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

Simply Divine

Just look at that table. . . It’s waiting for you. But don’t let the austere presentation fool you. The simple place-setting gives no hint of what’s in store when you sit down. In fact, the table is a good metaphor for the whole restaurant. It is in the most unassuming of locations (an old Pizza Hut) on a street which usually does the opposite of excite me (May Avenue). But its out of the way location and bare-bones atmosphere are what they need to be and nothing more, turning your focus to what’s really important here: the food. And make no mistake, The Divine Swine is one of the most important and creative things happening in this city’s culinary scene.

Even the name is perfect in its simplicity. It tells you all you need to know, i.e. that this place specializes in pork. And of course you already know that pork is good. There is no meat more juicy, more flavorful, more layered in varying textures from tender meat, to buttery fat and crispy skin. Has there ever been a nobler ingredient around which to theme a restaurant? Out of the infinite number of things you can do with this meat, and I’m willing to bet The Divine Swine covers quite a few you hadn’t thought of.

Take brunch, the meal I was lucky enough to have with my parents at this Mecca of pork. We don’t often associate the stuff with breakfast (aside from bacon and the ham in eggs benedict, but those are just a given, aren’t they?). But this menu does not shy away from boldly going where no bacon has gone before. Just one example is the Candied Bacon French Toast ($8.00), proof of the time-honored truth that bacon really does make everything better.

In addition to the breakfast items served on the Sunday brunch menu, they have what would be your standard lunch fare of sandwiches and salads, but with pork. They have a Ground Pork Burger ($8.00, with bacon, blue cheese and red onion jam, naturally), a Pulled Pork Sandwich ($8.00), even Honey-Glazed Ribs ($6.00). Mom enjoyed the Chef’s Salad ($8.00), which the menu claims changes from week to week, containing on this particular occasion very thick-cut slices of bacon. Dad got the Chicken Sandwich, the menu’s concession to the fact that it’s not a perfect world, and not everyone is in the mood for pork all the time (though they do manage to slip some bacon mayo in there, at least!).

Really, it makes everything better.

As to what your humble food-blogger ordered, how could I resist something called The Whole Hog? Yes, this dish is the ultimate expression of this place’s genius; made up of sausage, bacon, ham, biscuits (mhmm) with pork gravy (that’s pork four ways!), all with a side of eggs and potatoes. It’s everything it sounds like: decadent, filling and, above all, delicious. The bacon and sausage are still sizzling in their own tasty fat, cooked perfectly crispy around the edges while still retaining their juiciness. Perhaps my favorite cut of meat was the ham; thick, pink slices of that pure, concentrated pork flavor I love. The biscuits are like cake, fluffy and thick, drizzled with gravy made from that same rich pork.

The Whole Hog

How about dessert after brunch? Why not! You only live once. Even if the candied bacon french toast was your entree, the desserts here are so phenomenal they’re worth the sugar crash later. I present as my evidence the Candied Bacon Sticky Buns. I think that’s worth repeating: Candied Bacon Sticky Buns. Just try to think about that for a moment without falling into a salivating reverie.

Unfortunately, they were sold out of the sticky buns by the time we were ready to order them, but we can’t say we weren’t warned! The sticky buns go fast, so the restaurant encourages you to order early. But the dessert we had, the Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta with blood oranges, was not at all a let-down. For those unfamiliar, it’s a wobbly, gelatin-based custard served chilled, usually with some sort of sweet sauce. After trying The Divine Swine’s version, I completely forgot about the disappointment of missing out on the sticky buns. There’s no bacon involved and it’s one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. Yes, ever. Pairing the typically light panna cotta with the richness of creme fraiche (the slightly more curdled, more cheese-like cousin of whipped cream) is a smart take on the dessert. And with a tart blood orange to contrast the sweetness, every precious, creamy bite is a perfectly balanced finish to a heavy meal.

Panna Cotta da Vida

From the savory to the sweet, the bacon to the creme fraiche, this place is truly an experience; providing one of those absolutely sensual meals we foodies can only hope to find very rarely. The food isn’t “fancy,” but it is definitely on the level of gourmet in its creative use of ingredients and its richness of flavors. And did you notice the prices? The Whole Hog is probably the best-spent $10 in town, and almost every other entree is cheaper than that. I would argue nowhere else in town offers food this good for anything close to the same value. Chef and owner Josh Valentine has done something very special for the city, providing a stripped-down, concentrated dining experience; a celebration not just of one ingredient, but of all the different and wonderful things that can be done with it. My hat is off to all involved, for creating something so exciting in an unexpected place, and for the proof that food can be something close to divine.

*Follow The Divine Swine on Twitter and Facebook for opening hours.

Divine Swine on Urbanspoon