Dong-A Style

“Unlike almost every other food culture, the Koreans seem to have f****ed up their food the least.” – Anthony Bourdain

Who's that handsome guy?

Who’s that handsome guy?

Well said, Tony. It’s true. It would seem that nothing is sacred in the world of food once it hits our shores. Our so-called “Chinese” cuisine has birthed things as perverse as egg rolls and fortune cookies. Tim Ferris (another of my spirit animals) points out in The 4 Hour Chef that chains in China have had big success selling “California beef noodles.” You know the Japanese were probably scratching their heads at “California rolls.” We’ve even managed to Americanize something as humble as traditional Mexican food. Was the world really made a better place by the invention of the chimichanga?

Crouching Kimchi, Hidden Rice

Crouching Kimchi, Hidden Rice

Korean food is served in America without alteration. They have not dumbed down their complex, spicy flavor profiles for our vulgar palates. Kimchi, their famous fermented cabbage? Sure. Drink-able sweet potato? Why not. Beef intestine stew? It’s all there. If you’ve eaten Korean food in this country, it’s very likely you would find the same things in any Korean home. And if you haven’t ever eaten it, you’re about to find out that living near an air force base has its perks.

Meet Anastasia: Native of Seoul, good friend, and hairdresser extraordinaire.

I’m lucky to know Anastasia, and especially lucky that she knows her way around Korean food. As luck would have it, Tinker Air Force Base and its surrounding hamlets (Midwest City, Del City, Moore) which straddle Oklahoma city are a hotbed of Korean cuisine. Anastasia’s favorite place (and now mine) is Dong-A in Moore, a short journey down I-35 from Oklahoma City. The restaurant is located in a strip-center next to an other-worldly Korean grocery store which carries colorful, indecipherable packages of things like squid jerky and cylindrical rice dumplings. The whole things smacks of the kind of authenticity you’d expect from a side-street in Seoul.

Spicy Kimchi Stew

Spicy Kimchi Stew

Together with our friends Louden and Igor, we trekked South for an enormous, unforgettable meal. Anastasia conversed with the restaurant’s Korean owners and got us a seat in the barbecue room. Cordoned off from the larger dining room, this chamber of secrets is like having your own private kitchen for the evening. Each table has a built in grill which allows you to––you guessed it––cook your own food. And by food (and this is the best part), I mean meat.

A meal for 4???

A meal for 4???

We had only a small sampling of what the menu has to offer, but the three meat dishes alone probably could have fed the whole Romney family, sister-wives included. Before our beef-stravaganza we had pork belly, the fatty king of all the meats. Brought to the table raw and seared on our personal grill with garlic and a menagerie of side-dishes, the sweet meat allowed us to taste the whole spectrum of Korean flavors. You could try the meat on its own, or add a little bite of spicy vinegar lettuce. Or maybe you’d prefer kimchi, bean sprouts, or a little dip into sesame oil and chili paste. The whole idea is to mix and match and try new combinations, all of which are add new strong flavors and textures.

Pork

Step 1

2

Step 2

Following on the heels of the pork was Bulgogi, Korea’s quintessential marinated beef. Sweet and rich like teriyaki, the beef was nicely complimented by the salty sesame and the tang of kimchi.

Bulgogi. A little rare for my taste.

Bulgogi. A little rare for my taste.

Finally there was Galbi: one beef to rule them all. These are the short ribs, bone in, which allow you to gleefully tear at the meat with your hands (that is, if you enjoy eating like a savage as much as I do). Marinated in soy before we grilled it, this was definitely the meat with the most flavor, even if eating it required a little more fortitude.

She's a beef stylist too.

Watch out, she uses scissors for more than styling your hair.

To say Korean food is “different” is a massive understatement. I mean, where else do you get to use scissors as a utensil? It is indeed un-f***ed up, offering meat dangling with tasty fat and fermented vegetables pungent and spicy enough to make your hair stand on end. This is not food for wimps. But it is a seriously distinct cuisine, like Vietnamese or Indian, which developed its own way of using ingredients and spices. Dong-A is as good as it gets in the Oklahoma City area, offering a fabulous menu beyond what you grill yourself. Not only that, the portions are huge, and everything comes with the obligatory Korean side dishes, all for very reasonable prices (think <;$10 per person).

So if you’re not squeamish about raw meat (why are you reading this?) and you want to try something totally, unapologetically unique, then take the drive down to Moore. I promise there’s nothing else like it.

IMG_0544

Dong-A is open Tuesday-Sunday for Lunch and Dinner.

Dong A Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Fung for All

“There’s no better Chinese food in this city.” So said our waiter on our second visit to Fung’s Kitchen this week, and I’m inclined to agree with him. As my (perhaps limited) experience with Chinese food goes, I’ve had nothing that quite compares to the variety and uniqueness of the flavors on their menu.

The subject of my first review on this blog, Golden Phoenix (which I was very sad to find out closed due to a fire), was an Asian restaurant that dabbled in everything on its enormous menu: a little Vietnamese, a little Chinese, even some of the same dishes that Fung’s offers. In fact, Golden Phoenix is just a few blocks south of Fung’s in Oklahoma City’s bustling “Asian District.” But those are the only comparison to be drawn. Fung’s is all Chinese. Any question of its authenticity can be settled by looking at its menu. And by that I mean the Chinese menu.

Yes, I found out by a happy accident that Fung’s actually carries two different dinner menus. One is marked with a little “A”, which I assume must stand for “American,” and which they must give to people that don’t quite look, er. . . local. It offers all of the Chinese food you’ve probably heard of before: spring rolls, sweet and sour chicken, moo goo gai pan, even the dreaded egg roll. All I can say is don’t waste your time with that. Ask for the “other” menu and buckle up, because it’s impossible not to try something new and interesting.

On all of my visits, the place has been mostly full, and my good friends (Sophie and Grace) and I have definitely been in the minority of caucasians. It’s easy to see why; When you open the massive Chinese menu you’ll see every dish printed first in Chinese characters, and upon reading the English translation, realize that almost every one is something we have simply never heard of in this country. Take the Frogs Legs in Salt & Hot Black Pepper ($12.95), or the Duck Tongues in Salt & Hot Pepper ($12.95); good luck finding those at P.F. Chang’s. The revelation of this place, something which I’ve never experienced in this or any other American city, is that they actually serve food that people eat in China. Imagine that! So if you feel a little lost in this territory, bring a Chinese friend. Don’t have one? Make friends with one of the waiters!

I’m not kidding about that last part. We had the same waiter (named Ray) on both of our visits, and he was extremely helpful in taking us through the menu. But I’ll go chronologically here, and say that on our first night we knew nothing and decided to play it safe with familiar protein and veggies. Grace and I (both on diets, as fate would have it), after perusing the multitude of meat and seafood options, decided to share three dishes: half of a Roast Duck, Barbecue Pork, and Chinese Broccoli. You know it’s a good sign when the person taking your order says “oh good!” with genuine enthusiasm (this in response to the Chinese Broccoli). And I must say, he had reason to be pleased with our choices.

Duck, Duck, Goose!

To start, Chinese Broccoli ($9.25) is absolutely nothing like broccoli broccoli, making me wonder why it’s so named. Cooked in garlic and butter (or oyster sauce, your choice), The vegetable is dark green, soft and leafy, but with crunchy stems and a slight touch of bitter; something between bok choy and spinach. It was also maddeningly delicious, which is an achievement since, after all, we’re talking about a vegetable here.

Not Broccoli Broccoli

The Barbecue Pork ($7.50) was one of many “Chinese Barbecue” items on the menu. For those who have never had it, it’s not the smoky, cancerous Barbecue we’re used to (and don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff), but simply roasted until crispy on the outside with a sweet glaze. The pork is still tender on the inside, with a lot of flavor under a crackling, red, caramelized surface. I would also highly recommend the Pork Belly with Preserved Vegetables ($8.95)

Heeere Piggy!

But the real show-stopper here, what I’ve started identifying as “the reason to come back,” is the Roast Duck (half, $9.95). If there’s any question in your mind about what good fat tastes like, let this duck be your answer. When you walk into the restaurant you can see it displayed proudly in the middle of the room, glistening as it beckons to you in its glass case. After watching a gentlemen come out from the kitchen and hack it with a cleaver behind the glass, you’ll be able to enjoy the layers with soft fat and that tasty, gamey meat all encased in that crisp, golden skin. Sure, it may be a little difficult to eat as you have to extricate the edible parts from shards of bone, but every precious bit is worth it.

Everything but the Tongue

We were also persuaded to try the Fresh Shrimp Wonton Soup ($5.75). An absolutely huge bowl for the price, the soup is rich warm broth with dozens of shrimp dumplings happily bobbing on the surface.

I Want Wontons

On our second night Ray made a couple of recommendations, including changing our vegetable to Snow Pea Tips, claiming “they’re better than Chinese broccoli” (he was right). But ok, here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: I asked Ray about the Pig Intestines ($8.25), to which he replied “They’re my favorite! But try the deep fried ones.”

Intestinal Fortitude

I came, I saw, I tasted. And believe it or not, I didn’t regret it. Intestines are pretty tasty. That’s not to say they’re for everyone, as they definitely have a distinct, musky, animal taste that I could only take in small doses. But served sliced with a spicy sauce, cooked crispy on one side, left soft (tissue-y?) on the other, they were definitely rich and interesting, if not a little overpowering.

So, where do I go from intestines? Not anywhere, as it turned out that night, because this food will fill you up. Four dishes split between three people is more than enough here. Three would probably do it (two meats and the vegetable). Taking that into account, did you notice the prices? You can get half a duck for less than $10! Not to mention some of the best-prepared pork you’ve ever had for even less. So if you come with friends, you’re looking at about $8-9 per person, which for exotic, fun food from a faraway land is pretty incredible. They also bring out rice with the meal, in addition to complimentary orange wedges and the obligatory fortune cookies before you leave.

Orange you happy you read this far down?

Whether you’re an adventurous daredevil, or just want a good, hearty meal, Fung’s Kitchen may just change your conception of Chinese food and become a new favorite. It’s definitely become one of mine. Maybe next time I’ll try the duck tongues.

*Fung’s Kitchen is open daily for lunch and dinner, as well as Dim Sum starting at 10 am Saturdays and Sundays. A very good Dim Sum at that (I would highly recommend the Shrimp Dumplings and Barbecue Pork Buns).

Fung's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Hungry For Some Phoenix

From EatingOklahoma

On our first adventure last night, we decided to have a traditional Vietnamese meal at Oklahoma City’s wonderful “Golden Phoenix.” There were a few reasons for this:

  1. We had just watched Anthony Bourdain (one of my personal heroes) bad-assing through Vietnam on “No Reservations” and got inspired.
  2. Danny’s the only one in our group with any family ties, knowledge, or language experience in another culture, which happens to be Vietnam.
  3. Oklahoma’s Vietnamese food is the real deal.

Seriously, the “Asian District” in Oklahoma City has more pho, banh mi, and dim sum restaurants than we’d ever be able to blog about if we devoted a whole year just to them. And in the center of all these restaurants is the Super Cao Nguyen, the Asian supermarket to end all supermarkets, packed with ingredients and products most of us have never heard of. So if we’re going to find authentic cuisine in Oklahoma City, this seems like a good place to start. This square mile in the heart of the city probably has the largest concentration of any foreign culture (on the northside at least, stay tuned), and lucky for us, they brought their cuisine with them.

So, Golden Phoenix. This is not your typical watered-down for the American palette egg-roll and sweet-and-sour sauce Asian food with which most of us are familiar. This is authentic stuff you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else but Vietnam. A menu with 300 items? Sure. They’ve got everything ranging from the tame (beef noodle soup), to the really exotic (congealed blood, anyone?). So to begin, we searched through the menu for something veggie-friendly (for Otis and Shelby), something freaky (for me), and things that Danny happens to know are good from growing up eating them.

First thing I tried was the “Crispy Pork Bean Curd Hot Pot.” ($9.95) The “Hot Pot” it’s served in is exactly what it sounds like: a hot iron pot which keeps the food warm through the whole meal. Good idea! In retrospect, I don’t know if this was the best place to start because it was the best part of the meal for me. It was a mysterious bowl of tofu, pork bits and herbs all mixed into a sweet brown sauce. It also has the added fun of being a treasure hunt for the precious pieces of pork skin, little fat-lined curls which I described as “football textured,” and I mean that in the best way possible.

Hot Pot

Next was the vegetarian dish, “Crispy Yellow Egg Noodle Topped with Stir Fried Vegetable and Tofu.” ($8.95) I’m not one for vegetarian dishes, but this was actually fantastic. Great texture between the soft tofu and the little crispy dry noodles, and the bok choy had a wonderful crunch and flavor.

Vegetarian

Now here’s the dish I was most looking forward to, the not-for-the-faint-of-heart, startlingly authentic “Spicy Beef Noodle Soup from Hue with Beef, Pork Bologna, and Thick Round Rice Noodle.” ($6.50) I carefully composed my picture of it to show the congealed beef blood in the lower left-hand foreground. Yes, that’s what that is, and yes, Otis and I both ate it. To be honest, the blood didn’t have a lot of flavor on its own. The soup is a thick, spicy, complex broth that tastes like nothing else I had. I want to compare it to Pho, and I’m sure it comes from a similar beef stock, but there’s a lot more going on. It’s almost like perfume in its intensity. Dig more through the soup and you find a big chunk of beef attached to two disc-shaped bones (don’t ask me which part of the cow it is, I never found out). It was a challenge to tear the meat from the bone with only chopsticks and a spoon, but it was well worth it. It was a wonderfully tender cut of beef with thick layers of fat. Best part is, the fat was not at all gummy or hard to chew, it melted in your mouth. Sound gross? Then stick to Panda Express.

Blood Soup!

We finished with something a bit lighter (though it doesn’t sound like it), the “Yellow Egg Noodle Supreme with Shrimp, Pork, Crabmeat, and Squid.” I’m sure when this blog is translated into German there will be one specific word to describe that, but in the meantime, sorry for the wordiness. It was a broth-y mix of seafood that was just different enough from everything else we’d had; a nice, warm palette cleanser after all the sound and the fury of the spicy blood-and-bone soup.

Supreme Seafood Noodles

To top it all off, we had coconut milk right out of a coconut. And just a warning kids, it does not taste like coconut-flavored candy or shaved coconut. It’s a cloudy, watery liquid with a strange, musky taste with just a hint of the “coconut” flavor we’re all familiar with. I didn’t think it was delicious, but there’s pleasure to be found in tasting something that is totally unrecognizable and unique.

Coconut

So is Golden Phoenix worth the trip? Definitely. When you’re in this place, eating this food, surrounded by the almost exclusively Asian customers from the neighborhood, you feel as if you’ve left Oklahoma City. In addition to the food, the atmosphere feels authentic: nicer-than-you’d-expect decor, juxtaposed with tanks of live fish and a window displaying whole roast ducks and chickens. And the best part is, have you been paying attention to the prices? The four of us had more food than we possibly would have been able to eat, and it was all for under $40.00. Is there anywhere else in town where you can have exotic food from halfway across the world for less than $10 per person? We shall soon find out!

*Golden Phoenix is open daily for lunch and dinner.

Golden Phoenix on Urbanspoon