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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Seoul Nightlife

Seoul Nightlife

322 Sowol-Ro, Youngsan-Gu, Seoul
+82 2 797 1234

Beers of the night: Cass, Hite, OB

No sooner we showered our bodies of the smoky Korean BBQ remnants back at the hotel, we hopped in a cab and hauled it to Itaewon for the party scene. We got dropped off in the midst of it all. Bars, clubs, karaoke, etc. From the street level, we saw a balcony filled with people and loud music playing. We went inside to discover it was one group of people sitting at a long table having dinner and the rest of the bar was empty. Not a soul to be found. We quickly found this to be the theme of the night. Where are all the Seoulful people on this Wednesday night?? As we walked down the strip of bars, it seemed the louder the music blasted outside, the emptier it was inside. We finally settled at a lounge called S2 for some soju and beer. Soju is a Korean spirit made from sweet potatoes. I find it a mix between sake and vodka. 
Cass beer and Soju
Down one bottle of soju and a round of beers, we moved on to an Irish pub, then took another taxi to the Grand Hyatt. We heard about the nightly live music at the upscale hotel, and that’s exactly what we found. The drinks were expensive, but we stayed for a round because this was by far the most popular bar of the night. The American band was set up on a small stage behind the main bar, covering top 40 pop music. The crowd was a mixture of Americans and Koreans. Overall, the people were either grinding up on each other after a few too many cocktails, smoking, dancing on couches, or singing along with the music. This is the kind of action I like to watch. When the band called it a night, so did we. 
Live music
Dancing on tables
We left the Grand Hyatt and took to the streets of Itaewon for some more soju. At the convenience store, it costs $1.50 per bottle, which is about the size of a beer bottle. We drank some out on the street while soaking in the culture of Seoul nightlife. We weren’t exactly model American tourists at this point, seeing as we were drinking on the street, but there was clearly more action out there than in the bars. After we finished our people-watching and soju-sipping, we got some snacks and called it a night.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Seoul: Korean BBQ 새마을 식당

새마을 식당
New Village Restaurant


We randomly selected a restaurant for some Korean BBQ. This one was called the New Village Restaurant, full of people, loud, and chaotic. A woman sat our party of 5 at a rather small round table by American standards. At the center of the table was a pit with coals, ready for some grill action. The staff spoke no English so we tried our luck with pointing to menu pictures of meats and beers to get started. We drank Cass beer and made sure to pour it for each other and never for ourselves. That’s the Korean way, never pour your own drink! 
When our sassy waitress came back with a tray of raw kalbi, she scattered the meat over the grill and lowered the fan, attempting to consume all the smoke. While the meat was cooking on the grill with whole garlic cloves and jalapenos, we investigated our side dishes. A basket of lettuce cups and raw cabbage, kimchi, rice, scallions, and a few dipping sauces. There were no plates, and it was strictly chopsticks only to maneuver large chunks of meat and cabbage. I tried to eat each lettuce wrap in one bite despite the mess I was making of the table and myself. 

The next meat to hit the grill was beef bulgogi. This was marinated beef and less fatty than the kalbi. By the end of the meal I was entering yet another food coma. On the way out, I notice another group leaving. The waitress returned their jackets that were set aside in plastic bags to avoid smoky fumes.  Very smart. It’s a shame I didn’t know of this custom. Next time in Seoul I will make note of it, but for tonight, I will roam the streets and bar hop smelling like garlic and beef bulgogi!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Seoul Street Food

Seoul Street Food

Making sesame bars
Thanks to obsessively researching what to do and, more importantly, what to eat in Seoul, I found some particularly salivating street food options. Before my trip to South Korea, I read up on spiral ‘tornado’ chips on a stick, hot dogs deep-fried in a french-fry-swarmed batter, waffle cones stuffed with spicy chicken spaghetti, etc. Seoul has a blossoming foodie scene. Returning home, I did more research to find out how I missed these magical treats. Apparently I skipped that particular street in the Myeongdong district. Sadly, my 36-hour trip to Seoul did not present those fabulous options to me, but  If I When I go back to Seoul, I will be sure to do a strict foodie tour to find these street snacks.... 
Found on Google
Found on Google
Found on Google
However, on my layover I managed to witness some traditional street food vendors cooking up tasty inexpensive fare. Dumplings, spicy rice cakes, kim bap, fish cakes on a stick, deep-fried vegetable dough with bacon, tempura, sesame candy bars, and beef patties studded with whole garlic cloves. 
Tempura station
Spicy rice cakes and kim bap
Garlic studded burgers
My first choice was the dumplings. They were already prepared, then steamed in front of me. One kind was fried and spicy. At another stand I watched as a man stirred sesame seeds into a giant wok of boiling caramelized sugar. The contents were rolled out onto a cooking sheet and cut into pieces. Once it cooled down it was a sweet, chewy snack. I bought a bag that was made with sesame, black sesame, and pumpkin seeds. Before dinner, I saw a vendor selling some kind of fried deliciousness on a stick. This was my calling. It was some kind of vegetable dough deep fried with a strip of bacon on it. It was so greasy I felt oil seeping from the sides when I bit it. It was a bit much for me, so I was content after about two bites. 
Steaming dumplings
Me and the people making the sesame bars

Fried vegetable dough
Overall, I am very happy with my street food options in Seoul. I am determined to go back for some spaghetti cones and fry-crusted corn dogs in the future. It's good to have foodie goals!

Friday, April 13, 2012

NYC East Village: Big Gay Ice Cream Shop

Big Gay Ice Cream Shop

125 East 7th Street

This is not your childhood ice cream shop. They add an eccentric touch to traditional ice cream creations. Their specialty, The Salty Pimp, is very simple: vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, sea salt, chocolate dipped. The other treat I tasted was the Cococone: vanilla ice cream with toasted curried coconut. Both were outstanding, but I especially have a soft spot for The Salty Pimp. The publicity from being on various food and travel shows certainly is helping, as the line was out the door at 9PM on a Thursday in April. The décor was all rainbows and unicorns just as I had hoped. Once May rolls around, keep an eye out for the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck roaming the streets of NYC. There are too many wild flavors and toppings such as olive oil, bacon marmalade, and cayenne pepper, to only stop here once.
Board of Treats
The Salty Pimp + Cococone

NYC MePa Tapas: Ventanas


100 10th Avenue

Guacamole + Plantain Chips
A Moroccan/Spanish/Caribbean tapas bar. At least that’s how I explain it. I had a GiltCity voucher to use on two glasses of sangria and four tapas. We wound up with six tapas but decided the four would’ve been filling enough if we chose to stop there. Not a bad deal for $30! The guacamole had pineapple in it and the plantain chips to dip in it were crispy and salty. Then we had spinach and manchego empanadas, fried goat cheese balls with slivered almonds and honey, and sweet plantains with manchego and Serrano ham. It was certainly enough food for us, but it’s not like me to stop at ‘enough’. To conclude the meal we got the short ribs, and the lamb with couscous. Both were phenomenal! The portions were small for sharing, and the combination created a tasty buffet on my plate. I would go back to Ventanas again because it’s humble enough to reside in the Meatpacking District without charging cover at the door. And don’t forget, on the weekends they have rotating DJ’s and eight bartenders on staff to prevent any unwanted thirst.
Short Ribs + Lamb and Couscous

Friday, April 6, 2012

NYC Korean BBQ: Kang Suh

Kang Suh 
Kang Suh 
1250 Broadway (at 32nd St.)

I have been obsessed with Korean BBQ ever since I recently tried it for the first time at Kang Suh in NYC’s Korea Town. Since it’s open 24 hours I get cravings at all hours of the night. 
Pork Belly, Kalbi, Kimchi, and Garlic
My first time, I got Kalbi (short ribs), pork belly, and tongue. It’s cooked by the server on the tabletop grill. Also on the grill was garlic, jalapenos, and kimchi. The meats are complemented by several small side dishes: kimchi, shredded potato, jalapenos, onions, zucchini, rice, dipping sauces, etc. All of which can be mixed and matched, then put into a lettuce cup. We also got a cold buckwheat noodle soup called Naeng Myun with beef, egg, and pear. It was an unusual experience sipping on ice-cold broth, but it still tasted very good. To wash down all this food, I enjoyed hot sake, Hite Korean beer, and Sapporo Japanese beer.
Various side dishes
Naeng Myun
Hot Sake and Sapporo

On other visits I tried the staple Korean dish, bibimbap. It consists of a bowl of warm rice with mixed seasonal vegetables on top, and a cracked egg. Then chili pepper paste is added and everything gets stirred together for a delicious rice mixture. 
Bibimbap before
Bibimbap after

If you ever get the chance, stop in to Kang Suh. The staff is very welcoming and willing to explain the process to newcomers. It’s worth a visit for lunch, dinner, or even a 4AM post-bar snack.

Monday, April 2, 2012

NYC Tiki Bar: Otto's Shrunken Head

Otto's Shrunken Head

538 East 14th Street

Otto’s was the first to come up on my Google search when looking for tiki bars in New York City. Therefore, I had to try it. Located between “East Side 99 Cent Store” and the elegantly trash-bag-chic “Rainbow” clothing dump, was this neon-lit sign calling me in for a mid-day zombie.

The décor was beachy, tacky, neon, and creepy. I loved it. The walls had giant Hawaiian prints hanging, with neon blowfish lighting over the bar. PBR’s are always $3, and there’s a lengthy happy hour running 2-8PM, but I sprung for the $10 tiki drink. The menu had several different cocktails, each served in a different glass. It’s an additional $5 deposit for the funky glass because, well, I guess people try to steal at Otto’s. Anyway, $10 plus a $5 deposit later, I got the house specialty, Otto’s Shrunken Head.  “Dark and sweet with a little bite. Keeps ya head screwed on tight”. It was everything I could’ve asked for in a tiki drink: rummy, coconutty, fruity. And that's my professional critique. I also tried Otto’s Octane. “Our pineapple rum, coffee liquer, and banana concoction will help speed you to your destination”. This was not as good as the other one but still got the job done. 

Eventually, I would like to try each of the tiki drinks on the menu. But let’s face it, unless I am in the area on a “Rainbow” shopping spree, I don’t see how I will stumble across Otto’s again. The location was strange for me, so unless I make the conscious decision to revisit, I'll never drink from that shrunken head again. Okay I'll go back, but I will be taking the tiki glasses home with me!