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

Let’s Go Pubbing

A cold front blew in last night. Sunny Oklahoma skies turned grey within an hour, and by nightfall, snow was beginning to swirl around the quiet streets. Sounds like perfect pub weather to me!

Yes. Yes they do.

We all need a cozy little spot to escape to when the weather (or things in general) aren’t so great. Sean Cumming’s Pub in Oklahoma City goes beyond cozy. It’s the kind of place that could easily become your local haunt (it was basically mine and Cornelia’s). Give it a few years, and we’ll probably refer to it as “an institution.” Nowhere else in the city (or the US, as far as I know) evokes so accurately the vibe of a real pub. Having been to quite a few in England in the past month, I can vouch for its authenticity.

Our Cozy Corner

The first thing you’ll notice, on certain nights, is the musician(s) playing right inside the front door. Sean gets different live music acts for almost every day of the week, most of them guitarists who sing traditional celtic tunes, and sometimes get the whole pub singing old bar songs. The music’s warm lilt will make you feel right at home (except for my girlfriend when they bring out the anti-crown IRA type songs). The place is small, dimly lit, sealed off from the outside world with maroon curtains, and adorned with an eclectic clutter of frames on every wall, mostly cute old Guinness ads and family photos (genuinely Sean’s family, most of them priests). It’s the perfect, home-y setting for some warm comfort food.

And Music Too!

And how about the food? I can’t drink (the magnificent Guinness served on tap), so there must be something to it that keeps me coming back. To start, they bring out some soda bread and butter as soon as you sit down. It’s a soft, thick, mealy bread that’s only slightly sweet, though Sean serves two different kinds including one with raisins. With some creamy butter to counter the dryness, the bread is a great way to settle in and wet your appetite.

Soda Bread

As for the menu, it’s mostly very traditional pub fare. There’s the obligatory Fish & Chips, crispy and delicious with malt vinegar, Bangers and Mash (that’s a very flavorful link sausage called a “banger” served with mashed potatoes), meat pies, and a whole array of sandwiches. For those really cold nights, though, nothing warms you up from the inside like their Shepherd’s Pie. Under a mountain of melted cheese and mashed potatoes is a hot, broth-y mix of beef and vegetables, delicately seasoned and roasted so soft it almost melts in your mouth. It is, in a word, perfect.

But on this most recent trip I got my old go-to. Probably the dish most exotic for our American palettes, and with the most meat (surprise, right?), the Irish Breakfast. It’s a plate heaped with protein: the aforementioned banger, two slices of grilled pork loin, two fried eggs, black (read: blood) and white puddings, and a halved grilled tomato. The banger is thick and super juicy with the most animal flavor. The pork loins are a little more dry, but delicious when they happen to get dipped in a little egg yolk. The puddings, though, are my favorite. The delicious taste of congealed blood with the timeless preparation of pudding? What could be better? White pudding is the same thing, basically oatmeal and ground meat, but without the blood. Though I vastly prefer anything with blood, they’re both the heaviest part of the dish, and it’s interesting to go back and forth between them. The tomato is a nice note to finish on, its tartness a nice contrast to the rich, sweet meats.

This'll break your fast all right

For those less carnivorously inclined, my Dad got the club sandwich on this trip, which is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. They pile it high with fresh-made bacon and serve it with a side of their thick-cut chips.

The Club

What can I say? Sean’s is the real deal. Filling, hearty food in an authentically comfortable atmosphere. It even has non-American “football” on the TV! If you’re looking for a lively place to get away to and have a beer, or just a good meal, Sean Cumming’s should be a spot you go back to again and again. I know I will.

*Sean Cumming’s is open every night. Over 21 only after 10 p.m. on weekends.

Sean Cummings' Irish Restaurant & Pub 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