Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Surah (Buena Park, CA)

5333 Beach Blvd, Buena Park, CA 90621
www.yelp.com/biz/surah-korean-restaurant-buena-park (Yelp, restaurant has no web site)
Tue 09/30/2008, 08:40p-10:15p

So what brought me to Surah? I actually came here to dine with an old friend from my high school days, who happened to live in the area. I mentioned I'd like a place with a good bibimbap, so Surah was his choice. It is interesting to note that although Surah is a Korean restaurant, a large number of Japanese dishes are available.

Located in a Korean strip mall, Surah's exterior is fairly pedestrian. Parking is plentiful in the mall's lot.

The interior is surprisingly contemporary, as it appears that the owners actually put some thought into the decor. Surah is literally the nicest looking Korean restaurant I've been to.

The vast menu begins with Korean and Japanese lunch specials. Click for larger versions.

But we were here for dinner. With such a large selection, we had a difficult time choosing what to order (naturally, the bibimbap was a must). Prices are higher than normal, though I think this is partly justified by the nicer surroundings. Click for larger versions.

To drink, we ordered two 375mL bottles of Jinro Chamjinisulro Soju, one of the most popular mass-market sojus available. Weighing in at 20.1% alcohol, this was akin to a lower proof version of a potato vodka such as Chopin. Indeed, it's distilled from potatoes and grain (rice and barley), and filtered four times through bamboo charcoal. It had a slight sweetness, and was overall quite smooth, with only a tinge of alcoholic burn on the finish.

Let's begin with a recounting of the various banchan that we were presented with. I must admit that this was the most challenging set of banchan I'd ever encountered, as many of the dishes were completely foreign to me.

This was the root of the bonnet bellflower, made here into a kimchi-like form. It had a crunch to it, with a bit of spice as well.

Shirataki Noodles
I wasn't quite sure what this was initially, but according to one of my commenters below, this was a dish of shirataki, noodles made from starch-based jelly, Japanese in origin but popular in Korea too. They showed off a definite bit of crunchiness, and came smothered in a mild, creamy sauce.

I'm not sure if this was miyeok (wakame) or gim (nori), but it did have a nice smoky flavor to it, and was quite good.

Gosari Namul
Gosari namul consists of sautéed bracken fiddlehead fern fronds, not too dissimilar to bamboo in taste and texture actually. This turned out to be one of my favorite banchan.

Oiji is salt-pickled Korean cucumber. The pieces had a nice bite to them, and went nicely with the relatively mild green chilies.

Hobakjeon means squash jeon, with jeon referring to the popular Korean batter pancake-esque banchan. The result was almost like a tempura-style preparation of the squash. Quite good.

Gamja Cake
This tasted like a potato, or gamja, cake, topped with scallion and carrot. I'm not sure if this would be considered gamjajeon (potato pancake), as those are usually much thinner. In any case, it went over well with me.

Buk Uh Gi
I believe this was a type of pickled fish, pollock I think. It had a fairly intense flavor, which unfortunately I wasn't a huge fan of.

Gul Jut
This was simply raw oysters marinated in a spicy chili sauce. I initially mistook it for kimchi, but the dish had a slimy texture that took me by surprise.

Boiled broccoli, served with strands of imitation crab.

Soybean sprouts, boiled and seasoned with sesame oil.

Baechu Kimchi
The Korean standard: kimchi made with napa cabbage. A bit spicier than usual, but still tasty.

Miyeok Guk
This was a soup made of wakame kelp. Apparently, it's often consumed by women who have just given birth, and traditionally on one's birthday in Korea.

Mando Jungol [$41.98, $20.99x2 orders minimum]
Mandu Jeongol is an elaborate Korean stew made with dumplings (mandu) in a beef broth. In addition to the dumplings, the stew contained enoki mushrooms, cremini mushrooms, red bell pepper, thick noodles, and rice cake (tteok), along with plenty of gochujang. The end result was delicious, albeit a bit too spicy for me. I especially enjoyed the flavor and textural contrasts provided by all the disparate ingredients, held together by the fiery broth.

Dolsot Bibimbob [$13.99]
Finally, the bibimbap. This version contained a fairly standard assortment of ingredients: beef, egg, gim (seaweed), cucumber, carrot, spinach, bamboo, mushroom, and kongnamul (soybean sprouts). The amalgam was delicious, though not the strongest I've had (Jeon Ju and Young Dong were slightly better I thought). The reason was that the ingredients didn't harmonize as well as they could've, with certain items, such as the mushroom, dominating. Nevertheless, I definitely enjoyed it.

I did like what I had at Surah, but I think I really need to try more dishes if I'm to give a definitive judgment of the place. From what I've read, it seems like although Surah may not be the "best" for a particular dish, as a whole, the food here is quite solid. And with the vast menu, there should be plenty to satisfy just about anyone.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Volcano Burgers (Los Alamitos, CA)

Volcano Burgers
3652 Cerritos Ave, Los Alamitos, CA 90720
www.yelp.com/biz/volcano-burgers-los-alamitos (Yelp, restaurant has no web site)
Fri 09/26/2008, 08:05p-08:20p

Regular kevinEats readers will recognize Volcano Burgers as perhaps the lowest-priced restaurant ever to appear on this blog. A sign of harsh economic times? Hardly. Don't worry faithful readers; we'll get back on track with the spendy stuff in October. On the slate for next month are Fogo de Chao, Urasawa, Lawry's, Studio, and possibly Totoraku. In any case, getting back to Volcano Burgers, the restaurant holds a special significance for me. Located across the street from Los Alamitos High School, my alma mater, Volcano was my choice for after school dining. I cannot recount the number of chili-cheese fries I devoured from the place over the years!

Volcano Burgers looks pretty much like any other generic burger joint, as in there's not my ambiance to speak of. Lining the windows are the plaques of various Los Al sports teams; during my years at the school, the football team was especially dominant; I wonder how they stand now? Parking is out back, and there is a drive-thru offered.

Once you order, you pick up your food at a small window facing a covered dining area.

Despite the name, Volcano Burgers does a lot more than burgers. Prices are fairly low, and portions quite large. Click for larger versions.

I ordered to go, so I appreciated the security of using boxes instead of bags to hold the food.

Pastrami Sandwich [$5.79]
On a French roll with mustard and pickle. A massive mound of pastrami awaits you here. It was as good as any other I've had (though I do need to try The Hat), and was nicely highlighted by the tartness of the mustard and pickle. My only real complaint was that the roll ended up being quite soggy.

Carne Asada Taco [$2.25]
With a side of salsa. This was a pretty generous serving of beef. Unfortunately the meat was a tad dry, but nevertheless the taco was still quite tasty. I think it must've been the onions and cilantro. Adding onions and cilantro (as well as a nice dollop of salsa) to nearly anything makes it better.

Chili-Cheese Fries with Onions [$3.69]
Ah, this is what brought me back. The fries would be boring on their own, but the chili managed to tie everything together, while the onions added a sharp tang to contrast the richness of the dish. I do think the fries could've used more chili and less cheese though, as near the end of the dish, the cheese was getting a bit overwhelming. Next time I'll ask for more onions too, and hell, maybe ask 'em to throw on some cilantro!

I must say that, after all these years, Volcano Burgers nevertheless manages to satisfy. This is cheap, simple, straightforward food, exactly the type of eats favored by high school students such as myself back in the day, and current Los Al students today. Even now, nearly ten years after graduation (that reminds me, my ten-year reunion is coming up...), those chili fries still do hit the spot!