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...

This was introduced as "galbi (갈비)" - Hanwoo marinated in soy sauce - but texture-wise tasted more like some kind of headcheese, with crunchy bits like beef tondon inside.

Fried sunchoke - wrapped in tofu skin, with a mushy filling in the center alongside the sunchoke. Topped with what seemed like pickled radish to me.

Parboiled octopus - this was very chewy, with sesame oil and soy sauce.

Whelk with gochujang. The sauce wasn't too spicy but had acidity.

Chestnut soup

Sweet pumpkin pancake - this was very mushy and very sweet. I thought I heard it introduced as being made with "shrimp" but the bits inside tasted more like squid to me...

Dried mullet roe (어란) with pine nuts

Our welcome drink was made with potato and rice.

Pine nut, snow crab porridge (대게 잣죽) - a porridge made with glutinous rice and pine nut, topped with a quenelle of snow crab meat with chamnamul (참나물) mixed in. We also had some Japanese angelica (두릅) shoots. This was pretty nice in terms of both textures and flavors, and not too heavy.

Finally, the kimchi cart (김치 카트) was rolled in front of us, with a selection of 6 different kimchi. We were told that we could select two types per person, which I thought was pretty stingy... So Haokofu and I each picked two. Some of these I definitely have never seen elsewhere before...

Cutlassfish kimchi (갈치김치) - while I have seen how kimchi is made and know that they use anchovies and the like, this was the first time I had it with big chunks of fish inside. This had been fermented for 2 months.

Pheasant kimchi (꿩김치) - likewise, I'd never had kimchi with chunks of meat, nevermind pheasant.

Seafood bossam kimchi (해물보쌈김치) - with mushrooms, shrimp, octopus...

Boiled meat slices - we were also given some Hanwoo brisket to accompany the kimchi.

There was a slight miscommunication with the staff at the beginning. We had expected them to ask whether we would opt for wine pairing, but this issue was never raised... and we didn't push the issue as we had a welcome drink at the beginning. By now we realize that we should have proactively asked for it, and I chose the Korean wine option. Now we would play catch-up...

Midam Seoktanju (미담 석탄주) - some acidity and fruity flavors, with a slight hint of nuttiness and bitterness. Would have been a good match with the pine nut porridge.

BeWater Brew Inner Peace Calm - sweet on the palate, as expected, but very nice with much more character than your usual makgeolli. I can see how this would match well with kimchi.

We were shown a box of chanterelles, which are used in the next dish.

Chanterelle, Korean raw beef, chestnut (오이꽃버섯 육회) - the yukhoe (육회) was mixed with coriander leaves and served with wild chanterelles known as oikottbeoseot (오이꽃버섯), literally "cucumber flower mushroom" as they resemble the yellow flowers of the cucumber. On top we had really fine chiffonade of raw chestnuts, which were not too sweet but had a crunchy and powdery texture. The marinated sancho (산초) pepper brought some anise flavors to the mix. I have to say that this dish was really, really good!

Red-banded lobster, duruep (fatsia sprout), Korean beef (딱새우 두릅적) - inside the pan-fried omelet we find some beef, red banded lobster (딱새우), and some Japanese angelica. We also have some Japanese angelica shoots on top, along with some pine nut powder. Very nice.

Ellyeop Pyunjoo Cheongju (一葉平舟 / 일엽편주 청주) - definitely more layered when it comes to flavors, and fruity.

Steamed geumtaefish, Korean beef, wild mushroom (금태찜) - the rosy seabass (눈볼대) was steamed and came atop a mix of wild mushrooms, beef, and (water parsley?) Interestingly, the sauce tasted somewhat similar to Chinese preserved mustard greens (梅菜).

Horang Horang (호랑호랑) - OK lah... A bit more savory on the palate, still got some fruity notes. It was a bit more viscous on the palate, and I could definitely feel the alcohol.

Truffle, cold bean soup, green bean, noodle (트러플 콩국수) - the traditional kongguksu (콩국수) gets upgraded here with some shavings of black truffle on top. To really up the mushroom flavor profile, we also had morels in the thick velouté-like soybean broth along with green beans. This was cold and refreshing, and very enjoyable.

Seokroju (석로주) - this was very interesting as it was fermented with mushrooms, and I could certainly taste a little mushroom flavor in the liquor. Paired well with the black truffle in the noodles.

There was a choice of main course, with both options being beef. I decided to forgo the Hanwoo 1++ striploin for the Korean "hamburg steak"...

Korean beef tteokgalbi (한우 떡갈비) - served with three different garnishes, the first of which was some type of mushroom...

I've always loved hamburg steaks, and this one made with Hanwoo was definitely very tasty. Good texture, too.

Kooksoondang Sashitonggeumju (국순당 사시통음주) - high acidity, high alcohol.

Goat’s beard pot rice (눈개승마 솥밥) - the rice was cooked with anchovy stock and served topped with goat's beard (눈개승마).

The rice was served with banchan (반찬), which included Chinese chives kimchi, japchae (잡채) with burdock, anchovies and almonds marinated with gochujang, yuzu deodeok (더덕), and stir-fried beef. The soup came with mugwort (쑥). Oh yes, the rice was definitely tasty with the fragrance of goat's beard.

Isibo Makgeolli (이시보 막걸리) - light-bodied with lower sweetness and lower acidity.

Yuzu rosemary sherbet, persimmon leaf tea, apple chip (화양연화) - the name of the dish is actually 花樣年華 in Korean, which was apt as it is presented as a flower, with the petals made with apple and some type of Korean flower whose name I didn't understand. Very refreshing, naturally.

Then came the petit fours trolley (다과 카트), and without prompting, we were served one of each...


Beef jelly

Green tea and pumpkin seed dasik (다식)

Maejakgwa (매작과)

Mini black sesame macaron

Strawberry tart

Biscuit with mugwort and lavender cream

White chocolate with rice

Red ginseng caramel

This meal definitely did not disappoint. For those of us with little to no baseline knowledge of traditional Korean cuisine that isn't flooded with spicy gochujang, each meal at establishments like this allows me to very slowly build up my database of Korean ingredients and flavor combinations. Many thanks to Chef Kwon Woo-joong (권우중) for showing us the seasonal ingredients. And yes, the Korean liquor pairing was pretty good.

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