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Thinking Outside the Box and Eating Inside One

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Hey, everybody!  Well, it has been another long and arduous week at work, so I was definitely looking forward to my friends’, Lauren and Kevin, birthday party at Charcoalo, a somewhat secret barbecue joint in Apgujeong.  Here is their address:  642-12 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu.  It’s a bit complicated to explain how to get there, so I won’t bore you with the details.  The closest two stations are either Apgujeong or Gangnam-gu Office.  Just let Google Maps lead the way for you.  After navigating our way there, we were greeted with a large, red corrugated metal that almost seemed to glow like some sort of Polaris for barbecue lovers all over Korea.  I knew I came to the right place when I saw the window in the front let you watch the cooks in action while they slapped large slabs of steak and ribs on the sizzling stove tops.  Culinary poetry in motion.IMG_1110

Upon entering the establishment, it was definitely different than what I was expecting when I read that the restaurant was inside an industrial shipping container.  Instead of being greeted by a dank and dark interior where I would have expected to be tortured by members of the Korean mafia, it was a warmly lit dining room with an industrial edge in terms of decor.

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

Meropi obviously had a great time

Meropi obviously had a great time

It even had skylights cut in the ceiling which would be a blessing and a curse on a sunny day since I could see the rays of light possibly blinding some unlucky customers.  Giving the menu a once over, I could see that Charcoalo isn’t the cheapest barbecue eatery I’ve been to.  Case and point, a bottle of Cass Korean beer that’s normally 2-3 bucks was 7 bucks.  The menu contained different types of burgers, ribs (44,000 W for a rack), steaks, pizzas, and sides to go along with your main meal.  I went for the bacon cheeseburger set (16,000 W) which meant I got a side of fries and a soda (Coke, Sprite, Diet Coke, or Welch’s Grape).  I picked the last one since I needed something sweet after quite a bitter day with one of my coteachers.  When it came out, I was very excited due to its exquisite appearance and my gnawing hunger pains.IMG_1111

Almost everyone else at my table got double cheeseburgers, but they were kind of crestfallen once they saw the meaty masterpiece towering above my fries.

Sad Heidi is sad

Sad Heidi is sad

First, I’d like to say that this burger wasn’t the easiest thing to eat since you’d have to be a reticulated python to be able to take an adequate bite.

Now that's a burger

Now that’s a burger

It was piled high with a thick beef patty, mayo, ketchup, lettuce, cheese, tomato, semi-crispy bacon, and some additional pickled jalapenos, onions, and roasted garlic cloves that came on the side.  So, I was taking small bites, and each one was a small step towards to the center of this cheeseburger in paradise.  Still, the buns should have been bigger in order to accommodate the plethora of ingredients because there was definite slippage as the mayo caused the patty to sneak out the back of the burger.  Overall, it was a great cheeseburger without any surprises like at Burger Bay, and the french fries were superb.  They were crispy, golden-brown sticks of heaven, but I wish they were a bit bigger to grab with my fingers.  I’m not a big fan of the slightly-enlarged shoestring potato type of French fries.  Maybe these are more common in Korea because Koreans are afraid to eat with their hands.  Who knows?

So if you’re looking for quality barbecue and are willing to spend a little bit more to get it or just want a masterfully crafted burger, check out Charcoalo.

Cuckoo for Coco Ichiban

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  I just finished my recording for my open class observation, and I am so happy that it’s finally over.  Therefore, I saw it fit to celebrate with trying a new restaurant that specializes in spicy curries.  I’m talking about Coco Ichiban which started in Japan, but now has locations in Korea, Taiwan, China, and even the USA.  I went to the location in Gangnam which was an adventure just trying to find it.  First off, it seems that no bloggers can accurately give directions on where this place is, and second off, Coco Ichiban’s directions are wrong for the Gangnam location even on their own website.  So I’m here to set the record straight.  You go to Gangnam station and come out exit 11.  Go straight, and you will pass one street on your right.  Keep going straight until you see the Paris Baguette on your right hand side at the second street, make a right.  Go straight and make a left on the next street you hit.  Walk all the way down until you get to an odd 4 way intersection.  Veer off to your right, and you can’t miss it on your right hand side.

It'll be on your right

It’ll be on your right

After wandering for a half hour trying to find it given the crappy directions, I walked in to a bustling restaurant. IMG_1027 Their menu consists mainly of curries (7-10,000 Won), omaraisus, pho, and combo meals where you can get a curry, salad, and drink (soda or yogurt drink/lassi) for about 13,000 Won.  I went for the pork cutlet curry (9,100 W), and they have an interesting chain of events for ordering. IMG_1020 First, you pick how much rice you want with your curry (standard is 300 grams; extra rice= extra moolah).  Then you can put different types of meat, fish, and vegetables in the curry sauce to accompany your main meat.  Finally, there is the spice meter which ranges from 1-10; 1 being the mildest and 10 being the equivalent of drinking brimstone.  After my terrifyingly painful donkatsu challenge, I’ve become a lot warier of the spice levels advertised online because people will say it’s terrible, but it won’t bother me.  Yet the suffering I endured at Onnuriye Donkatsu was like a religious experience in the Church of Latter Day Spices.  I was definitely cleansed of my sins and probably some of my taste buds.  So I plumped for the level 5 spiciness at Coco Ichiban just to play it safe.  I saw my waitress look at me like I was a nut.  Great.  It came out at breakneck speed, but it looked absolutely scrumptious.  If you’re coming to Coco Ichiban, bring your appetite. IMG_1024 I mixed it all together and tried some of the sauce first.  It wasn’t that spicy even though people online said anything over a 3 will bring tears to your eyes.  With how quickly they made it, I was surprised at how great it tasted.  I do love my donkatsu, and it was easily one of the best ones I’ve had especially with the dried chili powder they provided me with at my table.  They did go a little bit too heavy on the sauce, but the fluffy white rice soaked it up quite well.  So each bite was swimming with spice sharks taking tiny nibbles at my palate.  I also tried some of their mystery radish that was free on the the table that I assume was there to combat the spiciness.IMG_1022  When I finished, I saw they served ice cream, so I got a sundae (3,000 Won).  What came out just left me shaking my head.

Waiter, there's red bean in my sundae!

Waiter, there’s red bean in my “sundae”!

In the middle of the plate was one of my gastronomic enemies ever since coming to Korea:  red beans.  If you’re curious, tteok or rice cake is the other one.  It is in/on certain foods when it shouldn’t be like ice cream, for example.  The verdant ice cream was quite tasty since it was green tea flavored, so it kind of had an earthy almost coffee vibe to it.  Then I tried some of the red beans, which were warm (why?!), and it just reminded me how much I dislike them.  So it was a half delicious, half depressing way to end a meal.

Overall though, I highly recommend Coco Ichiban if you like quality (spicy) curries that also come out quickly to your table.

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