Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thanksgiving Leftovers Deep Dish Pizza

Well, I totally missed the time window for a Thanksgiving-related post, but it's still worth posting - Thanksgiving dinner in a deep dish pizza crust.  Imagine all that is Thanksgiving: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and gravy in a deep-dish vessel we all love and know so well - pizza.  Oh, and let's not forget gobs of gooey cheese.  And there you have it - gluttony compounded...a true love child of American cuisine.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The All-American Breakfast: Bacon, Egg, and Toast Cups

I find breakfast very confusing.  One, everyone makes a huge deal about how it's the "most important" meal of the day."  I don't buy it.  I think it's healthier to just eat when hungry.  When I wake up, I'm not rubbing my hands together at the thought of a bacon doughnut.  I won't go into it, but read this science-y article by a non-scientist/total-hottie.  He basically debunks the breakfast myth and talks about how eating breakfast just makes you hungrier.  Unless you weigh 45 kg, you really don't need to eat as soon as you wake up in order to have the calories and fuel to function for the rest of the day.  Your body has stuff called fat for that reason.

Breakfast is doubly confusing when considering the limited range of acceptable food options.  I really dislike when I'm happily chomping away at something between 8 and 11am and hear a bystander gasp, "For breakfast?!"  I could be eating kimchi.  I could be eating a carrot.  Everyone is confused, but no one as much as me.  Why the hell not?  Food is food, and I'll eat it when I want.

Right, so I made these little breakfast cups full of all those things (and there aren't many) that staunch Americans consider breakfast-approved foodstuffs.  Bacon.  Eggs.  Buttered Toast.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Hungry Dog: For People Who Aren't Hungry

Come hungry. Leave hungry.
The Hungry Dog should really be renamed The Perpetually Hungry Dog because if a hungry dog were to go there, that dog would still be hungry. The Hungry Dog aims to be an all-around American diner with many of the typical greasy spoon offerings - tuna melts, burgers, sandwiches, eggs and meaty things, etc.  They don't do any of these necessarily well.  I cook better than them.  You probably do too.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

King Crabs and Lobsters at Noryangjin Fish Market

That cat ruins everything.

Trying to bargain for crabs while sporting a spiked collar, faux-hawk, and full-on goth makeup = pretty awkward.

Grrrr....*snarl*....Give us crab.....

It's king crab season RAUGHT NAW, and I cannot get enough of it.  If you're interested in lobster, here's the deal.  Lobster is not local.  It has to be flown in from Canada, and the ones that don't die en route have a fat tax levied on them.  The end result is 45,000 won per kilo (I got them down to 40,000).  The craziness is that lobster prices are at an all-time low over in 'murrica!  $4.99 a pound retail?  That's $11 a kilo....which means they are charging almost FOUR TIMES the retail price.  I know freight and customs need to be factored in, BUT even then, insane.  It's just not worth it (unless it's your birthday!).

Happy Birthday to me!

What I do recommend is the king crab!  It's local and in season which means CHEAP AND DELICIOUS!  It's a rare thing to have access to fresh, live king crab.  King crab in America is $20 a pound versus 20,000 won a kilo in Korea.  It's actually CHEAPER here!  Definitely a perk about living in Korea that people need to capitalize on.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Rosemary Bread

This past weekend, I celebrated my birthday which isn't actually until Tuesday.  While caking on the make up and blowing my hair out to Texas beauty queen status, I thought to myself, "What do I have to offer my guests who will undoubtedly come bearing gifts of alcohol?"  I found my cupboards bare but my hands ready.  With just a few household ingredients, I was able to whip up a few batches of some deliciously fragrant rosemary bread using the rosemary bushes I got from the Yangjae Flower Market earlier this year.

The drunken masses were raving about this bread and ripping into the loaves like starved Confederates. Inebriated or no, this bread's appeal is unshakable.  Pillowy soft rosemary fluffs encased in a crunchy crust - It's what you dream Subway sandwich bread will taste like from the way their stores smell.  Best of all, it's a very simple recipe that gets easier each time.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Clam Bake on Muuido

After spending this past week in and out of the animal hospital for my poor cat, I decided I needed a real weekend.  One could argue that my whole life is one big weekend, but *surprise* *surprise* I've started a job.  It's actually an internship, but it does involve the adult-like practice of waking at 7am and wearing real clothes.  So playtime and jet-setting over.  Profound realization of what a weekend is?  *on*  To compound the effects of weekend appreciation was the Chuseok holiday (Korean Thanksgiving).

Typically for Chuseok, you cram yourself into an apartment with your loving relatives who always have the most uplifting comments to offer. "My god have you gotten fat."  "Your face is looking less pimply these days."  "Is your brother still in a mental institution?"  After spending my first Chuseok in Korea this way, I resolved to never again.  Ever.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

¡Me Gusto Mucho!: Gusto Taco in Hongdae

Maxican restaurants popping up all over the place (Uh, I'm making a joke 'cause half of these new restaurants spell Mexican with an 'a').  So far, I've been disappointed.  I can taste that you use canned tomatoes in your salsa, Tomatillos.  An enchilada is not a soft flour taco covered in brown sauce, Taco Chili Chili.  Why is there mustard in my tostada, O'Taco?  Since I've yet to try Vatos Tacos (seriously, has anyone ever been able to get seated there?!), I took to the suggestion of a friend and scootered off to Gusto Taco.

Before I get into it, let me preface this review by saying, I was born and raised in Texas.  Does that mean I know good Mexican food?  I'm not sure.  Up until high school, I hated Mexican food (and pork and chocolate and avocados and cucumbers and cream cheese and mayonnaise and the list just does not end on what I would not eat).  I pronounced jalapeños, JUH-LAHP-PENOS, and of course, I wouldn't eat them. This all changed in my last four years in Texas.  I was in high school, and it's just not cool to sit at Chuy's with all your friends and turn your nose up at steamingly delicious Tex-Mex.  So, I shed my food prejudices and pretty much ate everything in sight.  Was it too late to build an understanding of good Mexican food?  Never!  Looking back, I realize the major component missing in Mexican food in Korea is time.  The beautiful marriage of flavors that we so apprize in Mexican food is derived from lovingly layering flavors with patience.  Now who wants to stand over this vat of hot lard for twelve hours while the shoulder o' pork breaks itself down into the magic that is carnitas?  I don't imagine this is what goes down in the back kitchens of On the Border.  Gusto Taco is another story.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Eunsome Burger Cafe in Shin-Nonhyeon/Gangnam

It's been a good EIGHT months of silence.  In that time, I've sent my sister off to Equatorial Guinea, welcomed her back, then said good-bye as she left me for greener pastures in San Francisco.  I've acquired a new cat - a Siamese I so aptly named Orca.  I've upgraded my computer to a plushy, new MacBook Air.  I've traveled to (and ate my way through) six different countries of which the most recent was Sweden.  And that brings me here - hungover and jeering regretfully at McDonald's paraphernalia strewn all over my floor.  So what brought me out of hiding?  Eunsome Burger Cafe's beer can chicken.  So painfully delicious, I had to write about it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Yangjae Flower Market for Fresh Herbs

I've never had fresh herbs.  If I needed some parsley or something like that for a recipe, I'd use the bottle of dried parsley that came with the spice rack that my mom got when she first came to America twenty plus years ago.  It tasted like shaved cardboard, and apparently, you can't do that.  Dried herbs should be used within 6 months, and they should look perky and eager to be used.  Dried parsley should still be green, and cayenne pepper should be fiery red.  As I've started to cook more and more, I've slowly raised my standards on spices.  Though dried spices are better for certain kinds of recipes (i.e. ones that require long cooking times), I got sick of spatting jealously at recipes that called for fresh sprigs of this and that.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Thanksgiving Dinner: Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I'm a skins-on kind of gal.
My mom has a great pet peeve.  She hates it when my siblings and I order food at a restaurant that we could easily make at home.  I loved ordering macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes.  I had the palate of a 7 year-old ('cause I was).

As we grew older, we learned to make the foods that had caused my mom so much exasperation at restaurants.  My brother learned to make some awesome mac and cheese.  I remember one summer, he stumbled out of his room, having not eaten in three days (he'd been reading all the J. R. R. Tolkien books in succession).  He'd knock everything out of his way and make enough mac and cheese to feed Bangladesh.  Then he'd eat it all and disappear again (to read some more).

My sister and I learned to make some super-garlicky mashed potatoes.  We even had mashed potato cook-offs to the sheer detriment of our familial relationships.  I believe our house was once divided by a meridian of mashed potato preferences.

Al Matto in Haebangchon

It's Halloween.  They don't normally hang spiders around their restaurant.
As someone who knows nothing about business, but knows what to look for in a restaurant, I have a lot to say about Al Matto.  I'm going to need a soap box.

As a new restaurant in Seoul, especially in the Itaewon area where there is a large foreigner population, you should really be supplying a need - a niche if you will.  In other words, there needs to be a food that is different or superbly well done.  Why would I go to your restaurant if I can do it better myself? (Eh hem, Hungry Dog).  I really detest the whole bandwagoning concept behind restaurants.  I feel like some restauranteurs walk into a restaurant and see that it's doing really well selling pizza or kebabs or brunch items, and think, "I can do this too."  *dollar signs*  I have nothing against making money.  Money is fantastic.  But it's painfully obvious when it's the driving factor behind a restaurant.  Such restaurants never last long.  I'm also okay with restaurants that serve food that's not particularly original (pizza, kebabs, or brunch).  But if you're going to do what someone else is already doing (especially in the same neighborhood), do it better than them.  Do it AWESOME (i.e. - Pizza Peel).  

When I walked by the freshly-opened Al Matto, I was excited.  It looked Italian (who doesn't love Italian?), and there was an open kitchen.  Open Kitchens are my reality TV.  

It was also clear that they were still getting things organized.  The menus were on sheets of A4 computer paper stapled together.  All it needed was a coffee stain to look like the kind of crappy paper I would submit in college after an all-nighter.  When I went back a second time, the menu was in an actual booklet though the content had not changed.

Upon closer inspection, none of the food stood out to me.  I was so completely underwhelmed.  Eating at a restaurant is a dining experience.  Believe it or not, a well-designed menu speaks to that dining experience in a big way.  It helps the diner to get a feel of the chef's vision, style and direction.  In that sense, a good menu is not so different from a good resume.  This resume was bad.  I can forgive the misspellings, though it would cost almost nothing to have a native English speaker tick through the menu and save the restaurant the embarrassment.  This menu left me more questions than answers.  One item was simply "pancakes."  What kind of pancakes?  If you're selling just plain, ole pancakes, why am I at this restaurant?  I make fantastic pancakes.  Spruce it up with blueberries, ricotta, chocolate chips, buttermilk...something.  I also think Al Matto would benefit from having the menu in three different translations, especially since the co-owner is Italian.

It became very clear to me what the strong points of Al Matto were when the food came out.  This became even clearer on my second visit.  I didn't think it fair to write a review based on only one visit, especially as they were still in their first few days of opening.  Anyway, strong points - pizza and personality.  The first time I had visited, the Italian waiter (also the co-owner) seemed really quiet; I honestly felt like he was hiding from us.  On the second visit, he was a totally different person - outgoing, charming and accommodating.  It really turned the dining experience around.

Though I was excited about their open kitchen, it's not really open.  The shutters remain closed most of the time.  If they have the option of an open kitchen, they should make it open.  It makes me wonder, "What're they hiding?  Are they washing their hands?"  If the shutters were open, you'd notice that Al Matto has an actual brick pizza oven.  It's a beauty.  And it churns out some excellent pizzas.  It's a shame that their menu is so unfocused.  To give you an example, my sister ordered chili cheese fries while I ordered breakfast and Noel ordered pizza.

Peek-a-boo.  See the pizza oven?
Their standout items are brunch and pizza.  They have a beautiful oven that churns out some beautiful pizzas.  Thin, Neopolitan-style crusts with simple, well-married toppings.

The second pizza, 'Norma', was a surprise.  Eggplant, olives, and a wee bit of Parmesiano Reggiano over some rich passata.  It was a concentrated, piquant combination - one I loved so much I went home and made it.

Their brunch wasn't so good the first time around.  The Al Matto breakfast (12,000 won) is advertised to be fried eggs, French toast, bacon, sausage, beans, grilled tomato, grilled mushrooms, and hashbrowns.  The first time around, they seem to have forgotten the French toast and the beans.  The second time around, the plate has everything, and everything tasted fine.  The hashbrowns are clearly from Costco, and they may need some practice making eggs.  The portion of beans was a bit small, but the mix of mushrooms was great.  The proteins were cooked well, and the sausage was amazing.  They use good-quality sausage.  Anything with egg in it (french toast, fried eggs, and omelette) wasn't cooked very well.

 The omelette was slightly overcooked on the outside, but the omelette itself wasn't bad.  The accompanying potatoes weren't seasoned.

Overall, the dining experience only improved with consequent visits.  I would recommend their Al Matto breakfast because it offers a better value than competing brunch sets in the area (Hungry Dog, Indigo's, etc.).  I liked having French toast with my breakfast in addition to the yummy sausage they use.  If not brunch, I would definitely check out their pizzas.  They're not amazing, but they're delicious and offer slightly more creative options than other pizza joints.

Directions: From Noksapyeong Station, Exit 2, walk straight until you reach the kimchee pots.  Veer left as you enter the neighborhood of Haebangchon.  Keep walking straight, passing Phillie's and Jacoby's Burgers.  On the left, you'll see Al Matto right across the street from a butcher.

Al Matto can be found on MangoPlate, a restaurant discovery app available in English and Korean.


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