Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wurstküche - Los Angeles, CA (Downtown)

I've been wanting to try Wurstküche for some time, so when Pete was in town, I thought it would be the perfect time to go check out this eatery known for its exotic sausage sandwiches, Belgian fries and imported beers. It's located east of Little Tokyo, in the Historic Arts District. The address is 800 E. 3rd, but all we saw was an unmarked door at the corner of 3rd and Traction Ave. We walked inside to see this:

It's a lofty, airy space with exposed wood ceilings, long communal tables and a bar along the side. Pete and I were a bit perplexed. We saw people eating, but where was the waitress or any semblance of where the food was coming from? Thankfully, Jiwon came to the rescue and told us we were on the opposite end. It turns out, we came in through the exit and the actual entrance is around the corner on Traction Ave. Look for the striped doors on Traction Ave.

You order first and take a seat in the area that we saw earlier. The area is connected by a narrow hallway. Here is their refrigerated display case of their sausages. Their sausages fall into three different categories: classics, gourmet and exotics. The most exotic would probably have to the Rattlesnake & Rabbit with Jalapeno Peppers or the Alligator & Pork, Smoked Andouille Sausage. I was intrigued, but I didn't want to be stuck with something I couldn't finish, so we played it safe and went with the classics and gourmet selections, which all sounded really good.

I think we ended up ordering the Bratwurst, Santa Fe Jack Cheese & Jalapeno Peppers and a Louisiana Hot Link sausage. For each sandwich, you get to pick two of the following four toppings: caramelized onions, sauerkraut, sweet peppers and spicy peppers.

Honestly, I can't remember which was which. I think the first bite was the best, when the pork casing crackles and pops in your mouth, releasing the flood of juices from the sausage. They all tasted good ... but they kind of tasted the same especially since we mostly opted for the same toppings and two of the three sausages were on the spicy side.

We also got some Belgian Fries, which are fried twice and came with a choice of sauces. We got curry ketchup, pesto mayo and sweet and sassy BBQ. We also got them with the white truffle glaze, which was quite subtle but for the musky perfume that wafted from the fries. The fries were delicioso.

We came here for lunch on a weekday so didn't have to deal with the long lines. It's a bit on the pricey side for when you strip it down is in essence a hot dog, fries and some beer, but the selection and quality make up for it. It's quite an indulgence, but one I am happy to partake in.

They also have quite a lot of imported beers on tap. Jung has been lamenting the loss of his usual beer joints in SF, so he should check this place out. I couldn't recognize more than half of the beers on their menu, which probably means Jung probably has tasted them all. Who knows, maybe he can befriend the bartender and get some suggestions on good bars in LA. Clearly I am not in the know. Jung, if you want to go check it out, let me know!

Friday, February 26, 2010


I had leftover brisket from Budae Jigae, so I decided to make jangjorim. Jangjorim is a popular side dish of beef marinated in soy sauce. Often times people will add boiled eggs or garlic to this. I like to add both.

1 pound of brisket or flank steak
5 hard boiled eggs
3 cups of beef broth (see Budae Jigae for recipe)
1/2 cup of soy sauce
10 garlic cloves
1 jalapeno
2 tablespoons of honey
few pieces of kombu

Take out the cooked brisket pieces and let it cool. Once it's cooled, you can tear them into thin pieces with your hands.

Boil and peel 5 eggs and add to the pot, along with the brisket pieces. Add garlic cloves, 1 sliced jalapeno and pieces of kombu. Add beef broth, soy sauce and honey to the pot and bring to a boil. Let it cook for 10 to 15 minutes until the sauce penetrates the brisket pieces.

Let it cool and transfer to a dish. You are left with this super easy and tasty side dish. Enjoy!

Budae Jigae

I finally got around to trying this Budae Jigae recipe. I will disclose that it is more time consuming than I thought it would be, but the end result was well worth the effort. I highly suggest taking the time to do the prep work before like making the beef stock and cutting up the ingredients. If you're organized, it's way easier. I just tried to wing it, which caused some havoc in the kitchen.

Budae Jigae (Military Stew)

beef stock
5 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of whole peppercorn
about 6 to 10 cups of water*
1 pound of brisket
white tops of 6 green onions
* I use the leftover brisket to make jangjorim so I used more water to begin and used the remaining stock for the jangjorim

marinated beef & pork
1/2 pound of any combination of sliced beef and pork
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon of vegetable oil
ground black pepper

spicy paste mixture
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons of red pepper paste
2 tablespoons of Korean red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon of soy sauce for soup
spoonfuls of beef broth to thin out paste

about 6 cups of beef broth
spicy paste mixture
marinated beef and pork
1/4 of block of tofu
1/2 can of Spam
1 hot dog
1 cup of rice cakes
1 bunch of ssukgat (쑥갓) otherwise known as garland chrysanthemum leaves
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cup of ripe kimchi
green part of 3 green onions
1 package of ramen noodles
boiling hot water to rinse spam and hot dog

You can prepare the stock in advance. Cut the brisket into big square pieces and set aside. Boil 6 to 10 cups of water, put in 1 tablespoon of whole peppercorns, 5 cloves of garlic, the tops of 6 green onions and bring to a boil with the lid open.

Once it starts boiling, put in the beef and then close the lid, lower heat to low and let it simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Skim off foam as necessary. Remove the brisket and strain the other ingredients and set aside the clear beef broth for the stew.

Prep the ingredients. Peel and slice the onions. Cut tofu into small pieces. Wash the rice cakes in water so they don't stick to each other.

Cut the spam and hot dog into small pieces.

Bring some water to boil and pour the hot water over the spam and hot dog to drain some excess fat and oil.

You will also need some kimchi.

A package of ramen and some ssukgat (쑥갓).

I just took 1/2 pound of pork and beef that I had in the freezer and marinated it. I'm sure any combination of the two is fine. Add the soy sauce, vegetable oil, minced garlic and ground black pepper to pork and beef and let is marinate for 10 to 15 minutes.

To prepare the spicy paste mixture, mix together the red pepper paste, red chili flakes, minced garlic, garlic powder and soy sauce. Put a couple spoonfuls of the beef stock to thin out the mixture. Set aside.

In a wide saute pan or flat wok, add about 6 cups of beef broth. Add the spam and hot dog and bring to a boil. Next, add the beef and pork mixture, sliced onions, kimchi, tofu and spicy paste mixture. Let it cook for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Add the ramen and rice cake pieces.

Once the ramen and rice cake pieces have cooked through and the stew has thickened, add some green onions and ssukgat.

Here's the masterpiece. Papa Choi stared at this for quite some time before eating it. He was like, why are you feeding me ramen for dinner? Can you believe he's never had Budae Jigae before? Sometimes I wonder if he really grew up in Korea. Even though he gave it a disapproving look when he first saw it, he ended up eating the whole thing. Oh, yes he did! The coveted seal of approval from Papa Choi. Eating this is like digging through a treasure chest; you never know what you will find. Maybe a spam here, a piece of rice cake there, nestled amongst the tangled web of chewy ramen noodles. It's like finding a surprise in every bite.

I didn't know making budae jigae would take so much work because when you have it at a restaurant, they just throw the pot in front of you and you just watch it cook. The prep work takes a bit of time, but the actual cooking time is less than 20 minutes. I think next time I'll just make an extra batch of the broth and freeze it and make some extra spicy paste mixture and just have it on hand so I can throw together whatever ingredients I have in the fridge and make it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Five Guys Famous Burger and Fries - Carson, CA

A few weeks ago, I finally got to try Five Guys. I've been meaning to try it for awhile, but Carson is definitely out of the way for me, but I happened to be driving on the 405 South one day so I made a rest stop to try their famous burgers.

I walked in and right away noticed all the media coverage that Five Guys' have gotten through the years along its walls. I looked at the menu and noticed that you get to pick your own condiments for your burger, including grilled mushrooms and onions and even A1 sauce.

I ordered a little hamburger and regular fries. I became quite giddy when I found out they cook their fries in peanut oil. Fries in peanut oil have never let me down. You get to pick either regular fries or cajun fries. I asked the guy at the order what he preferred. He said they are both good, but said I could get half and half. Sweet! They won bonus points for having bottles of malt vinegar on hand too. My number was called and I pulled out what looked like a beverage cup full of golden, crispy fries with an extra handful of fries thrown in the bag for good measure. These were excellent when hot, but when I tried eating the leftover fries at home, it was not that appetizing.

Now for the burger. I ordered a little hamburger and was surprised to see how big it was. I took a bite and immediately bit into a thick slice of pickle that actually tasted like the real thing. I also got grilled onions and liked that they were coarsely chopped and thus had some texture, although it wasn't seasoned enough. The beef patty was substantial but again was a bit bland. I wasn't the biggest fan of the bread either. It kind of deflates pretty fast and tastes a bit gummy once it absorbs all the juices from the meat and veggies. Overall, this burger reminds me of eating a good burger at your friend's backyard BBQ with all the fixings you could think of, but nothing too extraordinary. A lot of people compare Five Guys to In-N-Out's burgers, but they are so different. Both have that fresh, cooked to order taste and have the same elements, but they taste completely different. I can see why people like FG's but I don't think it will completely replace In-N-Out burgers for me.

Also in case you look around and wonder why all these people are eating peanuts and yet there are no peanuts on the menu, look for cardboard boxes of peanuts near the front door. Since your burger is made to order, it may take awhile so go ahead and nibble on some peanuts while you wait.

Five Guys
20700 Avalon Boulevard
Carson, CA 90746-3734

XOCO - Chicago, IL

Greetings friends. I am in Chicago apartment hunting and how fitting is it that I get to share with you a meal I had last time with my cousin Deb. It was a hard decision. How do I decide what to eat for lunch? Deep dish pizza, Great Seas or even Potbelly's? We decided to try something new and check out XOCO, which I had read about awhile back. They serve Mexican street food and churros, Rick Bayless-style.

Chicago’s culinary scene ranges from dishes served on lavender-scented pillows (so the scent wafts up as you are eating) at Alinea to Italian Beef sandwiches from Portillo’s, but there seems to be not much in between. To fill this apparent void, some prominent Chicago chefs have been opening up more affordable, sister restaurants. XOCO apparently is the Mexican slang for “little sister” and I suppose it’s perfect term of endearment for the charming, precocious sibling of Bayless’s Topolobampo and Frontera Grill, which also happens to be right next door.

XOCO has an interesting schedule. XOCO usually opens around 7 or 8 am and serves breakfast until 10 am. From 10:30 to 11 am only pastries and beverages are sold. [I'm not sure what happens during 10 am to 10:30 am]. Tortas are served after 11am. Caldos (soups) are served after 3 pm and churros are served all day. Oh and they’re closed Sunday and Monday. Got that? Deb and I happened to get there around 3pm, so we were able to try the caldos as well.

You order at the counter, grab an open table and they bring the food, made-to-order for you. I took a picture of this sign that they had off to the side, listing the various farms where they get their ingredients from. Bayless has a separate foundation that is committed to promoting small, sustainable farms serving the Chicago area by providing them with capital development grants. It's not hard to see that the quality of the ingredients plays a significant role here.

In typical Deb + Soomeenshee fashion, we ordered way too much food. We ended up ordering two sandwiches and a caldos, which turned out to be a meal in it of itself and some churros and chocolate for dessert. Deb also ordered the Jamaica, a hibiscus and lemongrass drink. It was very tasty and not too sweet.

We asked the person at the counter what the most popular dishes were and they suggested the Pepito and the Ahodaga. The Pepito torta had braised tallgrass shortribs, caramelized onion, artisan Jack cheese, black beans and pickled jalapenos ($12). Doesn’t that sound so good?

It lived up to the hype. The meat was so juicy and tender and the rich, bold flavors of the short ribs permeated through the whole sandwich while the pickled jalapenos added an unexpected bite to the dish that kept me wanting more. The toasted bread was awesome too. I just doused on the salsa and took a bite and repeated over and over again until I looked down at the empty plate of crumbs in front of me.

I think Deb and I were so distracted by the Pepito, that we kind of neglected the Ahodaga while it lounged in a pool of spicy tomato broth. By the time I was ready to eat it, the otherwise crusty, hearty bread looked like it had suffered a nasty sun burn and became a languid and lifeless sponge. The Ahodaga torta had golden pork carnitas, black beans, spicy arbol chile sauce and pickled onions in it ($9.50). In retrospect, we should have eaten this first. The bread looked like the same bread that was used in the Pepito and it was outstanding, so we made a good piece of artisan bread go to waste. Shame on us. I was expecting a tomato soup, but I totally forgot that they asked us how spicy we wanted it and we said we were fine with spicy. The soup tasted a bit vinegary and the vinegar combined with the spiciness reminded me of kimchi. I know ... it's odd. I thought the pork didn’t have as much flavor as the short-ribs and the vinegary soup was a bit distracting to the overall sandwich. I will point out, however, that both parties that sat on either side both ordered the Ahogado torta, so it seems quite popular.

Since caldos are only served after 3 pm, which is when we were there, we had to order one. Their caldo of the day was duck. The broth had pieces of duck, roasted potatoes, butternut squash, a chiffonade of spinach leaves and julienned radishes in it. I dug the sprinkle of the thin slivers of radishes and spinach. It added some freshness to the otherwise mellow flavors of the soup.

Now for the piece de resistance. The churros and hot chocolate. We got the classic hot chocolate made with milk. It was a tasty cup of hot chocolate that tasted spicy, not spicy as in hot, but spicy in the sense that you could taste actual roasted cacao pieces in it. I liked that it wasn't overly sweet too. Here's a picture of the chocolate being made on site.

If you can see the menu, you will see that you have various selections on how you want your chocolate. They even have the Barcelona, which is what I had tried in Spain, a super thick cup of chocolate.

Here's the guy pouring the hot chocolate for us. We got the classic which had just milk in it.

The churros were served hot from the fryer. It was a crispy on the outside and chewy in the center, dusted with a sugary cinnamon flurry. It had a bit too much sugar on it for our taste, so we had to take some of the excess sugar off and dipped it in the hot chocolate and ate them. The churros are $1.25 each or 3 for $3. We could not finish them, so I took the rest on the plane with me and probably made my seat mates pretty jealous.

XOCO did not disappoint and I have a feeling I'll be coming here quite a bit. They have a lot of interesting items on the menu and now that I can't get my churro fix from Disneyland anymore, I'll have to come here.

449 N Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60654

Monday, February 22, 2010

Seoul in 2010

According to a recent NY Times article, Seoul is one of 31 places you should visit in 2010. Good thing I got an early start by visiting in December/January. Here's the excerpt:

Forget Tokyo. Design aficionados are now heading to Seoul. They have been drawn by the Korean capital’s glammed-up cafes and restaurants, immaculate art galleries and monumental fashion palaces like the sprawling outpost of Milan’s 10 Corso Como and the widely noted Ann Demeulemeester store - an avant-garde Chia Pet covered in vegetation. And now Seoul, under its design-obsessed mayor, Oh Se-hoon, is the 2010 World Design Capital. The title, bestowed by a prominent council of industrial designers, means a year’s worth of design parties, exhibitions, conferences and other revelries. Most are still being planned (go to for updates). A highlight will no doubt be the third annual Seoul Design Fair (Sept. 17 to Oct. 7), the city’s answer to the design weeks in Milan and New York, which last year drew 2.5 million people and featured a cavalcade of events under two enormous inflatable structures set up at the city’s Olympic stadium.

I've gone to Seoul quite a bit this year and it gets nicer and nicer every time I go. There's tons to see, do and eat and Seoul is such a fun city to roam around in and public transportation makes it so easy. I'll share with you some of the areas my cousins and I visited this time around.

Cheonggyecheon Stream

It used to be an elevated freeway in the middle of the city, but five years ago they did a massive restoration project to create an urban, recreational space and to reestablish the running stream that had since dried out. My mom claims it was a major eyesore when the freeway was there, but now, it's a beautiful place to rest and relax in the middle of downtown Seoul. During the summer, it's packed with people cooling off, enjoying the cool breeze from the running stream. Even in the dead of winter, it was quite lovely.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung is an old royal palace situated right in the middle of modern Seoul. It was first built in 1394 during the Joseon Dynasty, later destroyed by the Japanese in the early 20th century and is still being restored to its original form. It's very historic and is a lovely oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city right outside its walls.

Kimchi Field Museum (Coex Mall)

The Kimchi Field Museum is a really small museum that explains the history of kimchi and shows plastic displays of different types of kimchi. Kind of cute, but it would be really cool if they had Korean grandmas making kimchi there. Wishful thinking, huh? It would be very informative to someone who is new to Korean cuisine though.


The area around Gangnam subway station has a lot of restaurants, bars and cafes and is known for its nightlife. It's also now known as the "U-street" not for its shape, but because it allows "ubiquitous" access to the Internet and media. What's up with Koreans using American words or terms to refer to certain areas in Seoul? (Why, oh why, would you want to have a "Rodeo" Street in Apgujeong? Sorry for the digression.) Do you see the tall white LCD display thing next to Baskin Robbins? That's one of 22 media poles showing various images and ads facing the road side. There are constant multimedia images being projected on it.

If you walk up to these poles, you will see that there are ads on the top and at eye level, they have these touch screen that allows people to search maps, read the news and check transportation information. No fret, you don't have to know Korean to use these media poles, you can read the information in English, Chinese and Japanese. You can even play video games (my cousin Allen will appreciate this feature) and can also send yourself an email postcard, yes, these media poles even take pictures of you. I didn't get to verify it, but apparently, these media poles also provide free wifi. They are working on teleportation features for next year. I kid, I kid.


Myeongdong is basically a shopping area, but there's tons of good eateries nearby. It's especially fun at night when street vendors come out in full force selling clothing, accessories and our favorite, street food. It's jammed pack at night and on the weekends.


Insadong is known for its antiques, artwork and Korean crafts. I love the pottery here. The district is known for its traditional Korean cuisine as well.

Hangang Park

Hangang Park is a park right along the Han River where city dwellers can get some fresh air while walking, running or biking. They have basketball courts, soccer fields and several outdoor exercise equipment. For those that want to just enjoy the view, there are several restaurants and cafes set up along the river as well. During the summer, you'll even see some ferry boats and jet skiers. Here's a gorgeous sunset my mom and I saw one day while going on a walk.

I hope you enjoyed my recap of my Korea and Vietnam trip. I hope you guys get to visit Seoul for yourself soon along with the other 30 places to see in 2010.

Pete - guess which country is on the list?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Kangnung Yetnal Jip - Seoul, Korea (Nonhyung-Dong)

This has been a favorite of our family's for years. It's called Kangnung Yetnal Jip (old house in Kangnung, which is a city in the northeastern province of South Korea). Each province is known for its regional specialties and distinctive styles.

Here's the front entrance. They specialize in han jung shik meals here.

You walk into a big foyer where you will most likely see several tables set up. You go inside to one of several rooms and sit on the floor. You will see that you do not have a table in front of you. But fear not, once they have all the side dishes prepared, they put it on the table outside and two people will carry it over and put it in front of you. There's something so satisfying about seeing a table full of side dishes magically appear before you.

We ordered the 20,000 won per person meal, which suits us just fine. There are different price ranges and you get nicer entrees the more you spend per person. If you come here for dinner, certain courses come with bossam kimchi, which is really hard to find apparently. It has chestnuts, pine nuts, jujubes, oysters and other ingredients in it and the cabbage leaves are wrapped up like a tight flower bud.

Our lunch included a plate of bossam of the porky kind not kimchi, which is boiled pork that you eat with napa cabbage and spicy radish. They also make their own tofu.

A multitude of side dishes featuring jap chae (glass noodles with vegetables) and other seasoned vegetables.

Some sashimi.

Homemade rice cake with some red beans.

Some sort of seasoned fish.

This plate of fish jun (battered in egg and flour and lightly fried), kimchi pancakes and fried zucchini came later.

Why is the rice yellow you ask? It's because they cook it with mineral water that they bring directly from Suraksan Mountain. I don't know if it has magical powers, but the rice is really chewy and nutty and the aroma is really addicting.

Grilled fish and doengjang jjigae (soy bean stew) also came out as well. Doengjang jjigae here is really dark and a bit on the salty side. I guess that's what it tastes like in Kangnung.

You scoop out the rice from the dolsot (stone pot) and you are left with a thin crust of
scorched rice. You add some hot water and let it sit for awhile to make nurungji bap (scorched rice), which becomes a watery porridge-like consistency.

This restaurant is on one of Seoul's many little side roads, but the best way to describe it is that it's on a parallel street right behind the Imperial Palace Hotel in Nonhyung-Dong.

Kangnung Yetnal Jip
(02) 516-2002 and 548-3120