Thursday, July 31, 2008

New Koreans in Chinatown... a comparison....

New Koreans in Chinatown…..

I shall use this post to do a compare of the new Korean restaurants in Chinatown…. i.e., on Somerset between Preston and Bank….. I know about Joy.... but ….

There are only three…, I don’t consider Seoul House to be a new Korean in Chinatown as it is well established and the food is just plain poor… and the sushi….

SooRa, Bulgogi (BG) and a yet to be named place across the street from Bulgogi in the NW corner of the block with Chu Shing on it…. another spot that cannot keep restaurants going… as is BG’s, whereas SooRa is in the old Chuck Brown’s location….

You will see details on Bulgogi in another part of this blog.

Went to SooRa for lunch and the impression this time around was that it is a place that is trying to be ritzy with the prices to go along with it. In terms of value for money, Lunch was $20, vs. $15 for BG and $10 for Arum’s. For essentially the same components in terms of food….

I would say it was a little expensive… and the comments from waitress Erin (lunch everyday except Fridays… she is cute but married to a ToiShan guy for god sake!), were that comments from initial customers are that people in Ottawa like their food with more salt, msg and spice than normal… and the food in Korea is plainer in terms of soy/salt/msg, but more pungent. I just said… do you want to compete for the real connoisseurs or the general public!

Anyway, for $20 (tea was $3 more) you don’t even get a lot… but the Kalbi ribs, i.e., meat, was pretty impressive… as in tasty and very good quality cuts…(chef does his own),…. so much for Ottawans wanting more soy… and I eat a lot of salt. I will try another traditional meal of ‘rice with tea’ next…. sounded fascinating. Pork Bone Soup, shabu and table BBQs will just have to wait for a compare with BG….The soup and kimchi had more bonito flavoring in it than BG’s… some might like that more, as in the Jap palates. The green salad I have commented on before….they also had little binnies, or potato pancakes, but I think ‘Chicken Boy’ near Korean Gardens does this much better…. They don’t have sushi yet…no fridge in yet…. and they are planning some tradition kaisaki style Korean dinners… which I am looking forward to. This is besides the other stuff mentioned in an earlier related post.

All in all, so far, just a nice traditional, but expensive Korean place that might stray from the ‘right’ way, due to local tastes… ‘too much pastiche here’!!! They have only been open 1.5 months and already have a feel that they should adapt… like the Chinese restaurants…. They have cooks from Korean… my suggestion is to stick it out and stay away from the competition…. And take the less trodden path to authentic Korean food….

2008 08 29

Had the ‘pork belly’ table top cooking at Soo Ra and it was terrible… they also had a problem with their table top elements for cooking, as they are trying to get a liquor license and the gas feeds were not up to code, so they have all been disconnected for 4 – 6 weeks. So table top cooking consists of pans on top of tables with no exhaust… who would want to do this!!! The restaurant stinks!

The waitress without giving out this info said pork belly was smoky and would we like it cooked inside the kitchen, so we said yes and it came out absolutely miserable!. So hands down Bulgogi is better again because, as I said, the ingredients are better... and for table cooking you do it yourself anyways… so crowds…. move to Bulgogi… at least for the next 4-6 weeks….

Of course we also had the cold noodles, which is not available at BG and the pancakes were not much better and the spicy beef stew was so so….. So besides the Kalbi and the other stuff mentioned above… SR is having troubles….

Waiting for the new one on Somerset…. Bring on the competition…

Kwon’s Chicken House for best pancakes….

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What constitutes Good Cooking?

I am willing to moderate a discussion on what constitutes GOOD COOKING.

A Good Cook
1) does not waste
2) knows how to use "leftovers"
3) is a teacher or an artist or both
4) knows the difference between cooking and eating
5) understands quantity vs quality vs value
6) shows us something we don't know
7) able to make leftovers taste good rather than depend on the 'freshness of ingredients'
8) understands the difference between looking good and tasting good.

This following discussion constitutes an interesting perspective of what it's about.....

It is a debate between my son and I… you can guess at the names… but the perspectives are interesting… on ‘Give it up, Anne’… on this site….

"C'mon dad! Ceylonta is a great place. My wife and I really liked it.

I think you might be getting caught up in the "it's not authentic so it isn't good" problem that most restaurant reviewers (and critics in general) get caught up in.

I would argue that 'ethnic food' in a foreign country (if we can even say that) is more about pastiche than it is about bringing you the 'taste of India' or an 'authentic Chinese experience'. But that doesn't make it any less meaningful (or less tasty). Food, like culture, is not some static thing that exists outside of time and cultural-historical context. It is constantly changing, becoming better or worse as the case and tastes may be.

In the cultural context, we might look at selected middle-eastern, Chinese or some Indian communities that live here in Canada, separated - culturally - from mainstream Canadian society. A number of people from these groups that travel back to their country of origin note that they experience culture shock because things have changed so much. Is the middle-eastern food cooked here in Canada by semi-enclosed middle-eastern communities more authentic than food created in the middle-east? Authenticity is an idea that humans created in order to exert power over other people and their ideas about who we are and who we should be. And it's from this perspective that I would argue that authenticity has at the same time lost its meaning in an age of cross-cultural globalization, and been mobilized in an attempt to maintain existing, dominant power relations... about what food is really all about.

Hahaha... yeah, that makes some sense."

And my response….

"Well, since you made a comment and such a thoughtful one, I would have to respond.

You have to tell me why you think Ceylonta is a 'great place'? I know how much you know about Indian food and how much spice you can handle. And I only base my comments on the food. I think the ambiance and other aspects are more subjective.

The food at Ceylonta, at the original location on Somerset, is not very good. And I am comparing it not only to South Indian food in India, but also South Indian food in Ottawa (Haveli's) and especially in Toronto. Now compared to Vij's in Vancouver, we are talking another planet. The masala dosas, a typical dish is way too large at Ceylonta. The wadas way too dry. And when I said ‘the dosas were huge’ to the waiter, he said... 'Well I thought you knew how big they were'. I had obviously over ordered and he was probably worried about me not paying for it. That assumes we are all really ignorant consumers... and perhaps most of us are.

Pastiche! I had to look the word up. Although I agree there is some degree of transformation, both by the local input... eg, 'chinese canadian food' or thru evolution... eg, 'fusion food, pan pacific, etc', it is true that it does not make it less tasty, but to whom? I do not look for a potpourri when I go to a specific restaurant. I go to Ceylonta, for instance, to eat South Indian food.

Your temporal argument is really quite academic as is your point vis a vis culture.

I feel the food experience should be something that the restaurant brings you in such a way as to exhibit the particular ethnic culture and brings it to life. It has to excite. The gold standard right now in Canada for ethic Indian food is Vij's, not because they are good, but because they continue to experiment and be creative. Ceylonta as with most Ottawa restaurants are not creative. We live in a government town, full of conservatism.

As for your point comparing authenticity to power and control over what is right and wrong, that is a societal constraint, not one bounded by creativity. Fusion food came about? The $150 hamburger vs. the Works are just some examples. Would I eat a $150 hamburger, certainly, if it has truffles and foie gras in it. But I tried the Works' $20 hamburgers and while it is superior to Harvey's Angus burger, I cannot justify the difference. And can I do better at home…. you betcha!

As for an authentic chinese experience, there are so many restaurants in Toronto nowadays, that have gone beyond that already, with chinese restaurants creating new dishes that are 'cross-cultural', ‘non traditional’. Ottawa, chinese food... well, it is still somewhere where Toronto was 30 years ago... and it's getting worse, not better, because of people not complaining. You know my oligopoly rant. The thing is all the chinese have started to find their money in Jap and Korean food, especially sushi. And my QED is the rush of sushi take outs these days (‘sushi go’ being the latest).

In fact, although a few years ago, I would have said the viet soup was better in Ottawa than even Toronto, because people there was trying to find the margins, the level of viet food in Ottawa has gone steadily downhill. That is why I am agonizing over the quality of the Ottawa consumer. I believe that if you can cook it at home, eat at home.

So is the food authentic? I am not arguing that it should be, simply that if a restaurant wants to represent a certain regional cuisine, then it should not stray too far, but in the name of experimentation and creativity, there is certainly room. But this is absent in most Ottawa restaurants.

Therefore, my point is that if as consumers, we don't complain enough, we will never get the quality and standard of restaurants that we deserve. And Ceylonta is pretty low on the totem pole. But alas, perhaps I complain too much. If nobody cares, then we will continue to be treated badly and even regress, like the chinese food in Ottawa.

But when someone like the respected Anne Desbrisay supports this mediocrity, she should just stay out of the ethic arena."

Posted by Richard to Eat, Drink, Ottawa at 5/26/2008 11:45 PM