beef omakase (お任せ).  Booking needs to be done for the entire 7-seat counter, and with thanks to Mikacina's connections, owner Jung Sang-won agreed to let us come in on a Tuesday night.  And since Sang was a little shy about his English abilities - which inevitably improved over the course of the evening with more alcohol - he roped in his buddy Steven to help translate for us.

DaRC and I got dropped off by our taxi driver at the crowded end of Majang Meat Market, and as we were running late, we kinda half-ran through the place on our way to dinner.  The smell of meat - especially beef - was incredible.  I think my stomach started getting ready for dinner even before I sat down...

The rest of the gang had already arrived by the time we ran up the stairs, and started talking to Sang and Steven.  Since we didn't have time to buy ourselves a bottle or two, Sang very kindly agreed to let us raid his cellar.  DaRC went to take a look before respectfully leaving the decision up to the boss.

2013 Bruno Rocca Barbaresco Rabaja - pretty sweet nose.  Smoother on the palate than expected.

Before we started, Sang told us that each of us would be served 5-600g of beef.  Somehow I think we had quite a bit more than that...

I noticed that each of us had a plate of salad in front of us.  Sang promised that these were the only veggies he would be serving us tonight - and the rest of dinner would be nothing but meat.

Chateaubriand - you know it's gonna be a kickass evening when you start with chateaubriand...

Served with marinated slices of black truffle.  The cut is on the leaner side, but it was soooo tender... and tasty.

Striploin - can't go wrong with striploin.

Beautiful crust with charring, served with pickled mustard seeds.

Deep fried scallop - kinda curious about why this was part of the menu.  Clearly done mi-cuit but it was a little cold by the time we got to it.

Actually, Sang lied about not serving us more veggies.  We got some pickled napa cabbage to go with our beef...

Thin flank - I think this was called something like 'chaebajisal (sp?)' in Korean.  Apparently a head of cattle only yields 300g of this cut.

This was sooooo tender.  Nice and fatty, with lots of flavors here.  The flavors are deeper due to the proximity to the organs.

This cut of beef was meant to be wrapped in these marinated leaves, which were kinda sweet.

This is a small portion from tenderloin (안심추리살 ).

Served with baby spring onions on top.

Flat iron (부채살) - pretty much like Japanese ミスジ.  This was marinated just before grilling.

Served with garlic scapes.  Really succulent, with a springy texture that reminded me of ox tongue.  The Japanese yakiniku (焼肉) places tend to serve them as very thin slices, so it's interesting to have a thicker cut deliver a completely different texture.

Thick skirt - I think this might be 'kambajisal (?)' in Korean.  It's near the liver.

Very delicious when done.

Marinated vegetable

Galbi (갈비) - not marinated.

Delicious even without marinade.

Sang took a look at my size and assumed that I have a big appetite, so he gave me one of the bones.  This was delicious, but the amount of fat on the other side of the bone was unbelievable... probably close to 50%.  This would come back to bite me later on in the evening...

3-year-old kimchi - taken with the galbi.

Galbi (갈비) - 'uncut', off the bone.

Marinated with Japanese tare (たれ).

Served with fresh grated wasabi (山葵).  Light charring around the edges, which delivered lovely, smoky flavors.

Uncut steak galbi - this was not marinated.

Served with a little bit of marinated black truffle and wasabi.  OMG, there was so much marbling, and that charring on the outside was sooooo beautiful!

According to Sang, a head of cattle will yield 40kg of galbi, out of which 30kg is actually fat.  Of the remaining 10kg, only 2kg is considered of top quality, and for Koreans that means ribs 4 to 6.

Katsu sando with chateaubriand - my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when I saw this.  We were already pretty full - and the fat from that galbi bone didn't help - so how was I supposed to pack this into my stomach?!

This was just like the beef katsu sando (カツサンド) that's popular at Japanese yakiniku places now.  We've got a nice crust on the outside, and of course you can never complain about a nice piece of chateaubriand... This was soooo good, and came with chopped onions in a tart cream sauce.  It was way, waaaaay too much food, and I managed to put away maybe 80%.

We had run out of wine some time ago, and by now Sang was in a very, very good mood... so he went back to his cellar and grabbed a second bottle, and told us that it was 'on the house'.  That turned out to be a very generous gesture...

2010 Carruades de Lafite - sweet on the nose, with forest notes and a little cedar fragrance.  Actually not too sweet on the palate.  Full-bodied with some tannins on the finish.  Just popped and poured and already drinking beautifully.

Traditional Korean sauce marinated galbi - this is the cut that we're most familiar with, which is ubiquitous at Korean restaurants worldwide.

Of course, this was taken with a bowl of rice.  Not that I needed more carbs to take up space...  But the beef was just so beautiful!

Dongchimi (동치미) soup - nice and chilled radish water kimchi.

Outside skirt (안창살) - as shown in the video above, this was dipped briefly in the Korean galbi sauce before cooking.

More chewy, and more flavorful here.

Beef Phở - Sang insisted on serving his "hangover cure", which turned out to be a bowl of phở with broth cooked with bones with tendon for 3 days.  I took the trouble of removing almost every single little piece of chili pepper from my bowl, but there was still sriracha that had been squeezed into the broth to make it spicy.

There were pieces of tendon from the knees, along with pieces of tenderloin.  Also came with a slice of lemon, which I found interesting.  This was undoubtedly the best bowl of phở I have ever had.  I think I might have managed to put away a quarter of it...

Melon - this looked like a nice slice of ripe melon, but Sang decided to take it up a notch by pouring a little brandy on top...

Our glasses were empty, and our stomachs full. Now the attention turned to the bottles of liquor behind Sang. He first poured us shots of Laphroaig 30 Year Old, which showed telltale nose of hospital disinfectant as well as some beautiful floral notes.  Having reached my saturation point, I politely declined the offer of an Armagnac from 1983.

This was a fantastic evening.  I could not have imagined how much beef we would be consuming when I signed us up for this, and we were certainly very happy with the quality of the beef, too.  If only I had about double my stomach capacity...

The evening was also a lot more fun because, as time went on, Sang realized that DaRC really knew his shit when it came to meat and butchery.  Of course all of us have been around the block and possess some basic knowledge when it came to food and wine, but DaRC probably had more passion than any of us - and Sang could see that.  When things began to look lost in translation, Sang even grabbed his buddy Steven and used him as a 'model' in order to show us where the cut of meat came from on a 'cattle'...  That was pretty hilarious...

When we finally left, we insisted on paying for the bottle of Carruades, but Sang would only charge us a nominal amount for the bottle.  As it turns out he has relatives in Hong Kong, so we hope to see him and Steven in Hong Kong soon, and try to reciprocate their hospitality.

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