Let me start my post today not at the beginning of my lunch today at Sura, but at the end. Even though the items my wife, my son, and I ordered today were extremely tasty and enjoyable, I couldn’t help but think that our meal could be even tastier and more enjoyable. The whole time we were at the restaurant, we kept seeing the diners at every other table being served dish after dish until their tables were filled to the edge with a veritable feast. Just look at what was on the table next to ours:
There was fish, soup, bulgogi, tan soo yook (sweet and sour pork), yummy-looking deep fried balls, and even more items that I was not able to identify. And do you know how much this feast for six cost? A mere $110 after gratuities and tax! That’s an absolute steal of a meal!
When our server came with our bill, I asked her if there was a special sheet containing the set menu that they had forgotten to give us. Because we definitely did not see anything like what the other tables were having on the menu. She quickly left our table without saying a thing and came back with their main menu. She then flipped it open and showed us the second page, which was their lunch specials page. The specials were split vertically into two versions, both containing a long list items that ran from the top of the page to the bottom of the page. At the very bottom were the prices: $15 for the feast with the bulgogi and $20 for the feast with the galbi.
Then I looked at my bill. $60 for four items. Face palm ensued.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have asked our server about what the other tables were having. If I hadn’t, I would be reveling in blissful ignorance about the four very delicious items that we ordered today.
The Kimchi Mari-Guksu (cold noodles in kimchi broth) I had today was a glorious new experience.
These cold noodles were so different from any other bowl of cold noodles I’ve had, and they were so good. I’ve had regular naeng myung countless times before, but never this. Normal naeng myung soup is usually sweet and sour, and the sweetness tends to get a little old after the first few sips. The cold soup that I got today was also sour, but it was not sweet. It was instead spicy. The spiciness was toned down and not overbearing. It definitely felt secondary to the sourness, but it was still very noticeable. The spiciness I tasted wasn’t plain-old-one-note-Korean-paprika spiciness; it was complex, kimchi-flaovured spiciness.
In fact, examining the ingredients of the bowl of cold noodles more closely, it seemed like the spiciness of the soup came entirely from kimchi. There were several pieces of pickled napa floating around the bowl, but they did not have the familiar red colors of kimchi. They were green. They tasted like kimchi sans spiciness. The red spiciness of the kimchi must’ve been absorbed into the soup, thereby creating two distinctly enjoable elements in the bowl of cold noodles: the kimchi-flavoured soup and the cold, crispy, and green napa.
And that was not all that was good about the soup; not even half of it. The noodles were another extremely pleasurable component of the bowl. They were different from the bungee-cord-elastic brown buckwheat noodles that usually came with Korean cold noodles; they were tender white noodles that looked soft, but were actually teeth-bouncingly chewy. The chewy white noodles were much less chewy than buckwheat noodles, and they worked great with the crunchy textures of the nappa, the squishy slice of tomato, and the juicy strips of apples.
The strips of apples were a pleasant surprise in and of themselves. They provided a sweet counterpoint as well as a summer-like feel to the bowl of cold noodles.
The bibim naeng myung (spicy cold noodles) my wife had was a never-ending bowl of yummy, chewy goodness.
It didn’t look like there was a lot of noodles in my wife’s bowl, but she kept eating for a good 30-35 minutes before she finished her last strand of noodles. I speculated to myself that it was the extreme chewiness of the noodles that caused her to take such a long time finishing her noodles, and I asked her afterwards if that was the case. She said that it was actually the deceivingly huge amount of noodles that made it look like she could never finish eating them. She also mentioned that this bowl of cold noodles had flavours that were better than average. The kochujang included was quite good, and so was the broth. The flavours of the eggs, pickled daikon, fresh cucumbers, and slice of beef were also each enjoyable. My wife felt that the component that separated her bowl of bibim cold noodles from an average bowl of bibim naeng myung was the strips of apple. Like me, she thought that the apple gave the bowl a summery feel as well as an extra flavour dimension.
In terms of textures, she felt that the textures of every component of the bowl worked well together. But she said that she did not encounter anything exceptional in terms of textures.
Overall, she enjoyed her bowl of cold noodles. She was also more than satisfied by the amount of noodles included in her bowl.
My son’s bulgogi had more depth than regular meat-and-onions-only bulgogi.
Other than the usual onions and scallions that came with bulgogi, the dish we were served today also came with two different kinds of fungi: black wood ears and chopped up king oyster mushrooms. The black wood ears provided a firm and crunchy texture that contrasted well with the tender and juicy beef. The pieces of king oyster mushrooms were chewy, which also happened to complement the juiciness and tenderness of the beef.
Did I mention that the beef was juicy and tender? There is a tendency for restaurants to overcook the thin pieces of beef in a bulgogi into a firm and powdery texture, but that was not the case today. The texture of the thin, curled-up slices of beef in our bulgogi today was almost fall-apart tender.
The beef was also plenty flavourful. I could taste way more than just sweetness or onion-y-ness from the bulgogi I had today. I could taste its mariande; I felt like I was biting into and tasting a combination of garlic, scallions, onions, and the natural sweetness of some sort of fruit (probably apples or pears) when I bit into each piece of beef.
The only bummer about the bulgogi was that at the $14 price we were paying for this small order of bulgogi (they also offered a large), we could’ve gotten the entire lunch feast that also included bulgogi as one of its dishes (actually, we would have had to pay $1 more for the feast).
The stir-fried spicy squid we shared was also as refined as the version of the dish that I had at a higher-end traditional Korean restaurant during my family’s visit to Seoul last summer.
The dish of stir-fried squid felt refined and had a depth that I have yet to find with other local versions spicy stir-fried squid. Usually the only flavours I get with the dish are kochujang flavours. Today’s dish, however, gave me a deep and complex array of flavours. First of all, the kochujang used in this dish tasted different from garden-variety kochujang. It was not only sweet and spicy, but also a little tangy and had umami-like flaovurs. I also felt chi of the wok (wok hei in Cantonese and hwo ho in Mandarin); it was like tasting the flame under the frying pan with every bite. I also was able to detect a slight hint of charred aromas, which I believed was purposed produced by the person manning the woks/frying pans.
I won’t go into every individual type of vegetable in the dish, but I will say that the texture of each type of vegetable in the dish worked well with the texture of the star component of the dish: the squid. The squid had a texture that was neither too chewy nor too stiff. It had just the right texture so that pieces could be easily bitten off the whole, and the bitten off pieces were just chewy enough to have their natural squid flavours released before they were suitably broken down.
To push the textures of the dish over the top, two servings of white noodles were also included with the order. The white noodles seemed to be the same as the ones in my bowl of cold noodles. But for this application, they were cooked a less chewy texture that allowed them to be broken down as the other components of the dish were being broken down by the bite of my teeth. They were nonetheless still chewy, and the chewiness of the thin strands of noodles provided an additional but distinct chewy texture that worked surprisingly well with the also-chewy texture of the squid.
We were also served banchan, but we barely touched these side dishes because we were so busy enjoying the four main items.
I did have a taste of each of the three dishes, but I did not have time to linger an analyze each of them. The kimchi was good. It felt less spicy and more sour than the one I had at Dae Bak Bon Ga a few days ago. The strips of potatoes were mixed with a creamy sauce that was both creamy in terms of taste and in terms of texture. The potatoes were themselves purposely under-cooked to a slightly firm and crunchy texture. The seaweed mixed with daikon had a duo of texutures instead of the single texture of a normal seaweed banchan.
I could see that care was taken in making the three side dishes, but I could also see that the restaurant was more interested in making the main dishes on the menu than they were at making the side dishes. And I don’t blame them. The main dishes were so good that I wouldn’t even care if I was not served any side dishes at all.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the interior. It was simple, traditional, yet modern. The seats were very comfortable, tables were suitably separated from eat other, and the dining atmosphere was generally comfortable if one was able to tune out the endless loop of supposedly calming songs playing at a rather high volume (Jazzy vocals sound rather metal-like when the volume is turned up to about 15).
So back to the beginning. When I walked into the restaurant, I wasn’t expecting anything great. I’ve actually been to the restaurant before and was not impressed with the food the first time I was there. I wanted to give it another chance and luckily, the meal I got there was pretty good the second time around. I think the meal will be even better the when I visit it for a third time. On my third visit, I will definitely remember to order the feast. And unlike every other table around us today that ordered the feast, I will probably not be leaving any food on my table by the time I leave…actually, I might be so stuffed that the banchan will once again be neglected like they were at our table today.