August 28, 2017

Korea Michelin tour day 4: one star food, WTF Korean service

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Our eating tour continues with our first foray across the Hangang to Gangnam.  I thought it would be easier for us to take the MRT and walk to the restaurant, but failed to measure how long the walk would be...  So we arrived at Jungsik Dang (정식당) for our lunch a little late, and a little sweaty.

I know I can be a pain-in-the-ass customer, and have been known to have been pissed off by restaurants for one reason or another.  But it's still quite a rare feat for a restaurant to piss me off before I even took a single bite.

We were shown the menus available for lunch.  When I was looking at scheduling our meals, it was suggested to me that we come to Jungsik for lunch because we could still have the Signature menu, so naturally some of us wanted to choose that today.  They were also doing a special Krug x Mushroom menu, which normally I would have loved to try, but given this was my first time at Jungsik, I figured I should probably stick to the Signature menu.

A couple of the ladies didn't want to have a big lunch, and wanted to choose the smaller, 4- or 5-course menu.  We were then told that the whole table must choose the same menu.  Now, I've been visiting fine dining restaurants for a couple of decades and know that some restaurants would insist on the whole table taking the dégustation menu instead of serving up a combination of dishes from tasting menu and à la carte.  However, I thought that dining culture had evolved a little since then, and nowadays many restaurants have become more flexible in this regard.

I thought about asking the restaurant to split us up into two separate tables so that the ladies wouldn't be forced into eating more than they wanted to, but by this time the ladies were upset enough and had resigned to the fact that they had to bend to will of the majority.  So we let it go.  Signature menus for six it is.

One of us doesn't eat beef, so she was looking for a substitute.  She was asked to choose from the list of dishes from the smaller, pick-and-choose menu the ladies wanted to take.  Ssam looked good, but it's a dish that needs to be shared between two people.  So I raised my hand and asked if I could be her partner and share the pork belly.  Guess what?  The answer was "NO".  Apparently, substitutions are only allowed when you have an allergy, and since I hadn't announced my allergy to beef, I was most certainly not allowed to not have beef.  WHAT.THE.FUCK?

In the end, our friend had to choose a substitute dish that was not her first choice.  These guys may have one star from Michelin on food, but I'd give them a negative one star for customer service.

With the ordering drama over, we were poured a glass of cava.  As if that was enough to smooth our ruffled feathers...

Chef Jeong Ho Kim came to our table to greet us.  I'll come outright and say that all our meals this week were booked by our friend Mikacina who knows all the restaurants and their chefs, so VIP treatment was expected.  Now... if you knew that we were a table that warranted special attention from the chef, why the hell would you not bend the rules a little when it came to ordering?

We started with a welcome drink and some snacks...

Pumpkin, grapefruit jelly, fried rice, and basil

Roast snapper with pickled plum, red chili, cilantro

Apple kimchi with salmon mousse - this was substituted for our friend who is allergic to salmon.  The diced apple cubes provided some crunch in contrast to the mousse.

Beef croquette - very cute, and tasty, too.  Even the stick was edible.  Substituted for our friend who doesn't eat beef.

Rice ball with kimchi and dried seaweed - the seaweed was very, very yum, and we've got the spicy kick from kimchi.

Candied burdock with almonds - a very tasty lollipop, with some nice crunch provided by the almonds. 

Gujeolpan (맛있는구절판) - it's the same dish we had at La Yeon (羅宴) last night, just with different and more modern ingredients.  So we've got salsa, kelp jelly, smoked sour cream, radish sprouts, namul (나물), radish, wasabi, kimchi, and marinated tuna belly.

We were meant to place them on the seaweed cracker.  This was pretty good, but the flavors were clearly stronger than those last night.

Abalone (전복) - grilled and served on a bed of kimchi that wasn't spicy.  The grilled maitake (舞茸) on the side was pretty nice.  As for the abalone, it was very tender and bouncy in terms of texture.  The housemade wild sesame oil we poured on top of everything was very, very fragrant and delicious.

Octopus (문어) - OMFG.  This was so, soooooo delicious.  Our favorite dish of the meal, by unanimous decision.  The octopus and grilled and then fried for a texture that was crispy and crunchy on the outside, while maintaining a soft and tender center.  The gochujang (고추장) aioli was made with octopus head, and was very, very good.  I think all of us could have done with another tentacle or two...

Sea urchin (로얄비빔밥) - oh yes, the famous sea urchin bibimbap (비빔밥).  The rice was cooked with seaweed purée and sprinkled with crispy millet on the side.  Very, very tasty... with the umami from seaweed working well with the creamy sweetness from the sea urchin... then there's a little toastiness from the millet.  Texture-wise you've got the millet adding a little crunch.

Ok dom (‘주옥’같은 옥돔) - red tilefish is essentially amadai (甘鯛), so they've cooked with fillet with the familiar treatment for the scales.  The veggies on the side were pretty spicy, with a few long, thin strips of tender cuttlefish.

Red big eye (눈볼대) - Chef Jeong Ho was nice enough to provide us with a little variety, so each couple received one serving of tilefish and one serving of the red big eye.  This was tasty, too, but the seasoning was a little stronger here.

Tenderloin (투뿔안심) - undeniably the weakest dish of the menu, and such a shame!  Served with a root vegetable done three ways: grilled; marinated as salsa; and dehydrated then pulverized.  The Korean sancho (산초) pepper on top interestingly tastes of anise.

I guess this was 'medium rare'... but just tasted a little on the dry side.  As Chef DaRC speculated, they probably pan-fried it on one side only in a puddle of oil, which was why one can see a browned layer on the cooked side.  That part of the beef was clearly over-cooked while the middle was 'mediam rare' and the opposite side almost rare.  Did they cook the piece on both sides and then simply sliced it in half?

Honestly, I don't think these thin slices of beef at fine dining establishments work well... They are often overcooked.

Sujeonggwa (수정과) - the classic Korean cinnamon drink, served cold, often as dessert, now deconstructed into a dessert of cinnamon soup, ginger panna cotta, and pear sorbet.  Refreshingly delicious at the end of a meal.

Dolhareu-bang (돌하르방) - the kitchen sent us a couple of complimentary portions of this signature dessert, which is shaped like stone statues found on Jeju Island.  Made with ingredients from Jeju Island into green tea mousse, peanut ganache, and covered in black sesame.  A ball of milk ice cream on the side.

Hot corn (마약옥수수) - inspired from Mexican grilled corn with cheese and cayenne pepper.  This was a corn-shaped corn and white chocolate crema, with caramelized pecan and corn, sprinkled with cayenne and paprika.  Pretty interesting.

Angelica crème brûlée

Earl Grey choux and chocolate

In spite of the inflexible service we received at the beginning, service during the rest of the meal was quite friendly.  I was glad we took the Signature menu, because this turned out to be a very delicious lunch.  Other than the tenderloin - which was not quite a FAIL - I really enjoyed most of the other dishes.  That octopus tentacle is probably one of the best dishes I have had all year.

I'm glad I finally made it here, as I've been wanting to get a taste of 'contemporary Korean' cuisine and Chef Jungsik Yim has been at the forefront of that movement.

We were pretty full from our long lunch, so we figured we would walk around the neighborhood a little.  The Figure Museum W (피규어뮤지엄W) happened to be on the same street, and we were curious enough to pay the entrance fee to check it out. This turned out to be 5 floors of figurines, from bigger-than-lifesize robots to life-size figures of the Terminator and Heath Leger's version of the Joker... to an amazing variety of collectible figurines of anime and movie characters.

After checking out a few boutiques along Seolleung-ro, we also ended up at Galleria West and picked up a few things at the Food Court.  That's also where we had our first look at the apple mangoes from Jeju Island, and saw some that weighed more than 1kg and cost more than USD 100 each... And the girls checked out the more ghetto section of Goto Mall before we had to rush to our dinner appointment... 

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