March 24, 2024

50 Best and then some day 4: the temple of Hanwooooo

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I'm spending the whole day with the Man in White T-shirt.

He wanted to grab a coffee before we headed off to lunch together. After cleaning up, I headed his way via the subway. This was when I encountered serious problems for the first time in 3 days - both in terms of inter-line transfer as well as the train not reaching my desired destination. After switching to taxi, I managed to arrive at Nudake for the second time in 3 days... albeit much later than I had wanted to be.

Since I was incredibly late and we were running out of time, I just got myself an iced long black and kinda gulped it down.

Lunch today was at Born and Bred in Majang-dong (마장동). Almost 7 years after I first experienced the magic of the best Hanwoo around, I finally had the opportunity to come back. Except I'm not dining at the original "speakeasy" upstairs from the butcher shop. This is the newer, multi-story restaurant that owner Jung Sang-won (정상원) originally described as inspired by the movie Kingsmen before the restaurant opened.

Once everyone had arrived, we moved to the private counter in the basement. I had missed a group outing here in late 2019 not long after the place first opened, but at the time I was already so busy flying around the world for work that coming in just for a weekend - in the middle of an already hectic schedule - just didn't make much sense. What followed was 3 years of effective border closures for Hong Kong, and here we are.

Chef Min Kyung Kwan was taking care of us today while his kitchen team works on their upcoming collaboration with Dave Pynt of Burnt Ends. He wants to showcase the best they have to offer, but is well-aware that everyone here has been - and will continue to - eating nonstop. He has chosen to serve us smaller portions of each item, so that we wouldn't feel like throwing up by the end of our meal from being stuffed...

One of our dining companions very generously brought a bottle of Krug to share with the Man in White T-shirt. The rest of us became beneficiaries of this generosity by default...

2000 Krug, ID 313058

Galbitang (갈비탕) - the morel was stuffed with different types of mushrooms, and we also had finger meat. Gotta say that stuffing was really tasty, as was, of course, the soup itself.

Yukhoe (육회) - made with chuck tender, and mixed with oi gochu (오이고추) peppers. This was really nice, with a little fermented sauce that wasn't quite spicy but very flavorful, and worked well with the caviar and the umami.

March 23, 2024

Earth Hour 2024

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My 16th Earth Hour finds me in Seoul, as I had come up a couple of days earlier before the festivities that will take place next week. After a very long lunch today I had retired to my hotel room, and when the time came I decided to walk around the big block that is COEX and see if anyone around here cared about Earth Hour.

COEX has a ton of large, bright LED screens that blast out advertising 24-7, and there's one just across from my hotel room. Like all the others on both sides around the block, the screens never darkened.

50 Best and then some day 3: collaborative stuffing

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I decided to sleep in this morning. Haokofu and I decided to take a long walk after dinner last night along Apgujeong-ro before returning to our hotels, and that was a lot of walking. So... I was still in bed when the Great One went for her breakfast soup with Vicky Cheng. I did get around to having a quick coffee with her at Coffee Jinsim Bakery (커피진심베이커리). As we were about to have a huge lunch, I decided not to get one of their cute-looking salt breads and just had myself a hazelnut cafe latte. I expected this to just have a shot of hazelnut liqueur inside, but was pleasantly surprised by the presence of crushed hazelnuts and pine nuts.

A bunch of us piled into a taxi and made our way north to Onjium (온지음). We are joining one of the events of the 50 Best Signature Series, which sees Onjium host the Chairman (大班樓) from Hong Kong and Seroja from Singapore for a "6 hands" collaboration.

Now, the reason why I came up 2 days ago was to visit restaurants before the "50 Best crowd" get into town, and try out the restaurants' own cuisine instead of all these "collaborations". So many of these 4-/6-/8-hands events are simply different chefs alternative dishes from their repertoire, and they don't feel like real collaborations. I had told PR8 point blank that I wasn't interested in any collaboration meals from his clients, and most of all, I didn't want to run into some of the people who somehow always show up at these sort of events.

But... this is different. Any of the Chairman's collaborative events is worth attending, because Danny and the team insist on it being true collaborations - where many dishes actually combine elements from all participating parties. This requires actual thought and effort in planning ahead, and indeed, the teams for today actually got together multiple times to work on the menu. So... I'm always willing to make an exception for the Chairman's events.

Today's seating plan saw the same foursome that had sat through this dinner last October placed at the same table. I saw a few familiar faces around the dining space, but it was all good.

Amuse-bouche - we began with this platter featuring nibbles from all three restaurants.

March 22, 2024

50 Best and then some day 2: stingy with the kimchi

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When I was planning my itinerary in Seoul, one of the restaurants whose name kept coming up was Kwonsooksoo (권숙수). I'm definitely focusing on Korean cuisine while I'm in town, and this seemed to be a place that quite a few friends have enjoyed dining at. So I roped in Haokofu to be my partner in crime and got ourselves a table out in the main dining hall.

Since we were here for the first time, we decided to take the Chef Tasting Menu, since it only has 2 extra courses in terms of volume.

The table setting was not something we were used to or had expected - having an wooden, elevated platform on which our dishes are placed.

Welcome drink with small appetizer (우리 술과 작은 안주를 곁들인 주안상) - from reading the menu, I thought we'd get the famous kimchi cart wheeled in front of us as a start, but I suppose it does make more sense to have our welcome drink first...

50 Best and then some day 2: basement Hanwoo

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I haven't seen my friend Jay Essu for a while. In fact, the last time I was with her 10 years ago we had hit Dominique Ansel Bakery together and waited in line for cronuts. My time in NYC back in 2019 was too short during a hectic business trip so I never bothered to arrange something, and then came the pandemic years... Anyway, now that she's moved back to Seoul, I took the opportunity to catch up with her.

I had asked her to pick a restaurant that she wanted to show me, so that's how we ended up in the basement at Wooga (牛家), a restaurant that specializes in aging Hanwoo beef. The menu at lunch is pretty simple, and we ended up choosing the simple sets.

First came the banchan (반찬), with a big bowl of salad plus tofu and, of course, kimchi.


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