25 (Sat) February 2012
-Hoengseong, Gangwon, Republic of Korea-
with W and DJ, K and S families
2nd Retreat with DJ’s Daycare Families (Day 3 of 3)
- Day 1 (3.049 Pan-Grilled Scallops and Smoked Duck)
- Day 2 (3.050 Spaghetti with Provolone in Beef Meatball Mash Sauce)
- Day 3 (3.051 Bullshit)
Wooga is Korean restaurant. Specializes in beef, Korean-style BBQ. The name literally means “cow/beef (woo) house/restaurant (ga).”
We stopped by for dinner on our way home. Mr S had been there before and raved about it and insisted that we have our final meal there.
Our dining experience at Wooga was funny at best, possibly fraudulent, certainly farcical, but any f-word would suffice, the point being that the whole thing was categorically foolish. Though I’m hesitant to devote too many words to it, it was all so ridiculous that I should share the highlights.
Bullshit 2. The framing of the autographs on the wall of fame, at the entrance, showed the owner’s willingness to promote himself.
Bullshit 1. Even before we got there, I was suspicious when Mr S told us that the restaurant did not accept walk-in customers, 2-week advance reservations only. Long waitlists for restaurants are virtually unheard of anywhere in Korea, much less at a beef joint in the countryside. I realized that it was bullshit when we arrived to an empty house at 7 PM on a Saturday evening.
Bullshit 3. As soon as we’d sat down, I tried to order a beer. No, the owner explained, due to the anesthetic properties of alcohol, even a sip of beer would deaden the taste buds and minimize the full sensation of eating his beef, so he would regretfully have to refuse until at least the first course had been properly enjoyed. Oh boy.
Bullshit 4. The first course was not open to negotiation, neither content nor quantity. It was deungsim (ribeye), as much as the owner determined would be sufficient for the party. I was about the point out that a portion appeared to be chaeggeut (sirloin strip), but in retrospect I am glad that I resisted.
Bullshit 5. But before we got to eat, he launched into a lecture about the science behind tasting food, and about tasting beef in particular. Some of it was rather innocent, just not especially insightful or appropriate in a room full of starving people and served only to showcase his not-particularly-impressive culinary vocabulary, like how taste is generally categorized as the obvious sweet, sour, bitter, etc., while the glutamate-something-or-other in beef contributes the lesser known umami component. Some of it was argumentative, perhaps even mildly insulting, like how marbling is a prized quality in beef, but fat is not a flavoring agent per se and merely makes the meat more tender and even masks true beef flavor, such that anyone who extols the virtues of marbling has never actually tasted really good beef. The lecture reportedly lasts only 40 minutes under normal circumstances.
However, it extended in excess of an hour once I started to challenge him after the bullshit got out of hand. With respect to the correct doneness of beef, his line of reasoning went as follows, paraphrased here, but originally laced with pseudo-scientific nonsense: (a) the flavors in any uncooked food are inert; (b) cooking opens up the flavors; (c) further cooking intensifies the flavors; (d) if the flavors are agreeable to begin with, then those flavors intensified are even more agreeable; (e) therefore, well-done beef is optimal. As analogical evidence, he cited rice: uncooked = inedible, steamed = edible, burnt = heavenly; also, he noted that raw vegetables are never consumed without supplemental dressings or dipping sauces, thus reinforcing his position on the necessity of cooking. He went on to say that people who take their beef rare do so only because of tenderness, fearing that well-done will result in a tough and dry texture, a problem that his perfectly aged beef is immune to. When I attempted to counter on various points – for example, that I could concede that cooking did intensify certain flavors but not that intensity was necessarily preferable – he turned red, probably not accustomed to so overt a challenge on his home turf, and accused me of being a contrarian; after all, having been in the business for over 20 years, wouldn’t he know the real deal?
At the core, the bullshit was centered on his aged beef, so highly self-touted. He claimed that he had studied all the different techniques throughout the world – again, with a lengthy discussion about dry vs. wet aging, the exact temperatures and humidities involved – but dismissed them all and developed his own secret proprietary system. He claimed that famous chefs from around the globe beg him on a regular basis to allow them to work at his restaurant, for free, just for a few weeks, so that they can learn from the master, but no.
Bullshit 6. He assembled a pair of portable gas burners on the table and topped them with stone grills, explaining that other restaurants relied on the smokiness of charcoal to conceal their otherwise faulty beef.
Bullshit 7. He busted out some sort of laser temperature gun and made a big show of reading the tops of the stone grills several times until they had achieved the ideal level of heat.
Bullshit. He placed the ribeye slabs onto the grills and moved them around a bit with tongs, explaining that only aged beef won’t stick on a hot surface.
Bullshit 8. He cut the ribeye into various sections, explaining that each part demonstrates a different flavor profile that should be tasted separately to appreciate the differences.
Bullshit 9. Once everything had been cooked to well-done, he set the pieces aside, explaining that the tongue is a delicate organ capable of sensing the full spectrum of flavors when the food falls within a narrow range of temperatures, as close to 13 degrees centigrade as possible – you know, like red wine -thus requiring the meat to cool down before digging in. Meanwhile, the children were, in some cases literally, crying in hunger; the adults weren’t so far off.
Bullshit 10. When he was finally ready to dole out a piece of well-done-cooled-down beef to each of us, he insisted that we sprinkle a bit of salt on top rather than dipping the piece into the salt, explaining that the salt crystals get crushed when dipped into, which therefore means something-or-other-I-wasn’t-paying-attention-by-this-point.
The beef was good, but not noticeably better than any other 1++ hanwoo that I’ve had elsewhere.
The one redeeming factor was the second course. After the mandatory ribeye, we were gratefully left alone and permitted to order either more ribeye, cooked by ourselves to our own liking, or – the only other item on the menu – an unusual dish consisting of pan-grilled chadolbagi (차돌박이) over sushi rice with wasabi. The sour vinegar and spicy wasabi provided a nice contrast to the fatty slices of beef. I was sorely tempted to inquire as to why the owner would deign to offer a cut of beef so laden with fat and then combine it with such flavors that threatened to overpower his preciously pristine beef, but I held back.
Bullshit 11. In the end, the final tab was 496,000 won for 5 adults and 5 kids. Most of us could’ve had more. The ribeye alone was 28,000 won per 100 grams. By contrast, our grocery bill for the preceding 6 home-cooked meals came out to just under 480,000 won.
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One thought on “3.051 Bullshit”
All that fuss…and fluorescent green ‘wasabi’ powder? Haha