Cheontong Son Kalguksu – Gyeongju, KOR


Cheontong Son Kalguksu
206-3 Cheongun-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
+82 (0)54-745-3010

Returning to another report on another stop from my August stay in South Korea.  I remember this lunch well, as we were racing to leave Gyeongju City as the powerful typhoon ravaging the coast was approaching fast and already the rain was falling horizontally due to the swirling winds.  We spotted Cheontong Son Kanguksu from the road as we approaching this area that was populated by a few restaurants.  The lights seemed to be on inside but nobody could be seen, so one brave member of our party stepped out into the falling rain and knocked on the door to see if they were indeed ready for customers.  Perhaps it was the weather and the lone female proprietor felt sorry for us, as it seems she was still doing her preparation work, but she let us inside and told us to make ourselves at home.

The wet, humid weather made it perfect for something hot to try and warm up our cores.  Kalguksu or hand-cut wheat noodles served in a bowl of rich, mainly seafood (shellfish)-based flavorful broth, topped with a mix of thin sliced vegetables.  While the ambiance was nothing special, perhaps even on the dilapidated side and I could spot a few flies spinning around in the air, I was just grateful to be indoors and away from the storm.  Although being in a fully glass encased building was not something one should probably do when powerful winds are ravaging all around.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Pho Maxima – New Westminster, BC


Pho Maxima Restaurant
822 Twentieth Street
New Westminster, BC
(604) 759-3669

This non-flashy restaurant, nestled in a very average-looking commercial building fits the common definition of a hole-in-the-wall eatery.  Slightly indented from the street itself, it would be quite easy to miss passing by, unless you were deliberately turning into the front side-facing parking lot, which is also home to a couple other places to get a quick meal. I’ve already written about one of them here.

Despite its subdued appearance, Pho Maxima seemingly gets a lot of love from the locals, judging from a couple of occupied tables as I walked in alone, as well as the phone ringing with delivery orders.  A pleasant man was working the front of house alone and I could hear a few voices coming from the back kitchen.  Receiving a pot of hot tea to start while I perused the menu booklet, I debated going with the namesake pho but instead opted for another edition of meat-on-rice.

Continue reading

Burger Burger – New Westminster, BC


Burger Burger
340 – 6th Street
New Westminster, BC
(604) 525-4229

May 2010 re-visit post here

Original post below:

Another sojourn into New West.  I’ve been expanding my food hunting journeys to the “far east”, as frankly for me its a largely unexplored area and the Vancouver coverage of eateries and restaurants is seemingly getting more saturated and repetitive – especially in light of the start of “the event” next week in town.  So I thought, what a better way to really get off the beaten path of reviews on those standard superstar places that are appearing in cyberspace and print media, than a return to a classic mom-and-pop joint.

Interestingly enough, despite its very generic sounding name, Burger Burger gets top billing on the commercial signage that stands at this complex along sixth street.  It totally reminded me of my high school years, where my buddies and I would always congregate at our town’s favourite hole-in-the-wall burger spot – which ironically stood across the street from a McDonald’s.  Even the yellow signage was identical, as well as the open facing flat top cooking area and fantastically priced burger-fries-drink combos.  Over a decade later, I am bewildered to see that a place like Burger Burger has prices that I am most familiar with when I was a cash-starved but always hungry teenager over a decade ago.

Continue reading

Baba Ka Dhaba – Calgary, AB


Baba Ka Dhaba
3504 17 Avenue SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 207 5552

Baba Ka Dhaba on Urbanspoon

As i discovered on my recent trip, there is power in low expectations. When you have no preconceived notions on how something will be, generally speaking, you end up pleasantly surprised.  With high expecations? Well, i have to admit, my most disappointing dining experiences over the past year have either been at highly regarded restaurants, or at new local eateries that had generated a lot of buzz. Only the best made an impression. Most were quite disappointing. This may not be completely fair, but for me, the higher the expectations, the less likely I am to like the place. Sad, but true. At Baba Ka Dhaba, there were no expectations at all.

Baba Ka Dhaba is a small hole in the wall East Indian eatery in Forest Lawn, on the north side of 17th ave SE. Even knowing where it is, it is quite easy to drive by and miss it. I did several times! Baba Ka Dhaba has fairly limited seating, with 3 tables, and likely seats for 12-16 people, depending on how friendly you get. The evening i was there, the majority of the orders were take out.

img_4527b

When you first walk in, there is nothing really prominent. It’s small. A bit shabby, and tiled in white. Tables are in varying degrees of disarray – we ended up bussing our own tables to get a place to sit. If you were measuring atmosphere on a scale from 1-10, it’d be a 0. That’s not a good thing.

There is a small cut out in the hastily erected plywood wall where someone takes orders. Above the cutout is the menu – what they serve is limited on each given day, an approach I have been a big fan of lately. I find the limited menu ensures better quality control. Beats trying to be all things to all people. However, be sure you are looking at the correct day – i was salivating over certain dishes that were available on a different day before i realized my mistake. Each given day has dishes from a variety of styles. Some curries, some dishes from the tandoor, some appetizers.

Service, from a objective persepctive, was actually fairly horrific. It took them 10 minutes to even notice we were at the window to take our order. One guy jumped the queue and placed his take out order ahead of us. And then it took them so long to get us our food, that the two gentleman we were sharing our table with, definite regulars and personally knew the owners, suggested we go back and ask about our food, because they were certain they had “forgotten our order”. If i had any expectations at all, or if my dining companion wasnt as easy going and affable, im sure i would’ve felt a lot more slighted. Instead, it was just another part of the experience.

We went for a diversity of dishes to get a good sampling. We each started with the samosas. Very large and fried to a golden brown, these were served warm. Overall, they were fantastic. The skins werent too thick, giving a nice crunchy bite, and the filling was loaded with flavour, yet not overly dry. Sauce and raita accompainiments were a nice touch. These are available every day.

img_4521b

An order of goat curry is eagerly anticipated, and fails to disappoint. My biggest complaint with goat curry is usually the over-use of boney cuts, resulting in very little substance. These were actually quite meaty, complete with tendon, which make for a nice contrast in textures. The gravy was a bit oily, but had an amazingly rich flavour. Not overpowered with cardamon, tumeric, or cumin as many other curries are. Well balanced, and long simmered, the sauce had great complexity. It showcased the perfectly crisp Naan well too, as there wasnt a drop left on the plate when we were done.

img_4516b

Lastly, we shared an order of Chicken Biryani. The meat was a bit bony, and lacked some substance, but the flavour was great, as they used dark meat, and the rice was fluffy and filling.

img_4519b

Our neighbours had the fish tandoori, and offered us a few bites to try. They probably felt bad that we had ordered before them, and they were going to finish their meal before our food came. It was tender, flavourful, and well spiced. An excellent fish dish.

Now, the CHR has cited Baba Ka Dhaba for several health code violations, some which are worse than others, so you’ve been warned. Check at your own peril.

In the grand scheme of things, I think this is a perfect illustration of the power of low expectations. Good service? No. Any atmosphere? One online blogger with a better command of the language than I likened it to “eating in a urinal” – better words I could not come up with! But the flavours and the price really can’t be beat. And I was expecting nothing, other than a meal for Friday night., and instead I got a feast for the taste buds, for two people, all for $20.

If i was to try a well regarded restaurant for the first time and experience the same things, I’m not sure i’d be as understanding. But when it comes to Baba Ka Dhaba, they get a pass. I would highly recommend you try the food, the flavours really are fantastic. If you feel a bit nervous, get take out. It might explain the loads of people i saw eating in their cars, who would occasionally come in and order more naan. I thought it was a hot date location, but im starting to think, maybe they’re onto something…

Baba Ka Dhaba on Urbanspoon

Gee Gong Restaurant – Calgary, AB


Gee Gong Restaurant
206 Centre Street SE
Calgary, AB T2G 2B6
(403) 264-1533

Normally I love hole in the wall kinds of places. Small, low prices, occasionally dirty places, with an authentic vibe and a hodge podge of interesting characters for clientele. Something about them just feels…real. But rather than get caught up in the idea of the hole in the wall, it’s important to judge them based on the food.

I have some friends who love these kinds of places – and have been visiting the same ones for years. They like the way they are treated, they like how the establishment knows their order, and they like how comfortable things have become. However, when they brought me to their favorite hole, what mattered most to me was the food, and it was terrible. I couldn’t taste the kind treatment and the years of emotional investment, but what i could taste wasn’t for me. Gee Gong reminds me of one of these places.

img_1960

Gee Gong serves Cantonese cuisine, and has been located in Chinatown in downtown Calgary for a very long time now. Well regarded by many foodies as a classic hole in the wall choice for Chinese cuisine, it has many of the hallmarks of one. Small, slightly dirty location, with fairly inexpensive prices. At any given point, it could be empty, or full, with people enjoying the things they are best known for – Hot and Sour Soup, BBQ, noodles, and hotpot. Touting itself as “Authentic Chinese Cuisine”, i’ve never found that slogan to be all that inspiring.

img_1963

With respect to the food, I’ve never had the hot and sour soup, so I can’t comment on that. The hotpot and noodles are both reasonable, but there is nothing special nor remarkable about them. The noodles are a bit greasy, and the hotpots fairly sparse, but they are certainly edible, and for the price (which has gone up in the past couple years), are quite reasonable.

When discussing Gee Gong, most people talk about one thing and one thing only – the BBQ. Like most Chinese BBQ, they offer the standards of roast duck, roasted pork, bbq pork, sausage, and chicken. A lot of BBQ really comes down to personal flavour preference, but all Chinese BBQ should be the same. Moist, flavourful, and well balanced – salty and sweet, crisp and soft.

The BBQ at Gee Gong does not suit my preferences. A little bit dry from over-exposure to heatlamps, it is nonetheless flavourful, yet quite greasy. My biggest issue is the bbq flavour –  overly sweet and sticky, it lacks the depth of flavour and balance i prefer in my BBQ. There are better choices for BBQ both in Chinatown, and outside of it.

Overall, I know it seems odd, but I don’t have too much criticism for Gee Gong. The food is edible, and reasonably priced. It certainly is nothing special, but i wouldn’t complain if i had to eat here either. My issue is, as a hole in the wall, with no decor, and no real redeeming qualities other than the food, the food falls flat. It is bland, uninteresting, and I expect better. After all, when you’re not there for the service, or the decor, you better do a darn good job with the food. And they don’t.

Gee Gong on Urbanspoon