Monday, July 26, 2010

Irenae Kalguksu

A couple of weeks ago, we stopped in at our neighborhood boonshik place for dinner and were surprised to find a sign explaining it was closed for personal reasons. After taking a few moments to scratch our heads in confusion, we wandered across the street looking for a replacement. Dan decided that several pictures of food posted next to a doorway looked like "the color of food he usually enjoys" (ie fiery red), so we wandered into Irenae Kalguksu and ended up having an extraordinary meal.

Sujebi, a mild noodle soup, is not really my thing; I've had it communally a few times, but left to my own devices, I always order spicier fare. The menu on our table, though, listed "olkeun sujebi," which was unfamiliar to me. I looked up "olkeun" in the dictionary and Dan and I liked what I found: "rather hot; somewhat peppery [pungent]." We ordered it as well as an octopus dish that included steamed rice and gochujang (red pepper sauce).

The sujebi, served in a generous bowl that could easily feed two, arrived with the expected vivid, orangish-red broth full of mussels and clams as well as a welcome surprise: green noodles! I checked with the waiter and confirmed that they were spinach noodles, which was something I'd never seen in sujebi before. The soup was peppery and pungeant as promised, but the tender, fresh spinach noodles provided a soothing balance to the spice. Dan and I agreed that while the soup was unlike anything we'd ever actually had at home, the handmade noodles made the dish taste comforting and homey. After two and a half years and countless versions of spicy soup, this was one of the best and most unique dishes I've had in Korea. In a city filled with delicious Korean restaurants crowding every block, I'm usually hesitant to recommend one unless the food is really exceptional, and for me, this is that sort of dish. Also, it's less than five dollars.

Though not quite as unique, the octopus dish was also excellent--ample greens gave it the same bright, fresh quality as the soup.

We recently returned with our friend Shira and tried the haemool pajeon (savory seafood pancake), which Shira declared to be the best dish she's had in Korea so far. The crispy jeon was jam-packed with seafood--muscles, octopi, shrimp, clams--as well as green onions. The bountiful seafood made the pancake physically heavier than your average jeon, but it tasted lighter because there was less greasy dough. Another absolute stand-out.

To get to Irenae Kalguksu, walk out Yaksu Station exit three and take a right at Dunkin Donuts. Take another right at the end of the alley, walk a few steps, and it will be on your right. (Pictured on the second floor below.)

No comments:

Post a Comment