Friday, September 11, 2009

Celebrity Eats for $4 at Gyenari

I’m usually broke so eating out for me means a $3.75 Banh Mi or a $1.00 Cabeza Taco. It’s been ages since I chowed down at Border Grill in Santa Monica. I’ve never even set foot in Chinois on Main or Providence. To paraphrase Marge Simpson, I can’t afford to eat anywhere that has a name. That’s why I was surprised to find a name on the menu of my favorite bargain watering hole. I hate to sound all fan boy but I did get a little bit of a rush looking down at the Gyenari bar menu and seeing “Debbie Lee of The Next Food Network Star.”

Gyenari Menu

Debbie Lee may not be a name the way Tom Colicchio is a name, but fans of The Next Food Network Star will remember her. I was rooting for her during the show. I wanted to see a Southern/Korean cooking fusion show on TV. Well, Debbie didn’t win, but if you want to sample a new take on Korean food head over to Gyenari in Culver City.

I’ve been coming to Gyenari bar ever since I discovered the place next to the AMC theater. I was looking for a new movie and drinks hangout for me and my friends. We had settled on The Bridge but the only place to eat over there was Marie Calendar. Gyenari was definitely a step up quickly became one of my favorite spots. The food wasn’t very Korean but it was good and the $6 sojus and the $2 Hite beers kept me and my mates very happy. However I have to say the new food looks ten times better yet is still $4 at happy hour. I started off with Rice Ramaki and if there’s anything that shows off the Southern/Korean fusion it’s this dish. Ramaki are rice dumplings usually served in a light red sauce. Gyenari serves them wrapped in bacon and with a spicy chili dipping sauce. The dumpling is light and springy. It’s nothing more than boiled rice flour dough. But wrap it in bacon and add a spicy but not too spicy red chili sauce for dipping and you’ve got a great new bar food. I could eat these with their dipping sauce all day.

Gyenari Rice Ramaki

Gyenari already had pretty good sliders, the new ones look nicer with miniature sesame seed buns and topped with shredded Korean BBQ pork.

Gyenari Sliders

The new Mandoo are called Melting Mandoo. I really don’t see what makes them “melting.” They are decent pan seared dumplings and they have that red chili dipping sauce which could make a poker chip taste good.

Gyenari Mandoo

My friend ordered the ribs and I didn’t a chance to sample any but they looked gorgeous.

Gyenari Ribs

He also got the seafood Jeon Jeon which I did grab a bite of. It was, to my taste, a big improvement over what they used to serve. The old Jeon Jeon was a flat crepe which was a little weak in the flavor and texture department. The new version has lighter fluffy cakes, like what we think of as pancakes only in this case topped with seafood instead of maple syrup. It was another bit of Southern meets Korean and I got a real kick out of it.

Gyenari Jeon Jeon

Of course the sojus and the beers kept flowing [as you can see by my photography.] There used to be couches in the bar area, but they got rid of those. When you serve soju they’re too much of a temptation to stretch out and take a nap. The happy hour goes from around 3 to 7 PM. It’s still one of the best kept secrets in Culver City. Me and my friends go there all the time and always find plenty of seats, except of course for the one time we brought a real crowd and found the place packed to the rafters.

Gyenari BBQ and Lounge
9540 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232-2631
(310) 838-3131
Prices: $2 Hite Beers, $6 Sojus, $4 bar food during Happy Hour 3PM-7PM

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dong Ting Spring: Spicy Hot Hunan

The massive Focus Plaza has so many dining options you could eat all three meals and never leave its confines. Dong Ting Spring is one of the more popular spots. This Hunan place is one of the smaller eateries but is clean and elegant inside.

Dong Ting Spring Ext

Hunan cooking is a spicy Southern style. I’ve been eating a version of it since childhood. Even in the Midwest where Chow Mein usually involves those dried crispy noodles you get out of a bag in the chip aisle, the Chinese restaurants there usually offer “Hunan” dishes. They aren’t real Hunan dishes but when you’re a budding spice fiend growing up in Cleveland they really fit the bill. My favorite was a beef dish swimming in brown sauce with wood ear mushrooms and whole dried chili peppers. Can’t remember the name of the restaurant and I think it’s a Johnny Rockets now, but I remember me and my siblings gobbling up plates of the stuff and daring each other to take a bite out of the pepper.

Flash forward to today and trot over to Focus Plaza for a nice dinner at Dong Ting Spring (or Dong Ting Chun.) Obviously I’m not in Cleveland anymore. There’s Stir Fried Pig Intestine and Hot & Spicy Stomach on the menu. I decide to go a little less adventurous and Wild Mushroom stir fried with Smoked Ham, Hot & Spicy Fish Fillet, and the Cabbage with Chopped Chili Pepper.

Dried Chili is the main seasoning on all three of my dishes. Unlike with Sichuan cooking there’s no numbing sensation to tame the heat. This is a multi-cola meal.

The Mushroom Stir Fry is easily my favorite dish. I’m a sucker for Chinese or Shitake mushrooms. I love their meaty texture and flavor. The pork is very smoky. I wouldn’t call it ham in that it isn’t completely dried out and I don’t think it was fully cured before being smoked and then stir fried. But it is flavorful and when combined with the mushrooms you think you’re eating a plate full of meat. Very spicy meat. The dish has chili pepper flakes and slices of jalapeno throughout. There’s no slow burn at this place. You just jump right in to the heat.

Dong Ting Spring Mushroom

Next comes the fish fillets. They resemble the Chinese fish my family makes, steamed , topped with scallions with a soy sauce and hot sesame oil drizzled over it. This dish is different in two ways. First there’s a ton of pepper flakes on top. Second the fish wasn’t steamed. It has a rich slightly oily taste. I believe it was par cooked in oil, what some Chinese chefs call “passing through oil” and others call “velveting.” Some might find the fish too oily but I liked the added richness to the light fish.

Dong Ting Spring Fish

I finish off with a veggie. This is pretty simple, a big mound of Napa stir fried with dried chili pepper. It’s simple, filling, and makes me feel a little bit better for adding a green with my meats.

Dong Ting Spring Cabbage

I have to thank Dong Ting Spring for finally giving me a true taste of Hunan. After years of nibbling at the edges I finally got a bite of the real stuff. I hope it never becomes a Johnny Rockets.