Jang Mo Jib – Vancouver, BC

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Jang Mo Jib Korean Restaurant
1715 Robson Street
Vancouver, BC

With the Foodosopher rapidly stacking up a solid collection of reports on Pho, I thought I would try to keep up with the master and add some more spice to the mix in the form of another Korean food experience.

Now Jang Mo Jib is what I’ll dub as a “once-you’ve-tried-it-you’ll-know-what-you’ll-get” type of joint.  By that I mean, one visit will tell you all you need to know, and its a very safe bet you’ll get the same treatment on any subsequent trip.  For me, through probably about six visits in total, this has generally averaged out to: a passable level of satisfaction on the taste side, and certain spotty service.  My first ever stop at this well known Robson hangout must have been about eight years ago, back when there were much fewer Korean options in the west end, and it was more of a “no other choices available” reason to eat there.  In recent years, after the explosion of choices for this cuisine in that part of downtown, Jang Mo Jib has become a decision based solely on pure convenience or reluctant resignation.

On my most recent visit this month, upon stepping inside after a tiring afternoon of shopping the strip, I knew right away the answer to the story.  A man was at the cash register facing us, fiddling around with the cash inside, virtually oblivious to the fact that my dining partner and me were standing not one meter away.  This went on for almost a minute before another customer came right in front of us asking for the bill, which immediately caught his attention.  The payment transaction took another few minutes, and right after, he went back to messing around with the bills in the cash tray.  I glanced at my companion, who gave me the knowing look of “what did you expect?”, having been here with me on basically all of my previous visits. Finally getting his attention he took us to a back table for two, and scuttled back to the front of the restaurant, without giving us any menus.  Now I must admit, the younger staff are generally better at customer service here, but on this day there was only one other fellow who was waiting on tables.  Getting his attention was a struggle even though the room was only about half full, and when we finally got the menus, I was on the verge of wanting to just leave.

The boy waiter brought out the banchan (side dishes) afterwards.  Kimchi – horrible, hadn’t infused the flavored yet, much too “young”.  But my hunger and fatigue got the better of me and I reluctantly turned the page on the dilapitated laminated menu seeking something safe as I knew I couldn’t expect anything outstanding.  Kalbi, check.  My dining partner elected the seafood soon dubu chigae (spicy silken tofu soup), with me laughing as I knew she was in for a serious miss.  Ah, when you know what’s coming, its just too easy…

So the soon dubu chigae comes out first, and as expected pretty weak on the seafood flavor side of things, and really overloaded with the soft tofu to make it appear like there was more inside.  The kalbi took a long time to come out, at least fifteen minutes after the chigae had reached the table – even though we made it clear we weren’t sharing.  This was not bad, not overcooked, three big strips and the flavoring was acceptable, but not great.  When you don’t have high expectations, it makes it a bit easier to handle but nonetheless the nagging though of wishing to have gone someplace else nearby, did creap into my head.

Compared to 2000, I know the quality of Korean food in town has improved, and my handful of trips to Seoul as well to try the real deal has made me a lot more demanding when it comes to Korean cuisine in Vancouver.  Jang Mo Jib used to be a by-default place for Korean food while on Robson, but it won’t be anymore.  I just see no real reason to want to go there by choice when I am on that part of the street, especially for mediocore food and disappointing attention to service.  Previously reviewed Dae Bak Bon Ga, definitely gets my nod over this place.

Jang Mo Jib (Robson) on Urbanspoon

Noodle King – Calgary, AB

Noodle King
119-2323 32 Avenue NE
Calgary, AB T2E 6Z3
(403) 250-9808
Open Weekdays 11am-10pm; Sat 5pm-10pm

Many restaurants come and go from our lives. There one minute, gone the next. It’s a hard reality, the restaurant business – most establishments don’t succeed. Quality and price aren’t the only things that matter; location, and a certain element of luck matter as well. With a high failure rate, very rarely do we see restaurants make a second go around – My Marvin’s, the institutional Calgary smoked meat shop has recently tried, to very mixed success. Noodle King, which closed and sold their 17th Avenue SW location, has reappeared as well, this time in the NE.

Noodle King is another in the long line of family owned Vietnamese operations in Calgary. When they opened up on 17th Avenue SW, they provided a wonderful alternative to the mediocre selection of Pho and Bun available on the Red Mile. With friendly service, large quantities, and great quality food, they quickly became a favorite of mine. And then one day, inexplicably, they were gone. When i caught wind from a friend that they had reopened in the Airways Centre off of 32nd Avenue NE, i enthusiastically ran over for lunch. I was greeted with warm hellos – acquaintances renewed over long stories and a plate of Cha Gio. It was as good as ever.

The defining dish at Noodle King is the Pho Sate. Its defining characteristic is definitely the rich, creamy broth; the traditional broth of garlic, chilies, peanuts, laced with coconut milk. This is not for the faint of heart. A *large* bowl of soup, chock full of slightly too firm noodles, slightly “cut too thick” beef, and fresh veg. Ringing in at $8.95, it is a meal in a bowl. The rich and heady broth is intoxicating, and worth every penny.

The rest of the Noodle King menu is a potpourri of SE Asian dishes and flavours. They have an eclectic variety of dishes, including Cambodian Soup, Bun Bo Hue, Wor Wonton, etc.. most of these dishes are not memorable. However, their Bun comes in a bowl of equally large size when compared to the Pho Sate. A great mix of ingredients, the meat lacks quality standards of the better Bun establishments in town. However, they make up in quantity what they lack in quality.

With busy lunch hours and an expanded space, Noodle King is proving that restaurants can make a come back. Based on the lunch crowds, their new NE Calgary location has clearly filled a void in an area seriously lacking a Vietnamese presence. While their success is well-deserved, the fact that most of their clientele are new customers, not old ones from their 17th Avenue SW location, only goes to show that the success of the second go around rarely has anything to do with the first. Thankfully, the good people at Noodle King have been successful at both locations, so I can continue to enjoy one of my favorite Pho Sate’s in town.

Noodle King on Urbanspoon

Bukhara – New Delhi, IN

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ITC Hotel Mauraya Sheraton & Towers
Diplomatic Enclave, Sardar Patel Marg
New Delhi, India
Open seven days a week
Lunch: 12:30pm to 2:45pm
Dinner: 7:00pm to 11:45pm

What could be better than a meal that is comprised largely of slow cooked, tender meats brought to life with exotic spices and flavorings, and where the service staff recommends that you eat with just your hands?

That’s the kind of amazing experience that is in store for you at Bukhara.

Now in its thirtieth year of business, Bukhara has proven that staying with the tried, tested and true does pay dividends, as it has maintained the exact same menu as when they first opened its doors back in 1978.  Restaurant Magazine has listed Bukhara among its selection of the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” (which began in 2002), a total of five times (missing out on the list in only 2005 and 2008). In 2007, it was the only Asian restaurant that made the top fifty list!

Prior to heading off on my first ever visit to India, I was told by a few of my Indian friends to definitely check this place out, no matter how busy I was, and I am glad I listened.  It is located within one of the high end hotels of New Delhi, which no doubt benefits tremendously from the reputation of their flagship restaurant.  Entering inside, there is a smallish waiting area adorned with a multitude of trophies and plaques from awards won, where many people were mingling about and having drinks before their reservation (a must here!).  The main dining area could be summed up as being very welcoming, a little on the dark side, at-home like with its creative use of a mixure of stone, wood, and bronze metals as construction materials.  The place feels almost like a well-decked out cave dwelling for some mystical genie, with all the colorful cushions and rugs spread out all over the place – very comfy!

The menu (which came as an inch thick, wooden painter’s pallet) featured a non-vegetarian list (11 items) on one side, with vegetarian (7 items) on the other.  There was also a section for the breads and a couple of desserts.  Clearly, the most popular items are the array of kebabs, all grilled to order in the restaurant’s large open kitchen which is visible from the seating area – which further adds to the rugged and rustic appeal of the place.  If you can, definitely get a closer look at the action taking place inside, as you will be bewildered by the pace and furry of activity between the team of chefs and the wait staff on standby to carry out each dish to customers.  Hanging from the ceiling, waiting to be handled by the well trained kitchen staff, are rows of long metal skewers that are taken down individually, dipped in some baths of marinade before being plunged into the tandoor to be grilled.

An apron is provided as you eat with your hands (no utensils here!), to prevent you from getting it all over you, including the potential for spraying sauces or junks of flying meat/veg from your nearby dining companions – as this food can truly bring out the caveman in you.  For the eight of us at the table, the feast featured some of the Dal Bukahara (a blend of black lentils, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, finished with cream and a dallop of unsalted butter), Tandoori Phool (florets of cauliflower seasoned with yellow chili and spices, that were deep fried, skewered and chargrilled), Peshawari Kabab (boneless cubes of leg of lamb seasoned and marinated in chili powder, cumin, yoghurt, ginger-garlic paste and malt vinegar), Seekh Kabab (minced lamb mixed with ginger, green chillies, coriander, cumin and safron), Kastoori Kabab (boneless chicken marinated in ginger and garlic, spiced with black peppercorn), Sikandari Raan (whole leg of spring lamb, braised in a marinade of malt vinegar, cinnamon, black cumin, and red chili paste) and Murgh Makhani (tandoori chicken cooked in tomatoes, cream, butter, cashew nuts, ginger-garlic paste and served with green chili).  Thrown in the out-of-this-world sized Naan Bukahara (I swear it was the size of a small table!), and you can see it was quite the dinner.  Everything tasted incredible, aside from perhaps the cubes of lamb which were a bit overcooked for my liking and too dried out.  After this meal, I had a greater appreciation for the complexity and depth of flavor of dal dishes – on a subsequent trip to India that’s pretty much all I ate!

With its exclusive prices, wide spread popularity both in India and outside the country, and reputation for hosting the world’s VIPs, it surely ranks as a place for a special occassion and a fat wallet.  But for a once in a lifetime opportunity, make a reservation, and share the experience with friends – its definitely worth the price of admission.

Just remember to wash your hands.

Gold Wonton – Calgary, AB

Gold Wonton
5441 Falsbridge Drive NE
Calgary, AB T3J 3E8
(403) 285-8399


September 2008 re-visit post here

Original post below:

Hot Pot, Fondue, Shabu Shabu. All variations of the same theme.

Chinese Hot Pot, better known in Western Culture as Chinese Fondue, is one of the most regionalized meals available in China. Drawing its origins from the ancient Mongolian hot pot developed by the northern tribes, any type of meat, vegetable, or starch is conceivably a hot pot ingredient. With a variety of different broths to dip in. one could go as far as to say no two hot pots are ever the same.

The appeal of hot pot is the interactivity of the meal – it is a highly social activity. Suitable for 2 to 20, it is a slow-paced, interactive meal. In today’s modern age, it also happens to be a very healthy form of cooking. Lightly dipping various fresh ingredients in broth to cook, and then dip in a variety of different sauces, is the extent of the requirements for a good hot pot meal. Usually, it’s quite affordable to boot. A relative triple threat on a culinary scale.

With restaurants like Treasures of China going downhill, the hot pot scene in Calgary was in a very poor state. Hot pot was mostly an afterthought, a dish available on expansive menus that served a variety of dishes and cuisines. And it was getting expensive. Where would one go for hot pot!?

In the NE of Calgary, is a restaurant that specializes in hot pot. Gold Wonton. Not sichuan, peking, shanghai, cantonese cuisine… hot pot.

Gold Wonton is a fairly simple place. Clean in decor, they have basic booths and tables. Every booth has a hot plate in the center, and a control knob to control the temperature. The hotpot comes with a divider, giving you the ability to order two broths. There is, of course, an extra charge for changing up one of the broths.

The menu itself is the most complicated part of Gold Wonton. Able to order all you can eat (AYCE – $22.95), or by the plate, there are an infinite number of selections available – yes, wontons as well. Different broths, different ingredients. It is important to note though, that many premium ingredients (fatty beef, crab, lobster) are only available with an extra surcharge. An often hefty surcharge charge indeed. AYCE is the better option for first timers, or for a diverse crowd. If you know exactly what you want, you may be able to save a few dollars ordering by the plate. I prefer the flexibility and the variety of AYCE. Different flavoured broths, while requiring a small extra charge ($4 on average), are well worth the investment.

The ingredients are very fresh. Thinly sliced and well prepared, there are no complaints. “Gold” Wontons are good, the fish balls and cuttlefish particularly good. Even the tofu is fresh! There are a huge variety of broths. Different flavours, and spice levels to suit everyone. There are also a wide variety of sauces, including my favorite, the classic Sa-cha, vinegar, and soy sauce. The only common complaint is cost – for premium items, which taste better, you pay more. A lot more. There is nothing wrong with the quality of regular ingredients, it is only that premium ones are better. And the price becomes fairly sticker shocking for a meal as simple as hot pot when you go the premium route. Otherwise, you have a great hot pot.

Hot pot is one of those meals that spans all cultures. No matter what a person’s diverse tastes are, chances are, there is something they will like about hot pot. When you go for hot pot in Calgary, try Gold Wonton. It’s fresh, and it’s good. Just make sure you bring your wallet. It isn’t cheap – which for hot pot, is not so golden.

Gold Wonton on Urbanspoon

Tonkatsu Tenshin – Tokyo, JP

[UPDATE: As of January 2009, closed due to poor health of the head chef]

Tonkatsu Tenshin
2-8-1 Mita, Meguro-ku
Tokyo, Japan
Open six days a week (closed Wednesdays)
Lunch: 11:30am to 3:00pm
Dinner: 17:30 pm to 9:30pm

My first ever visit to this establishment was in spring 2001, and I’ve gone back many times since, and have recommended it to anyone who’s asked, “where’s a good tonkatsu (deep-fried breaded pork cutlet) place in Tokyo?”.

Clearly its one of my most favorite places to eat and its a dish I often make at home myself.  Served with sides of shredded cabbage, miso soup and steamed rice, it makes for a hearty meal, and Tenshin is clearly in a class of its own in my books.  I’ve only gone at lunchtime, but if you do, make sure to go as early as you can as the place is packed soon after the doors are opened.

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Long Beach Seafood Restaurant – Queenstown, SG

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Long Beach Seafood Restaurant
25 Dempsey Road, Tanglin Village, Singapore
Lunch: 11:00am to 3:00pm
Dinner: 5:30pm to 1:30am

Let me begin by saying I have no clue what the prices are here, as it was a business dinner with the other side doing all the ordering and picking up the final tab  But all indications are that its not cheap…

Long Beach is a chain of four restaurants in Singapore, with their claim to fame being that apparently they were the original creators of black pepper crab, along with being the first in Singapore to serve fresh live seafood on its menu.  The location we were at was on Dempsey Road, really close to the Singapore Botanic Gardens (a great free place to walk by the way).  For those driving to this location I would share a word of caution, as the parking space on this dirt lot and windy narrow road up a hill, is not really friendly to navigate and probably always ridiculously full.  If not for a few attendants who guided us through and even directed us to park in some tight spot like an amusement park bumper car, I am not sure how we would have managed.

The space had both an outdoor patio and an air-conditioned indoor section.  They had initially tried to pull us inside to a private room, but we were more keen on taking in the more boisterous scene on the patio, and won that argument.  I’d recommend this part of the floor for sure, as it just seems like a big festival feast, with strings of colored lights, the open air environment, abundant and hustling wait staff, and general colonial feel of the white colored structure. For the sake of brevity, I’ll skip through the long parade of dishes that came to our table, all ordered by our gracious Singaporean host.  Some of it was excellent, others a bit unusual, and others flat out ordinary on taste.  Last but not least, came the star of the show… the black pepper (Sri Lankan) crab.  Actually two of them arrived, and looking around our table of five, I could tell some were already bursting at the seams.  I was probably one of them, but how could I pass this up after all the hype I’d heard over the years.

Staring at me from the plate, one of the crustaceans was simply glistening in the mixture of black pepper and soy, with its massive claws folded neatly by its side and in front of its face.  I envisioned a battle might ensue at the table for those prized clampers, but as luck would have it, some of those who’d had enough easily gave up their stakes and I ended up with two!  Our host asked one of the servers to do us all a favor and take apart the crabs so they would be easier to eat – what a fantastic idea!  He took it to a side table and began breaking it down and after a short while, came back with one of them with its meat all piled up in a clean little pile served in the body shell.  The claws arrived on a separate dish, with plenty of the meat visible to just about everyone at the round table, making me think that I might have lost my second claw to a regretful diner.

Taking a spoonful of the meat that had been carefully carved out of the shell and smaller limbs, I knew right away this was very fresh.  Even the thinnest strands that I tasted were succulent and rich with flavor, and this came out despite the incredibly overwhelming power of the black pepper.  The more and more I ate though, I began to feel that the black pepper was quickly becoming a distraction, as it was so one-sided in flavor that each bite began to meld easily into the next without a real contrast in taste sensations.  In baseball analogy, it was like facing a fastball after fastball, with no sign of a curveball in sight.  If not for the amazingly meaty front claws that I had on my plate, which gave some change in texture, and even more flavorful scents of the crabmeat itself, I am not sure I would have enjoyed it as much after a while.  But all in all, I could see why this was the signature dish, as it certainly was a memorable experience in dining.

Just be lucky like me and be able to keep your wallet in your pocket when the massive bill comes to the table.  Don’t meals always taste better that way? 🙂

Dae Bak Bon Ga – Vancouver, BC

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Dae Bak Bon Ga Korean Restaurant
201 – 1323 Robson Street
Vancouver, BC

Perhaps a little lost amid the growing epicenter of ‘Little Koreatown’ on Robson Street, I would say more so for the fact that this establishment is not on the ground level and accessible from the sidewalk as many of its nearby competitors offering Korean food, is Dae Bak Bon Ga. With some warmer weather hitting Vancouver of late, I was in the mood for some refreshing and light mul naengmyon (buckwheat noodles in a cold beef broth). This summary is based on my one and only visit that took place recently.

Marketing itself as a mix of a restaurant slash karaoke place, I was pleased to see the karaoke section was in the back, and not overly visible upon walking in and being led to a table. Going in around 6:30pm on a weekday, it seemed the karaoke crowd was not yet around – I assume things really heat up after 10:00pm (every day) when the late hour happy hour menu comes into effect (40% off!). The space had an open feel to it, high ceilings and the uncovered pipes, vents, etc. made it have a cold industrial feel that was tempered by the rich browns and dark tones of the tables and chairs. Overall, very comfortable and reminded me of a few places I had been to in Seoul over the years.

The room was more than half-full as we were led to our four-seater table, coincidentally one that didn’t have an exhaust vent hanging from above – fortunately, barbeque was not in our plans on this night as my heart was set on the noodles. Originating in what is now North Korea, traditionally mul naengmyeon is served in a stainless bowl (I assume partly to help retain the cold temperature) and decorated with toppings such as thin slices of cold beef, half a boiled egg, and uncooked julienned vegetables, and slices of Korean pear. As additional flavorings, bottles of mustard and vinegar are brought to the table, to be added according to your own personal preference. As well, a set of kitchen scissors are used to help cut the lengthy strands of naengmyeon into more manageable portions.

Mul naengmyeon, despite its simple appearance, is really hard to get ‘right’, as more often than not, the soup broth will be ‘off’, and this happens even in Korea. So with a bit of doubt, I ordered the dish hoping that this would be a positive case. And as luck would have it, it was! A very authentic tasting broth, nicely chilled with ice, and the noodles were the right texture and silkiness that one seeks in this dish. I will definitely be back when I have another craving for it – listed menu price of $9.95.

The other dish that came to our table was the stone pot bibimbap ($10.95). I know, a big contrast to the cool mul naengmyeon. Bibimbap simply explained for those unfamiliar, is a dish that consists of a bowl of steamed rice that is topped with various ingredients such as beef, egg, sautéed vegetables and of course, gochujan (chili paste) for the spicy zing. It comes spread out evenly on top, and is visually a very pleasing dish to behold as its brought to one’s table, and before you mix it all up to incorporate the entire range of flavors into every mouthful. The hot stone pot variety gives it the added twist of making the rice hidden below a bit crunchy and adds a somewhat smoky flavor to it, and I prefer it to the standard version that is served in a regular bowl. The version at DBBG was nicely put together I thought, perhaps a bit more beef than I would normally like (I know, some of you will say how can you turn down meat in a Korean restaurant), and a bit less rice that I would have hoped.

Other thoughts on my visit include the ‘warning’, that during the busy periods of the dinner rush, you should expect perhaps less than attentive service. There were simply not enough servers to cover all the tables, and I could see they were always busy rushing around. Just bringing the dishes to tables is not all they had to do, as for some dishes that were actually helping grill, cut, and mix things together for customers, thus taking their attention away from the main floor. You’ll often find, here in North America and even in Korea, that really fake smiles and ‘let me get to know you’ attitude does not really exist among waiters/waitresses, so for those unfamiliar, you may feel that the service is cold and perhaps even business-like, but I can assure you its not the case, its just the norm. Throw in the fact that its likely the servers are mainly students here on short-term stays.

The starting quad of banchan (side dishes) did not get the meal off to a terrific start, as the kimchi and cubes of potato were not so good – the kimchi being much too sweet and totally adjusted for North American tastes. Usually its a bad sign when the opening freebies are bad, but that said, I was pleased with the two main dishes we had, better than other Korean restaurants I’ve eaten at on this same strip. Who knows, next time with a little soju in me, I might just wander into that karaoke room…

Dae Bak Bon Ga on Urbanspoon