Tag Archives: Korean

Sinoinsocal? But You’re in NorCal…

Whenever I talk to someone about this blog, sometimes I’m asked why it’s called sinoinsocal. I mean, sure, I am Chinese but I certainly don’t live in Southern California. So what gives with this sort-of odd name?

Well let’s back track all the way back to 2011, a year and a half before I published my first post. As some of my readers know (and as it is outlined on my “about” page), my blog is dedicated in honor of my mom and it was in the fall of 2011 that my mom had a couple of severe strokes that precipitated to her passing in 2012. Because of her strokes, I immediately moved from Baltimore back to Southern California.

Pho Ga at Pho Nguyen Hue

Pho Ga at Pho Nguyen Hue

More specifically, I moved back to Irvine, where I graduated from college a couple years prior. It was during my time in college that I ate around Orange County amazingly diverse and large Asian communities. Whether it was some of the best pho I’ve ever had in Little Saigon or the most delicious bowls of beef noodle soup in Irvine’s various Taiwanese restaurants, eating Asian food in Orange County was such a delight.

But of course, most people’s vision of Orange County is something akin to what they have seen in the hit mid-2000s show “The OC” or the original version of The Real Housewives series set in the gated community of Coto de Caza. That is to say, the popular image is of rich white people with sun kissed skin, money for everything they want, and lots of time spent frolicking on the beach or shopping at high end malls. And while this kind of life is definitely representative of parts of Orange County, it’s really just a small portion of what, in reality, is one of the most diverse counties in the United States.

Dim sum at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine

Dim sum at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine

Orange County is home of the largest Vietnamese community in the United States with nearly 190,000 Vietnamese residents and strip mall after strip mall on streets like Bolsa and Brookhurst are filled with great specialists of specific Vietnamese dishes. Right next door is Garden Grove, with a large Korean community and some of the best Korean BBQ in Southern California. And just 15-20 minutes down the 405 or 5 (without traffic) is Irvine, where a huge Taiwanese community means there are multiple great places to get everything from Taiwanese fried chicken cutlets to bowls of lu rou fan. This doesn’t even include the large Persian and Latino communities in the county too.

So when I moved back to Southern California in the fall of 2011 to be closer to my mom, I wanted to showcase another side of Orange County, one filled with bowls of tasty pho instead of fake tans. Unfortunately, an opportunity to work a campaign for a now wonderful Congresswoman (and one of my best bosses ever) and my mom’s cardiac arrest and eventual passing meant I wouldn’t write a blog post until I lived in Denver.

Though with all those twists and turns (and 2 more moves later), I still think that more people should know about the wonderful Asian food that dots Orange County. Thankfully, a few other food writers with a more national audience has done that too. So before you head to Disneyland on your next trip, be sure to check out David Chan’s article and guide to Chinese food in Irvine or the Orange County Register’s guide to Little Saigon.

And if you want to know what are some of my favorite places in Orange County, here are a few below:

  • Broddard Restaurant – Great Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon
  • Cham Sut Gol – Wonderful Korean BBQ in Garden Grove
  • J Zhou Oriental Cuisine – The best dim sum in Orange County, almost rivaling those in the San Gabriel Valley
  • Pho Nguyen Hue – Some of the best chicken pho I’ve ever had
  • Yu’s Kitchen – Solid Taiwanese fair in Irvine
Tagged , , , ,

Dae Gee, Denver

Dae Gee
826 Colorado Blvd
Denver, CO 80206

When one wants to eat Korean food in Denver, one normally has to drive out to the suburbs to either Aurora or Westminster. Unfortunately for those who live in and around central Denver, that can be a hassle. Luckily, Dae Gee, which has its original location in Westminster, has brought the flavors of Korean food to Congress Park for the urbane folks inside city/county limits.

Since I happened to go to Denver for a conference a couple weeks ago, I got the chance to take a dinner break at Dae Gee’s Congress Park location before I headed back to Albuquerque. I took a friend along with me as well, who also happened to be a regular diner at this location.

The restaurant was pretty busy that night, but we were able to be seated immediately. We took a look at the menu, though my friend already knew what to order given his love of the restaurant’s mandu (Korean style dumplings). I debated over several items, like the Soon Doubu (Tofu Stew) and Galbi Tang (Beef Rib Noodle Soup) but opted instead for their bulgogi. After a little bit of waiting, the food came out piping hot and here were the results:

Mandu at Dae Gee

Mandu at Dae Gee

  • Mandu – These were indeed pretty good. Unlike most mandu I’ve had in the past, these were folded like Chinese potstickers or Japanese gyoza and stuffed with a delicious chicken filling. They were also friend perfectly with a nicely flavored soy sauce to dip in. I could see why my friend loved them!
Bulgogi & Banchan at Dae Gee

Bulgogi & Banchan at Dae Gee

  • Bulgogi – For the most part, the beef was marinated, seasoned, and grilled well. It came with slivers of some diced grilled vegetables which added nicely to the flavor. The lettuce and Korean style coleslaw to wrap the bulgogi in balanced the fattiness of the meat perfectly with the cut of vinegar from the coleslaw. However, some of the meat did not get much of the marinade and came out a little bland.
  • Banchan – The side dishes we had included Korean potato salad (which was okay since I don’t really like it much anyway); nappa cabbage and cucumber kimchi which was nice and refreshing though could have been slightly spicier; fried and baked fish cakes which were both really good and had nice textures; as well as steamed broccoli and mung bean sprouts.

All in all it was pretty good, albeit I wish they had an all you can eat barbecue option. They have that for their Westminster location, but are still waiting their permit by the City/County of Denver for this location. Service was pleasant and very nice despite the crowd in the restaurant that night.

So if you want to have a spectrum of authentic Korean dishes in Denver without having to traverse dozens of miles to Westminter or Aurora, pig out (as they say on the website) at Dae Gee.

Tagged ,

Asian Food In American Politics

When you walk up the stairs to the second floor dining room of the Hunan Dynasty restaurant in Washington DC, you will pass by a set of signed photos adorning the wall. No, these aren’t the actors and celebrities you might find at various longstanding and tired restaurants in New York or Los Angeles. These are, in a rather Washingtonian fashion, signed photos of various political figures in the United States, from both parties, including former First Lady Hillary Clinton. Now, it’s not the food that draws these throngs of politicians (the food is rather mediocre), but rather it’s their location, just a couple blocks from the Capitol building.

Given its convenient location, Hunan Dynasty has been richly rewarded, especially as members of Congress increasingly are in a cycle of perpetual fundraising. A search on Political Party Time, a website by the Sunlight Foundation to spotlight and create more transparency on Congressional fundraising, shows that Hunan Dynasty has been the location of at least 100 fundraisers since 2006. It’s an equal opportunity, bipartisan host of these prolific fundraisers as well, with events helping candidates across the spectrum, from liberal lion Senator Chuck Schumer of New York to socially conservative and failed Republican candidate for Missouri Senate, former Representative Todd Akin.

Combo of Dim Sum Plates by pchow98 https://flic.kr/p/8PiMC8

Combo of Dim Sum Plates by pchow98 https://flic.kr/p/8PiMC8

Now, Hunan Dynasty may be the Asian restaurant that has hosted the most number of political fundraisers, but it is certainly not the only restaurant to do so. In New Mexico, StreetFood Asia, a personal favorite restaurant of mine, was host to a fundraiser supporting the Senatorial bid of State Auditor Hector Balderas. In the Bay Area, Congresswoman Judy Chu had a fundraiser at Dynasty Seafood Restaurant in Cupertino, CA, co hosted by a number of Asian American leaders. However, all of these one-off political fundraisers at Asian restaurants pales in comparison the the volume of Asian food present in the events supporting Representative Adam Schiff of California. Schiff’s candidate committee hosts a semi-annual spectacular sushi luncheon, a semi-annual fundraiser featuring Korean barbeque, and even a fundraiser at Lunasia, which is often on lists as one of the top restaurants serving dim sum in Los Angeles. Now I don’t know why Schiff has a prolific number of fundraisers featuring various Asian food, though I suspect his district’s pre-2012 boundaries that included heavily Asian cities like Alhambra and Monterey Park and current district’s large Asian populations in areas like Glendale and Los Angeles’ Thai Town has something to do with it.

While I can only speculate on the reasons why Schiff continually has Asian food fundraisers, the growth of Asian American communities across the United States is increasingly influencing the elections and activities of political leaders across the country. Representative Loretta Sanchez, who represents a heavily Asian and Latino district in central Orange County, has regular visits to her large Vietnamese constituency. Further down in my hometown of San Diego, the competitive election in California’s 52nd Congressional District has brought dueling press conferences and statements by both candidates on who has greater support among the Asian American community in San Diego. However, the candidates aren’t reaching the broader Asian American community just by televised press conferences. In fact, Representative Scott Peters (who, for full disclosure, I support) has been seen campaigning by talking to voters during dim sum at Jasmine Seafood Restaurant and held his AAPI campaign kickoff at Pangea, a Taiwanese bakery in the heart of San Diego’s pan-Asian commercial corridor of Convoy Street.

Char Kway Teow at Street Food Asia

Char Kway Teow at Street Food Asia

In district events at Asian restaurants and other locations that serve Asian food aren’t the sole provenance of West Coast political figures or Democrats, however. This year’s heated race in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District in suburban DC to replace retiring Representative Frank Wolf is an example on how the large growth of Asian Americans is impacting politics across the country. Recently, NPR aired a story about the growing Asian community in Northern Virginia and how candidates Barbara Comstock and John Foust have purposefully outreached to Asian voters, including dueling Korean language ads. The Washington Post even reports on how Comstock has highlighted her attendance at the Punjabi Mela Festival and how the Republican National Convention hosted an event in support of her at Woo Lae Oak, a popular Korean restaurant in Tyson’s Corner. And Comstock is not the only Republican candidate the party has hosted Asian specific outreach events for. Just this year, the Republican Party has hosted an event at a Filipino restaurant for Ed Gillespie, their candidate for Virginia Senate, as well as an event with former Representative Joseph Cao in a Vietnamese restaurant around New Orleans.

While the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is not homogenous and has a diverse range of political beliefs, immigration status, socio-economic status, and other demographic factors, its growing size means that political candidates from city council to Congress are paying attention.

Tagged , , , , ,

Oegadgib, Annandale

Oegadgib
7331 Little River Turnpike
Annandale, VA 22003

For the second trip in a row, my plans to visit Kogiya, the latest Korean BBQ joint in the heavily Korean DC suburb of Annadale, were foiled. However, it worked out in the end as a tip from a friend and last minute organizing meant that my friends could dine with me at my tried and true Korean BBQ staple, Oegadgib. Prices there are reasonable for all you can eat Korean BBQ (at print, I believe it’s still less than $20 a person) and my previous trips provided good service, decent quality meats, and plentiful panchan.

After a friend and I did a small turnaround to find the difficult-to-locate restaurant, we got a table of 6 and waited for my other friends to arrive. After about 5-10 minutes they arrived too and we promptly got to our all you can eat Korean BBQ feast. Since it was a little late, most of us immediately started gorging on food as it arrived. Needless to say, I took only just a couple pictures. Regardless, here are some thoughts on most of the items that came to our table:

AYCE Korean BBQ at Oegadgib

AYCE Korean BBQ at Oegadgib

  • Kimchi – Oegadgib’s rendition is good, if not exactly different from most of its competitors. They did have both a napa cabbage and cucumber kimchi though. While I generally like the napa cabbage kimchi better, I like the cucumber one more at Oegadgib
  • Potato Salad – average, generic Korean potato salad, though I did like that it was mild and not overly acidic
  • Sauteed Spinach – admittedly, it’s just spinach that’s boiled and flavored slightly with a little garlic, but I just love this panchan as it works well to cut the fat of the meat when I eat it with rice
  • Tofu Soup – my friends LOVED the soup, which I can understand. I don’t think I have found another Korean BBQ place serving tofu soup in a pork broth and it’s a nice refreshing soup to balance the heavy meat
  • Steamed Egg – I love the steamed egg and I think it’s one of the best parts of eating at Oegadgib. Rarely have I seen this at other places and I find the steamed egg goes perfectly well with the panchan, meat, and rice around the table
  • Salad Greens With Dressing – along with the slices of pickled daikon, the salad greens (mainly leafy lettuce) works very well with the grilled meats. It dresses with meat with additional flavor and, along with the daikon, cuts the fat of the meat with a refreshing vinegary sour flavor
  • Thinly Sliced Beef Brisket – Now we get to the meat. For the thin beef slices, they were good though could use a little more seasoning
  • Pork Belly – A little leaner than I’m used to, but it was still delicious and worked especially well with the salad and pickled daikon
  • Beef Steak Cubes – Decent meat and worked well with the rice and the spinach. Nice and tender and was really flavored well with the juices of the brisket and pork belly

As for the service, pleasant and efficient, though maybe slightly less attentive than usual. The servers help you cook the meat, without being overbearing (like Honey Pig). The servers refill your panchan quickly as well as any water glasses. They did seem a little taken aback at first when none of us wanted any beverage aside from water, but it turned out fine.

All in all, not the best Korean BBQ I had, but pretty solid and definitely one of the best in the DC area. The great bonus was that I was able to introduce three of my friends to the wonders of Korean BBQ as well. I’m glad all of them seemed to enjoy their first taste of all you can eat meat deliciousness.

Tagged , ,

Manna, San Diego

Manna Korean BBQ
4228 Convoy Street R210
San Diego, CA 92111

When I was in Southern California a couple weeks ago to mourn the loss of my cousin, I had the opportunity to go down to San Diego and spend time with good friends. One of those friends had never had Korean barbecue before, much to the amazement of a mutual friend and myself. After several casual chats about going to an all-you-can-eat (AYCE) Korean barbecue place, I finally decided to gather my friends and consume an unhealthy amount of delicious grilled meat.

I had never been to Manna before, but it has be heralded as one of the best Korean restaurants in San Diego, so we had to go there. We went for a Sunday lunch, but luckily just before the crowds started rushing into the restaurant. While the policy of the restaurant is to only seat people when everyone in the party has arrived, the hostess sat my friend (who hadn’t had Korean barbecue before) and I a few minutes before our mutual friend arrived as she sensed the crowds rushing in soon.

Once we sat down, we were given a menu of multiple all-you-can-eat options, some with very fancy and interesting seafood options of up to $40 a person. Since we really only needed a basic, but good, introduction to Korean barbecue for my friend we opted for the cheapest all-you-can-eat option at $20 a person. We then selected our meats: bulgogi (marinated thinly sliced beef), thinly sliced brisket, pork belly, and galbi (marinated beef spareribs).

Manna

As we eagerly anticipated our plates of meat to grill, we were served with complimentary banchan (little snacks). These banchan included sauteed spinach, cucumber kimchi, napa cabbage kimchi, pickled daikon, mung bean noodle salad, potato salad, and marinated beans. Nearly all of the banchan were spectacular, with the mung bean noodle salad and spinach being particular favorites of our group. The salad they gave us was good as well, though may have needed some extra dressing.

After about 10 minutes or so, the meat started to arrive. First came the brisket and pork belly. The brisket was pretty good, and complimented very nicely to the sauce dip we had for it. The pork belly was decent as well, albeit could have used a little more seasoning, even after our group had already seasoned with a little salt and pepper. The bulgogi was wonderful, having a marinade that was succulent without being overwhelming. The galbi was fantastic and flavorful as well, with some parts just falling off the bone after we grilled it. Of course, there was so much meat that a hefty combined effort from the three of us still failed the finish all the meat as we ended with some uncooked bulgogi.

Thankfully, our servers did not judge our failure, but instead were rather pleasant and warm. They regularly filled our water carafes and helpfully turned the meat over the cook faster when we were busy shoveling already done pieces of meat into our mouth. They also pleasantly refilled several banchan plates and were even kind enough to offer a second grill top late in our lunch. Unfortunately, given that we were defeated in our attempt to eat all the meat, we politely declined the new grill top.

All in all, this was one of the best Korean barbecue experiences I have ever had. While it’s not quite the cheapest option around in the highly competitive Korean restaurant scene in Southern California, it is definitely a vanguard of quality for San Diego Korean barbecue joints. My friend had a great first time eating Korean barbecue and I was definitely happy to have taken him here instead of the cheaper places down the street.

Tagged ,

Gaza, West Lafayette

Gaza Korean Grill Restaurant
3457 Bethel Dr.
West Lafayette, IN 47906

Apologies in my lapse in road trip posts, as it has been a crazy month, not only driving cross country but settling back down in Albuquerque. However, we will resume my road trip with Gaza Korean Grill in West Lafayette, IN. (If you did not read my previous DC-Denver/Denver-San Diego road trip article, please see my posts on East Pearl in Rockville, MD and Everyday Noodles in Pittsburgh, PA)

The third leg of my road trip brought me to West Lafayette, IN, where I was staying with a friend for the night. Since my friend had never experienced eating Korean BBQ, but mentioned that there were several good Korean places in town, we decided to go eat at Gaza. Gaza had a bonus in that it was the only place in West Lafayette that had all-you-can-eat (AYCE) Korean BBQ. I didn’t know how much I’d be able to eat that night, but I was groomed to believe that AYCE was the ONLY way to eat Korean BBQ.

We entered the restaurant about 9PM, which was 30 minutes before their closing time though we had thought the restaurant closed at 10PM. The server politely seated us, but definitely rushed to place our order. We ordered the “Unlimited Set A” which came with 2 orders of beef, one order or pork, and one order of chicken. Since they were near closing they ran out of some marinated beef so we substituted with thin beef strips.

Gaza 1

After we ordered, the banchan came to our table, and they were plentiful. The banchan included napa cabbage kimchi, cucumber kimchi, steamed marinated broccoli, potato salad, seaweed salad, marinated beans, and our individual salads with sesame dressing. All of the banchan were pretty good and comparable to what I would find in Southern California.

Gaza 2

The cuts of meat came to our table about 5-10 minutes later, when our grill was heated up and buttered. We first grilled the large piece of galbi and the tiny strips of beef. Both my friend and I agreed that each cut was really good and well seasoned. I almost felt as if I were in Garden Grove. However, the pork and chicken were not as great. The chicken was marinated oddly and neither of us could tell quite what bothered us about the chicken. As to the pork, I liked it but my friend didn’t. However, for full disclosure my friend doesn’t really like pork much to begin with. Despite the pork and chicken dishes being underwhelming, we still had a very flavorful and full meal given that there was plenty of beef and banchan to eat. In fact, we could not finish their first plate of AYCE meat.

In terms of service, the servers and owner were fairly polite though they did seem a bit rushed to also get us eating and out the door. They refilled our waters very promptly, took away plates in a timely mannered, and did a couple of courtesy asks to see how we were doing. They did, however, presented us with the check before we were done eating, but that is partially our fault for coming into the establishment so late.

The killer, however, was the bill. It cost us each around $30, plus tax and tip, which was certainly steep given that some old menus online stated somewhere more around $15/person and I had not been used to paying more than $22/person for AYCE Korean BBQ. I certainly think the experience was still worth it, given the quality of the beef items and the banchan, but it was a sticker shock to both of us young professionals. All in all, it is definitely a nice place to eat good Korean food in West Lafayette, but I would probably stick to ordering a la carte.

Tagged , ,

Tong Tong, Colorado Springs

Tong Tong
2036 S. Academy Road
Colorado Springs, CO 80916

On Monday I was driving back from Albuquerque to Denver and craved something to eat for dinner. While I could have waited it out until I got back to Denver around 9PM, I decided to stop in a city I live so close to, but rarely visit: Colorado Springs.

I don’t know anything about the Asian food scene in Colorado Springs, so I called a good friend of mine to find a decent place for more to eat. After 10 minutes of fruitlessly searching for a decent Chinese restaurant, he directed me to Tong Tong which seemed like a good and authentic Korean restaurant. I exited I-25 and went north a couple miles on Academy, arriving at Tong Tong, which is located in an aging strip mall with Big Lots as its biggest draw.

Entering Tong Tong I was greeted warmly and ushered into a booth, the smallest table I could be seated in given the hustle and bustle of the restaurant at the time. I ordered the soondubu and fried mandu, two relatively inexpensive menu items I ate before, giving me a good baseline to judge against Korean restaurants I have eaten in Los Angeles and San Diego.

Image

The food was good, but not steller. The mandu was decently fried, but the filling was relatively bland. The soondubu had decent flavor, but did not have much seafood in it. They also cooked the egg directly in the stew, which I found a little odd given my experience cracking the egg myself into the stew if I wanted. I loved their selection of banchan, some of which were standard (kimchi), but others that seemed unique and interesting (fried peppers and fish balls). The cinnamon tea at the end, however, was excellent.

Going into service, it was a bit haphazard. The wait staff certainly tried, given that they only had three wait staff for a relatively packed restaurant. However, little things I expected at a Korean restaurant, like banchan being served immediated, were lacking. The banchan arrived at my table well after my mandu. Filling water also took a while, and I was not the only table that wanted a quicker refill. They did try to move as fast as they could, but clearly they could add wait staff.

All in all, the food was decent, especially given my low expectations in Colorado Springs, but the experience was only so-so. It would be a great place for residents in Colorado Springs to discover Korean food, but it certainly isn’t up to the quality of Koreatown or Garden Grove.

Tagged ,

Mother’s Day Tribute

As my brother and his girlfriend know, I originally wanted to start this a year ago with the idea of having a blog dedicated to Chinese food in Orange County and San Diego. Specifically, I wanted to focus on Orange County as it has a growing Chinese food scene with the explosive development of Chinese restaurants in Irvine and the rest of the 949. Given such an increase in quality Chinese food, but with a dearth of blogs covering it, as most of them focus on LA/San Gabriel Valley or San Diego.

However, I had several events in my life that pulled me away from the project. I got a job in New Mexico working to elect Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham. Then my mom had a cardiac arrest and eventually passed away in October. Finally, I moved to Denver to work for a nonprofit. Needless to say, a project focusing on the fabulous Chinese food of Orange County had to be shelved temporarily.

Now that I have settled down a little bit, I have decided to relaunch this blog as a tribute to my mom for mother’s day. My mom loved all types of Asian food, especially Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese and it would seem appropriate to write this blog on behalf of her memory.

Of course, now that I live in Denver we will have to shift the focus from Orange County to Asian places across the country that I have and will be eating at. A lot of the focus will be in Denver, where I live now, and Southern California, where I visit a few times a year. However, from time to time I’ll also write about the Asian food I have eaten in places where I lived before, like Baltimore, and visited, like New York City. I hope this will be a tribute that would make my mom proud.

Tagged , , , , , , ,