31 (Wed) July 2013
-Jeongja, Bundang, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-
This used to be one of my favorite restaurants for northern-style Korean food. After awhile, however, the crowds got to be too much during peak hours. Indeed, business got to be so good, apparently, that the restaurant moved to a brand new building a couple blocks away, even though it feels even smaller than before. As I began finding other northerly establishments closer to home, also crowded but close enough to allow for visits off peak, I stopped going to Pyeonggaok altogether.
More than two years later, I’ve ventured a return visit to review their Pyeongyang-Style (PYS) mul naeng myeon (MNM) in light of my on-going exploration of the subject (see generally SSPYSP). The MNM has been featured in a prior post, if vaguely (2.065 Naeng Myeon). This time, I sampled the dish de novo with a more critical/clinical mindset, using the MNM assessment framework.
On my way home from work, at 2130, 30 minutes before closing, I called the restaurant from the road to ask if they were still serving. The woman told me to order over the phone. When I arrived, at 2145, the food was waiting for me. I got the last empty table in the house.
The tasting process: (i) two sips of broth; (ii) two bites of noodles; (iii) two bites of noodles with various toppings; (iv) another sip of broth; (v) another bite of noodles; and, if necessary, (vi) another sip of broth following additions of vinegar and/or mustard, although the necessity of any such adjustment probably means that the game is already lost.
BROTH. Dry. But not beefy, at least not like the “beefy” at the other places. Light and clean, almost like chicken broth. Even the color was kinda yellowish. To the last drop, I couldn’t quite place the flavor. When I asked the manager, she claimed that it’s 100% beef. In any case, pretty good.
NOODLES. Scant buckwheat flavor. Firm. Not at all grainy. But passable.
TOPPINGS. Sliced beef + pork belly (ick), pickled cucumber (nice), pickled radish, julienned pear (ugh), sliced scallion, minced red chili, boiled egg (half)…and a pheasant meatball (or so they claim)! I refuse to believe that PYS broth was ever made from pheasant stock as a general practice, though I am willing to concede that someone somewhere sometime did so, perhaps more than once, on the rare special occasions when he somehow managed to snag a wild bird flying by. However, my mother does recall that fancy restaurants back in the day would top a bowl of MNM with a tiny pheasant meatball, which is curious, because pheasant otherwise isn’t really a part of traditional Korean cuisine. Anyway, the meatball here was so highly seasoned, mostly soy sauce, that it didn’t taste much like any animal in particular. But fun, just to think about it.
CONCLUSION. Unique, both in broth and topping. And still a legitimate PYS MNM, perhaps closer to what it might’ve been 60 years ago? I wouldn’t be surprised if both the broth and the meatball contained some/all chicken, rather than beef/pheasant, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
PRICE. 10,000 won + 4,000 won for a double order (gobbaegi (곱배기)) or extra noodles after the fact (sari (사리)).
* * * *
In the wake of my PYS MNM quest, reader D from New York was inspired to find the best representation of the dish in Manhattan. Alas, despite his best efforts, combining internet research and on-site investigation, spurred along the way with some long-distance kibitzing by me, he was unable to find any restaurant on the island that came close, at least not to the standards that I described. He’s promised to expand the search to Queens. And maybe even Los Angeles when he gets a chance to visit. Thanks, D!
D: The broth is mostly dongchimi brine, with just a bit of meat flavor to it. Out of all the naeng myeon I’ve had on 32nd Street, this was the most subtle. Most of them are very fruity and sweet. This was very dry, although maybe not as dry as the PYS MNM in your project. There is a lot of ice in this. As I mentioned once before, I’m a big fan of it. There are usually some pieces of ice left over in there by the time I’m done, so I can crunch those, too. This dish is really, really cold.
D: A few strips of radish, some cucumber, one or 2 slivers of pear, and half an egg.
D: It was hard for me to get a good photo of those noodles, it was dark in there. But eventually I stirred them up and got one. The noodles are most surely Hamheung style, a pretty chewy and pretty thin. I don’t think there is a lot of buckwheat in these, certainly not enough to make them nutty or gritty. They’re very good, but not nearly as thick or grainy as the ones in your photos. I asked the waitress if they were made in house, and she said no, and then another waitress standing next to her corrected her, and said yes. I’m pretty sure they are, or at least made somewhere else and brought in.
D: Hands down, the best I’ve had in Koreatown, to the point where I’m not even going to fool around with any other place, I’m just tired of crappy, overly sweet naeng myeon, made with packaged noodles. The sweetness might be the American influence (everything is sweet here) and the noodles are surely a cost-cutting measure.
D: As I mentioned on your website, I’ve asked up and down the street for PYS MNM and they are usually confused at first & need to ask their coworkers, and then come back with a no. Once it was a yes, but when I got it, it was just regular ol’ MNM. Doing research online, I see raves for You Chun (now closed) and this NYT article about the obsessive owner of Dae Dong (now closed): http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/19/dining/19noodles.html?_r=0.
D: A sign from Kang-Suh across the street. A Soju Only 10 Bucks! That is actually cheap here. Thought you might get a kick out of it.
(See also FOODS)
(See also PLACES)