Sunday, July 06, 2008

Young Dong Tofu (Arcadia, CA)

Young Dong Tofu
1311 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA, 91066
626.445.0078 (Yelp, restaurant has no web site)
Sun 07/06/2008, 08:15p-09:45p

Ever since having an amazing bibimbap in Japan, I've been searching for a comparable version here in the States. So far, nothing had really met the mark, so when I was told about Young Dong's version, I was naturally a bit skeptical.

Note: My knowledge of Korean cuisine is actually quite limited, so please feel free to correct me if I've made any factual mistakes!

Young Dong shares its space with Arcadia travel, which is located in the back of the unit. Located in a strip mall, the exterior of the restaurant is about what I expected, that is, quite nondescript.

The theme continues into the interior, which is clean and relatively comfortable. Again, no surprises here.

The menu is fairly compact, with a smattering of items and a few combinations, meaning that the dishes come with a bowl of your choice of jjigae. Note the odd pricing (i.e. $9.24, $11.55) of the menu items; I suspect that's to simply after-tax calculations ($9.24 to $10.00, $11.55 to $12.50, assuming an 8.25% tax rate). Click for larger versions.

The first item we were served, even before the banchan came out. Not bad, but really not much to say here.

I initially had this posted as pajeon, but I was told by a reader (see comments below) that this was actually "bin dae dduk," a sort of mung bean pancake. In fact, another name for it is "nokdujeon," or literally "mung bean pancake." Bindaetteok are made of ground mung beans and various ingredients, green onion in this case (others include kimchi, pork, and bean sprouts), cooked in a frying pan. Many tofu places serve this dish due to the mung bean's cooling property (yin food).

Oi Kimchi
This was basically cucumber in a hot chili sauce. In any case, this was one of my favorite banchan, with the crunchy coolness of the cucumber tempering the chili's spicy bite.

I originally had this listed as kongnamul but was later corrected, as with the bindaetteok. This was sukjunamul, which consists of boiled mung bean sprouts seasoned with sesame oil, sesame seeds, green onions, and pepper. Surprisingly good, with a nice crunch.

Baechu Kimchi
I believe this was baechu kimchi, or kimchi made with Napa cabbage. Kimchi, of course, can be made with a variety of vegetables, and of those, Napa cabbage is the most popular. I've always had somewhat of a fondness for kimchi, and this did not disappoint.

Miyeok Muchim
Miyeok, a type of edible kelp, with sweet vinegar and salt. The seaweed is known as wakame in Japanese cuisine, where it is often used in miso soup.

Ojingeo Juk Gal
Pickled squid and cucumber, on top of white cabbage. This was my favorite of the banchan, with a great textural contrast between the squid and cucumber, and a fantastic interplay between their spiciness and the mildness of the cabbage.

Sundubu Jjigae with Clam
Sundubu jjigae is a hot and spicy jjigae (stew) made with uncurdled dubu (tofu) and a variety of items that can include seafood, vegetables, mushrooms, onion, and gochujang (chili pepper paste). Shown above is a version with clam. Raw eggs (left) are put into jjigae while still boiling in its stone bowl. The dish is usually eaten with white rice (which aids in tempering the heat) and banchan.

Sundubu Jjigae with Mushroom / Kimchi Jjigae
We also tried jjigae with mushroom (pengi beoseot I believe, otherwise known as enokitake in Japanese) and kimchi.

Sundubu Jjigae with Clam, Shrimp, Oyster, Beef
Now this was the sundubu jjigae I ordered. This was my first time having it and I thought all four versions we tried were all delicious, and quite spicy. Next time I may ask them to turn down the heat a bit!

Bulgogi [$14.78, including jjigae] / Dweji Bulgogi [$14.78, including jjigae]
Perhaps the most famous of all Korean dishes (well, behind kimchi of course), bulgogi is made from thin slices of meat (usually beef), which is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, onions, and other ingredients. Bulgogi literally means "fire meat" in Korean and the term can also be applied to variations such as dweji bulgogi (pork), dak bulgogi (chicken), or even ojingeo bulgogi (squid), although the seasonings employed are usually different. Here, I found both types very tender and nicely flavored, though I did prefer the spicier kick of the pork version.

Dolsot Bibimbap [$14.78, including jjigae]
Ah finally, the moment of truth. Bibimbap, which means "mixed rice," consists of a bowl of warm white rice topped with various ingredients, which are stirred together thoroughly prior to eating. The items include here were gim (a nori-like seaweed), fried egg, spinach, beef, kongnamul (soybean sprouts), gosari (bracken fern stems), cucumber, doraji (bellflower root), mushroom, carrot, gochujang (chili pepper paste), and sesame oil. This particular version was also of the dolsot variety, which meant the entire dish was served in a sizzling stone bowl. Before the rice is placed in the bowl, the bottom of the bowl is coated with sesame oil, making the layer of the rice touching the bowl golden brown, crispy, and delicious.

So how did it turn out? Superb. With bibimbap, I often find that the rice is too monolithic, and tends to distract from the dish, keeping the various components from harmonizing together. That was not the case here; everything just flowed together so nicely, creating a fantastic balance of flavors and textures. It finally looks like I've found a bibimbap comparable to that which I experienced in Japan. If only this place wasn't so far away!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Napa Rose (Anaheim, CA) [3]

Napa Rose
1600 S Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA 92802
Fri 07/04/2008, 09:15p-11:10p third posting (and I think my fourth meal) on Napa Rose (see my previous ones here and here). I'm not sure exactly what keeps me coming back, but I highly suspect that it's because Napa Rose is one of the few fine dining restaurants in North OC.

I think I've covered the decor enough in my previous posts, so this time I'll focus on the mini wine cellar near the entrance of the restaurant. This is just one of three places Napa Rose stores wine. The restaurant also has an underground cellar on site, as well as a remote storage facility in South Orange County. The collection shown here houses some interesting bottles, including many signed ones and big-ticket bottlings such as DRC. Of particular note is the MD ("Mad Dog") 20/20 pictured above, perhaps the finest example of American bum wine. I'm definitely going to order it next time!

The menu is set up in a straightforward manner: apps, mains, sides. Now normally I'd go for the Vintner's Table menu, but felt that four courses just wasn't enough. The solution was to request a special, seven-course tasting menu instead. The price for this custom creation, if I recall correctly, was around $120. Click for larger versions.

Since I had a mojito on my most recent visit here, I decided to mix it up with a Tom Collins [$9.50] (Tanqueray gin, lemon juice, sugar). Dry and refreshing, it was better than the last Tom Collins I had, which was at the 5x5 dinner at Providence. After having a great experience with a cucumber martini last time, my dining companion ordered a cucumber Gimlet [$8.50] (Skyy vodka, lime juice). I'm not sure anything "cucumber-y" was done to the drink save for the large slice of the vegetable, but it worked out well enough.

The bread assortment seemed identical or nearly so to those of my previous visits. A nice selection, with the crispy flatbread being my favorite once again.

Instead of doing wine pairings, we opted instead to go by the bottle:
  • Riesling, Kabinett, Dr. Pauly Bergweiler, Bernkasteler Badstube, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, 2005 [$57.00] - Pretty much exactly what I expected from a German Riesling Kabinett. Off-dry, with delectable notes of stone fruit, flowers, and citrus, giving way to a surprisingly long, luscious finish.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon, Lewis Cellars, Napa Valley, 2001 [$125.00] - Typical flavors of dark berry, spice, and perhaps a hint of chocolate, leading to a bit of tartness on the finish. Good, but unspectacular. A great price on this one though, pretty much retail.

Amuse Bouche 1: Heirloom Watermelon
Mint, Balsamic Vinegar Gelée, Feta Cheese. My initial impression here was that the flavor pairings were a bit odd, but once I tasted it, I found that the watermelon was a great canvas on which the contrasting flavors of sharp cheese, rich balsamic, and cool mint could present themselves. Light, refreshing, and a great way to kick off the meal.

Amuse Bouche 2: Gazpacho
Heirloom Tomatoes, Corn, Crab, Cucumber Relish. The second amuse was actually the soup special of the night. The delightful chill of the soup was followed by a hint of heat on the finish, while the corn, crab, and cucumber added some great flavor and texture complements. Very nice.

1: Kona "Kampachi" Carpaccio & Ahi Tartare [$17.00]
With California Avocado Mousseline and Ruby Red Grapefruit Vinaigrette. Though the kampachi wasn't a stellar example of the fish, it served as a good backdrop to let the flavors of the mousseline and grapefruit vinaigrette shine, making this a very balanced dish. The tartare was interesting as well, and since it was more of a condiment than a main focus of the dish, it could've easily have been confused for a pico de gallo salsa!

2: Fried Squash Blossom [$14.00]
Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Pesto with an English Pea Coulis. Nice contrast here between the fried blossom and the thick coulis, and I really liked the addition of peas and cherry tomatoes to the sauce. Quite a bit better I thought than the squash blossoms I had at Shiro.

3: Brentwood Farms Corn & Buttered Leek Lasagna
Topped with Duck Confit with a Sauce of Applewood Smoked Bacon and Sonoma Mushrooms. I felt that the strongly-flavored troika of duck confit, bacon, and mushroom overpowered the subtleness of the lasagna, which should've been the star of this dish. One of the weaker courses of the night for me.

4: Grilled Rabbit Bratwurst [$15.00]
With Braised Beluga Lentils, Caramelized Fennel and Sautéed Beet Tops. As was the case on my last visit, the bratwurst was excellent and left me wanting more. On that occasion, I found the accoutrements a bit overpowering, but this time, the veggies were a pleasure to eat. I wanted more rabbit though!

5: Wine Country Mushroom Risotto [$17.00]
With Sonoma Mushrooms, Imported Parmigiano-Reggiano and Truffle Butter. I had an extremely similar risotto last time I was at Napa Rose, the only difference being a lack of truffles (replacing them with truffle butter, perhaps a cost-saving measure?) here and Sonoma mushrooms instead of Chanterelles. As such, the experience was nearly identical. Good, but I would've preferred a lighter sauce.

6a: Lemon & Rosemary Grilled Colorado Lamb Chop [$40.00]
With Marble Potatoes, Asparagus, Cipollini Onions and Summer Basil Pesto. A very nice interpretation of lamb, juicy and succulent, with the lemon and rosemary providing an extra boost to the meat's natural flavor. The vegetables provided a suitable foil to all that richness.

6b: Angus Filet Mignon "au Poivre" [$39.00]
Topped with Melted Brie with Roasted Walnuts, Sun-Dried Cherries and Cabernet Sauvignon-Cherry Essence. A very competent filet, one that could've easily stood on its own and wouldn't have seemed out of place at most any steakhouse save for CUT. Very tender, no gristle, and quite flavorful for a filet. The accoutrements were almost superfluous.

7a: Peach Parfait
Citrus Granité, Kumquats. On one hand, you have the parfait itself, which had a very light, subtle peach flavor. On the other, the granité provided a chill tartness while the kumquats added a rich sourness. This study of contrasts worked out well here, making this a very enjoyable dessert.

7b: Molten Chocolate Cake
Ice Cream, Orange Tuile. A pretty standard incarnation of the molten chocolate cake and ice cream dessert. Delicious, but nothing special.

Another visit to Napa Rose, and another good meal. I'm rarely blown away here, but I do always come out satisfied. My third review on what must have been my fourth visit? I suspect there will be many more down the road.