Sunday, May 30, 2010

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown - Garlic Warfare in Koreatown

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

If you think about it, garlic is probably the one ingredient that is prevalent in almost every culture's food. Revered for its healing and medicinal qualities, this member of the onion family, along with leeks, shallots and chives, was used once as currency, for healing wounds, ingested for spiritual reasons and for warding pale, creepy people with fangs. But for those that enjoy food, we all know that garlic is a major component in cooking and repelling a hot date during dinner. Whether its sauteed or even eaten raw, garlic can take a dish to higher levels. But to what level specifically?

I don't know, but I have a feeling the Koreans may have an answer. Why Korea? Over Spain, Italy and America, Koreans consume more garlic per capita than anyone else. Just how much? Americans eat an average of 2.5 lbs. of garlic a year... Koreans – 22 lbs. a year. 22 lbs. of garlic in a bag can knock you out if it was swung at you with enough force. I've always known that Koreans use copious amounts of garlic, along with sesame oil and red chilis, but this as you will learn very soon, is a complete understatement. For many years already, garlic warfare is happening in Koreatown. And you probably didn't know that it was happening at a place on Wilshire and Harvard.

I first came to Myung Dong Kyoja when I was searching for one of my favorite korean dishes, kal gook soo. Kal gook soo literally means "knife-cut noodles" and it is basically a soup noodle dish with various toppings and broth flavorings. The most popular being chicken noodle soup (dahk kal gook soo) and anchovy-flavored noodle soup (myeol chi kal gook soo) offered at Koreatown places like Ma Dang Gook Soo and Olympic Noodle. Unlike a proper bowl of pho or Chinese beef noodle soup, this dish is much more simple, comforting and homey. The soup at first may seem light in flavor, but the simple addition of some scallion/chili/soy sauce relish and chili powder and you're good to go.

When you first walk in here, almost instantly, you will be hit with an invisible fist of garlic. It is at the entrance of the door that you have the option of saving yourself from sweating out garlic for the rest of the day, or taking your palate on a test drive through Garlicville. Go for the latter if you're true garlic-head.

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

And once you've ordered your food, the server comes out with a small portion of kimchi as seen above. You're probably wondering why so little is given, but it's more than you'll need. I can promise you that every piece of cabbage packs a decent amount of minced garlic. At first bite, you'll know what I'm talking about. I think I ate about three pieces before my tongue started to sting a little from the fresh, fieriness of the minced garlic cloves. So fiery that when you drink some water to abate the pleasurable pain, you can feel a sort of numbness in the tongue. And I love it. It's almost like you're eating minced garlic with a side of red chili and cabbage.

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

Look at that, it is a crater of garlic. Just standing over this holding pot, I was hit with major garlic fumes. Insane!

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

If you can handle the hazing on the tongue, they'd be more than glad to serve you with another 1-2 punch. The servers come by with their kimchi pitcher and tongs. Intense!

In addition to the garlic freak show, there are a few things that are worth eating at MDKJ. The steamed dumplings (goon man doo) at first appear to be Korean cousins of the widely-adored Chinese xiao long bao, soupy pork dumplings. But they are nowhere nearly as juicy as they are. The dumplings themselves are plump due to a heavy vegetable to meat ratio. They are steamed in a plastic basket and are indeed pretty decent. But I prefer the well-balance boiled dumplings found at places like Dumpling 10053, Dean Sin World and Lu Noodle House. Anyway, a simple mixture of a Korean condiment and vinegar and you're good to go.

There's also MDKJ's version of kal gook soo, which tastes even better once you add the Korean flavoring condiment and maybe a dash of vinegar. The thing I've noticed with Korean soup noodles is that they cook the noodles a little too long for my taste. I enjoy a toothsome, notable al-dente-ness in every bite. So I highly recommend ordering your noodles a bit harder. Problem is if you're non-Korean like me, communicating that is a bit difficult.

Myung Dong Kyoja

But thanks to my trusty Translator app for my iPhone, I can get from point A to B. I always get a kick out of seeing their reaction because this Translator app is so literal, but they get the idea. I said: "Hello. I like my noodles chewy. Not soft. Thank you. Also your kimchi is very strong in garlic taste. Intense! But I love it."

Myung Dong Kyoja

If the garlic kimchi isn't holding up to your garlic expectations, you need to use this relish consisting of soy sauce, minced garlic, scallions and a type of mild korean pepper that has a taste similar to bell peppers and slight spice kick from shishito peppers. I love this sauce. Add 2-3 big scoops of this sauce into your kal gook soo soup noodles and you're set. Like I said before, the soup can be a little too plain without any sauce, so this is what is used to flavor your dish. I like my soup noodles with a touch of vinegar to cut through that muddy garlic tone.

Myung Dong Kyoja

Myung Dong Kyoja Kal Gook Soo
The version served here is much different than what you're probably used to. Soup noodles are served in a slightly starchy broth from the noodle runoff. It's topped with a simple stir fry of ground meat, zuccini, carrots, onions and 3-4 mini dumplings that I really enjoy. If you like the mini dumplings, you can order them straight up with soup and nothing else. Win.

Myung Dong Kyoja

Myung Dong Kyoja

This is what I call a happy meal. The surprise gift is a fiery mouth of garlic.

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

I wasn't kidding when I said there is garlic warfare happening in Koreatown. They've even provided you with a fancy gargling machine in the restroom, the Garlic Kimchi-a-tor 5000. I took a shot of the gargling liquid and it did nothing for me but create this minty garlic taste that seemed to never go away. Don't say I didn't warn you about the garlic. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

Myung Dong Kyoja
3630 Wilshire Blvd. (c/o Harvard)
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 385-7789
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

WonderTune Portland Deux - Another Music Compilation

This memorial weekend, we're heading to our favorite getaway – Portland, Oregon. Have a great weekend, eat a lot and enjoy this mix. This compilation has songs from various artists such as Broken Social Scene, Crystal Castles, Generationals, Gorillaz, LCD Soundsystem, Littlejoy and many more.

WonderTune Portland Deux (Sendspace)

WonderTune Portland Deux (Zshare)
WonderTune Portland Deux (Mediafire)


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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Sea of Seafood

The Sea of Seafood

When I think about it, it's only been 9 years since I started eating seafood again. Before that, I was on a nearly 18-year hiatus from eating seafood due in part to a bad food poisoning incident and being a picky kid. And when I was able to take down my first sushi after so long, new doors to weight gaining opened up and I was loving life. Now, I really can't imagine having a meal without seafood. There's a reason why the french refer to seafood as "fruits of the sea", and they sure are. Abundance and variety allow us to eat copious amounts of it, as though we're doing a favor by keeping them from overpopulating the sea. But we do stay away from over-fished things like tuna, and Jeni and I try to follow this Seafood Watch guide provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. With McCall's Meat and Fish Co. providing a very nice selection of seafood, our love for seafood was taken to another level of aquatic heaven.

Rather than the usual coursed dinner, we thought it would be fun to do a hands-on East Coast seafood "bake". Also in the style of the local favorite, Boiling Crab. We had just come back from a trip to Boston and enjoyed eating at a delicious tapas place called Toro, which inspired me to try cooking more Spanish style food. And thanks to great Spanish food purveyors like La Española in Harbor City (South Bay), we had access to essential ingredients for Spanish cooking.

The Sea of Seafood

One. I used garlic, shallots, leftover English shelling peas for color, Pamplona Spanish chorizo and canned piquillo peppers. Piquillo peppers are actually chilis found in Spain that when roasted take on a deeper and sweeter taste like roasted red peppers. They are used in tapas, for braising and making sauces. I love these things. A little salt and olive oil and you're in Spain. I first discovered Pamplona Chorizo at the Silver Lake Cheese store and loved it for its nice sustaining spice kick. When I saw how much cheaper it was at La Española, I just bought the whole MF'r. Great for appetizers and for sauteing.

Two. I had Nathan McCall order these in for me and he was kind enough to reserve the squid ink sac for us too. Cut off the "wings" and slice them up. With calamari, you want the nice rings.

Three. Jeni used to work at Sanrio if you couldn't tell. Along with the menu, she depicts our guests on a boat large enough for them, leaving me stranded on what looks like the tiniest island in the world, or maybe an oil barrel. I'm also holding a frying pan and sword like a crazy person. Her clams and mussels are actually housing for little children. The shrimp and the monkfish are scary too.

The Sea of Seafood

One. It's important to note that dish, as much as you would like to, can not be cooked in one pot at the same time. All the proteins have different textures that require various cooking times. For the shrimp, I kept them shell on because I actually love the taste the shell gives off when grilling or sauteing. But in my case, I basically punished them on a skillet that I left on high for nearly 10 minutes. The guests were concerned by the smoke building up as they could only see the lower half of my body as I was cooking. With a skillet that hot, you really only need to cook the shrimp on one side for about 3-4 mins, and flip over one last minute. Once you take it off the skillet, it is STILL cooking. If you overcook shrimp, it really doesn't taste good anymore. Keep the shell on as it holds in juices.

"Spanish Shrimp" Marinade Recipe (for 4 people)
- 2.5 lbs of shrimp (i like 16-20 count sized shrimp)
- 2-3 rosemary sprigs
- 5-6 thyme sprigs
- 2-3 tblsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tblsp. cayenne
- 1 tblsp. cumin
- 1 tblsp. salt
- extra virgin olive oil

This is a starting ground because I don't know what you're looking for. It's best to mix all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and add as much olive oil as you need to make a "sludge". You need enough to coat the shrimp and mix it well. It's very important to take a test drive first to see what it tastes like. Eat the spices off the shell and crack it open. I found myself adding way more smoked paprika, cumin, cayenne and salt. Adjust accordingly and you'll be happy. I marinated these overnight and flipped them around in the morning. You can actually cook them after 15-30 minutes.

Two. This is my first time working with a dried Spanish pepper called a ñora (nuh-yo-ruh). It's a round, pudgy pepper that comes dry and needs to be reconstituted in warm water. I treated this much like a chili de arbol and used it for sauteing along with garlic, shallots and Pamplona chorizo. Soak it in some warm water for 15-20 minutes and remove any seeds. Chop it up and saute with it.

Three. Using the same marinade for the shrimp, I quickly tossed the calamari rings in the mixture. These don't really need to sit overnight. But the key to making good calamari is high heat and a quick hand. I had my skillet running for at least 10 minutes on high and tossed them in. Using my tongs I quickly moved them around to get a nice sear. Total time: 30 seconds MAX. If you overcook it, you'll be eating rubber. So make sure you see the flesh change from pink to white and take it out immediately.

Four. The Spanish are known for their mastery in canning. Due to fresh ingredients and excellent olive oil, you'll be happy knowing that you won't be tasting aluminum much like a lot of canned food. I threw in some anchovy-stuffed olives which were so good. Also with the piquillo peppers, I reserved the juice for sauteing – don't waste that liquid gold!

The Sea of Seafood

Ok. So now that you've got your shrimp and calamari cooked, it's time to make the base for steaming clams and mussels.

Dylan's "Spanish Style" Seafood Base
- 5-6 garlic cloves smashed
- 3-4 large shallots sliced
- handful of quartered Pamplona chorizo
- handful of English shelling peas
- small jar of piquillo peppers (roughly chopped, juice reserved)
- 1/2 can of Spanish olives (I used anchovy-stuffed green olives)
- 2 dried ñora peppers (soaked), or a handful of Chili de Arbol
- 1 bottle of dry white wine
- salt & pepper
- sugar
- 1 stick of butter
- smoked paprika to taste
- cayenne pepper to taste

Ok, here we go. On high heat, toss in some olive oil and start sauteing the garlic, shallots, chorizo sausage, peas, piquillo peppers and ñora chilis. It doesn't really matter about order since you're going to be making a liquid soon after. After everything is nicely sweated, add some white wine and let the alcohol burn out. Throw in half a stick of butter to create a nice thickness and sheen. If your wine is tasting too sour, add some sugar to balance it out. Add more butter as needed. Add about 2 tablespoons of smoked paprika - there's nothing wrong with too much smoked paprika because it's so goddamn tasty.

Once you get your sauce to your liking, it's time to give the clams and mussels a bath. Dump them both in and stir them around with a wooden spoon to make sure they get some love from that sauce. Because I used a large pan, I took a large baking sheet I had and covered it. Foil works fine but be careful not to burn yourself.

The Sea of Seafood

After 4-5 minutes, the majority of clams and mussels should be opened. At this point, it's critical you mix them around vigorously so that they take in that sauce. Make sure at least 90% of the clams are open and you're done. Shut off the heat and throw them into a large bowl immediately. Add the nicely punished shrimp and calamari rings to the mix and pour any remaining sauce over them. And get ready to embark on the Sea of Seafood...

The Sea of Seafood

Oh. My. For me, I thought this was ridiculous. Not to mention how heavy that bowl was ha. I usually don't like to serve food in large quantities, but with seafood, it's a must. We laid out newspapers over the dining table and encouraged our guests to use their hands and eat like cavemen. God gave us hands, not utensils right? I had to say, this meal was fun, delicious and great for a group of 6. I watched as our friends devoured the food and grabbed the wine glass for a drink, not minding the saucy smudge that was imprinted on the glass from their hands.

The Sea of Seafood

The Sea of Seafood

I watched as our guests created their own pattern of eating seafood. Some would bring the mussels to mouth and drink out all the juice before eating the meat. Some would suck off all the flavoring from the shrimp shell, undress it and redip it back into the buttery sauce. Some just ate the shrimp with the shell on. However you do it, there's no right or wrong. It's how eating should be.

The Sea of Seafood

The Sea of Seafood

The Sea of Seafood

Bread plays an important role when it comes to sauces. There's nothing like using it as a sponge to sop up all the juice.

The Sea of Seafood

I forgot to mention that I included monkfish in here – it was a bit too mushy from undercooking it. Monkfish is a good way to go because it really has a muscular build to it and can endure longer cooking times. Next time, I may try salmon or simple basa catfish. Thanks for reading.
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