Monday, July 4, 2016

Korean Pizza (Mr. Pizza Franchise) + Tartine Pie (Itaewon)

Before heading to Itaewon, we decided to stop by Mr. Pizza, one of the Korean pizza franchises that sells your not so typical pizzas. By far, this is the strangest pizza menu I've seen that really makes me treasure and miss the classic New York slice. The pizzas come in different sizes, usually 8" or 10" and have toppings such as beef, shrimp, potato, corn,  etc. I mean really, why settle for something that looks like your typical pizza when you can have the Korean slice? We took up this challenge and ordered this pie with avocado, shrimp, peppers, raw onions (yes, i meant raw onions, not just onions), olives, and then the other side was the same except there was bulgogi instead of shrimp. Imagine going up to a Domino's in the States and ordering that. What a mouthful. You thought the list of toppings was already too many choices? We haven't even started on the crusts. Oh boy. Korean pizzas sure love their sweetened variety. There's the original crust of course, and more--they have a cheese cap crust (stuffed with cheese), no edge (no crust), cream cheese, gold (stuffed with sweet potato), and hash brown. These sound decent, right? But wait, if you don't want a savory crust, you can always opt for dessert on the rim of your pizza. Mr. Pizza now also offers an egg tart crust AND a banana mousse crust. Talk about food experimenting! Dipping sauces for the crust are also offered on the side if you wish, such as blueberry, cream cheese, etc. Don't get me wrong, I admire Korean pizza chains for their creativity and food experimentations, but this pie was not my personal preference. The crust was rather soggy because there was just too much topping weighing it down, which explains why you eat it with a fork and knife. The original crust was too hard. The toppings themselves were good on its own, just on a pizza together was a strange combination. The onions were also too raw.
Moving on to Itaewon, we stopped by Tartine Pie, which made its cameo appearance on Running Man, when Yoo Jaesuk was doing a mission by the outside staggered blue benches right outside this place. The Itaewon branch actually has 2 stores directly across from each other, one with actual dining and meals too while the other is more of a cafe with the pies, and drinks. We opted to go for the cafe instead, since the Korean pizza had us pretty full from carbs.
I ordered an early gray cream pie and a blue lemonade. My friend ordered the pecan pie and the iced tea of the day. The earl gray pie was light, the filling was the consistency of a cream puff filling. The crust was buttery and decadent. The blue lemonade was refreshing. It was also carbonated as most "-ades" are here in Korea.

Traditional Korean Cuisine (Sanneri 산내리 at Insadong)

We wanted to get the traditional Korean food experience, with many side dishes and more authentic flavors. The restaurant we stopped by was called Sanneri (산내리). The path to get here was confusing, once again because Google Maps failed to show us where all the hidden alley ways were. It was a constant trial-and-error to figure out where we could turn, and where we couldn't turn.
Once we were inside, we were given a menu with varying set courses, and a smaller section int he back if you preferred to order only one main dish. The set we bought cost 44,000 won per person.
We started off with pumpkin soup. The soup was not overly thick like Western soups, but rather thinner and had a more mild flavor. It was sweet, but the natural pumpkin flavor was still there.
The fruit and lettuce salad was light and refreshing, much better than I expected it to be. The clementines were sweet and balanced out the citrusy salad dressing. The sliced almonds added a rich nuttiness and great texture.
There were three types of pancakes. There is vinegar soy sauce mixture on the side for dipping sauce. Two were savory--a corn fritter and the other was a chives pancake. The purple one was filled with red bean paste.
White kimchi and a mung bean jelly salad was served along with the first round of appetizers. The mung bean jelly was pretty good. I expected it to taste really bland, but it was similar to eating noodles, except it broke off easier--it was topped with sesame seeds, and egg and pepper garnishes.
The first star of the course was a beautiful plate or raw seafood. I'm not sure what the white fish was, but the fish on the right was obviously salmon. There were 3 slices of each fish sitting on a rounded stone. The pop of color from the flower, greens, and lemon really highlighted the dish. The white fish was tougher than it looked and had more of a bite to it. The salmon was heavenly. It was tender and melted in your mouth. I chose to dip my fish in the Korean vinegary chili paste dipping sauce since I'm not a fan of wasabi. The sauce helped balance out the strong taste of the white fish, but the salmon didn't need it at all because it tasted so fresh.
Round 1 of the course meal was finally over. We were served a light and savory chive soup. There were bits of traditional Korean flower buds gathered at the bottom of the soup. I suspect an anchovy base, because there was a hint of seafood flavor in the broth along with a subtle spiciness. It was a nice palate cleanser for the next round. The soup would be a perfect compliment to toss in a boiled bundle of noodles.
The 2nd round of food came with heavier dishes. One of them being this seasoned raw beef (beef tartar/육회 yukhoe). Usually, I see this served with a raw egg yolk on top, but this one was served with julienned Korean pear, a sliver of jujube and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Raw beef takes a while to get used to, but once you overcome the texture, the taste itself is pretty good. The sesame oil in the marinade perfumes the beef as you chew.
Another dish was this sweet and spicy fried eel is similar to sweet and sour pork, but it has a stronger spicy kick. The eel was still surprisingly crunchy despite the heavy coating of the sauce. The dish also had chunks of bell peppers.
This 8 treasures dish was definitely another scene stealer with its vibrant colors and plating. The vegetables individually were barely seasoned, and the thin crepe in the center wasn't seasoned either. The key is the mustard/soy sauce dipping sauce on the side that elevates the flavors of each ingredient, creating the perfect bite wrapped up in the thin crepe. The "treasures" included shiitake mushrooms, white egg, yellow egg yolk, burdock, cucumbers, carrots, potato, and fish cake.
Finally, the one dish that jolted me out of my entranced state of amazement and constant moans of pure bliss. Once again, the plating was beautiful, but for me, this dish just didn't make sense. It was composed of assorted dried fruit chips stacked on broccoli and coated in a sweet fruity glaze. The broccoli didn't really go well with the sauce, nor did the dried fruit. The texture of the dried fruit that was partially rehydrated didn't work for me.
This on the other hand, is one of the more common dishes outside of a luxury traditional food setting. It was a spicy stir friend squid with vegetables such as onion, and broccoli. The squid was perfectly cooked, not rubbery at all. And it definitely didn't have the strong seafood odor that could be a bit too overpowering sometimes. The squid was sweet at first, but then the spice kicks in as you chew for a bit. I enjoyed the dish.
Another classic--braised short ribs. The perfectly succulent chunk of meat that soaked in all of the yummy rich seasoned soy sauce. The sauce was amazing--you could tell immediately that it was simmered for a long time because the sweetness from onions, fruit, garlic, etc, were all completely infused into the soy sauce. I could throw in a few spoonfuls of rice and eat it with the sauce alone, and that would be more than enough. In Korean, it would be literally called a "rice-stealer."
This soy sauce marinated raw shrimp is another dish where the sauce itself is just so incredibly delicious. The taste of seafood lingers in the soy sauce. But personally, I'm not a fan of raw shrimp because it does get a bit too slimy for me since the flesh is thicker. I prefer the soy sauce marinated raw crab instead.
After all of the small, yet really filling dishes, both of us were getting really full, yet the waitress continued to bring out more food, such as this well fermented soybean paste stew and the scorched rice soup. The soybean paste soup was really strong, but really tasty. I'm not a fan of scorched rice drinks, but I tried to drain most of the liquid from the rice and dumped it into the stew instead. That was perfect because the rice itself was bland, so it balanced out the concentrated stew. On it's own, the stew is a hearty comfort meal that warms you up.
Lastly, we ended our long meal with some watermelon and plum tea. Both of us left, feeling really full, but completely satisfied with our traditional Korean meal.