The best finds are sometimes found when lost.
Lost & Found
Just a day after our fun meet with Joe, we knew we had to stock up our fridge at our Airbnb. We couldn’t possibly survive on always eating out, so we figured we’d find the nearest E-mart (equivalent to Walmart). It was a 10-min taxi drive away and once we got dropped off at the mart, we realized that our stomachs were whining of hunger. We walked inside E-mart thinking that there would at least be a food court – since most E-marts in Korea actually do. However, we only realized later that the bigger marts in central downtown are smaller and carry less products and variety because of the constraint size and cost of property in an upscale neighbourhood.
Our quest to find a restaurant continued … and oddly enough, considering Korea – land of restaurants galore, we still couldn’t find a single restaurant. We walked away from the mart by about 10-15 mins and finally stumbled upon a small street with a couple of small restaurants. And then we stumbled upon this one big 2-story restaurant. It was already dark at that point and this place was like the lighting beacon calling for us. And of course, we were drawn to that place and our hungry stomachs took control of our body again and next thing I knew, my legs were working towards that restaurant. I felt like a fly dazed by the light in the dark and the smell of the BBQ outside on a cold wintery night.
The picture above was taken on our second visit. When we first went to this restaurant, it was 5pm and it was empty. Like as shown below:
Again, we were lucky enough that it wasn’t crowded and the food was served almost instantly.
Soo Rat Gan [수랏간] – 1st Visit
Two things to take note:
- Yes, this is THE place where we had the $100 steak, but it was only on our second visit.
- This is one of the three restaurants that made it to my Top 3 best BBQ list.
Since the food that we ordered is largely similar to what we ate the second time around, I’ll also feature my second visit in this very post (because there’s no real good intro for the second visit. We just really wanted to go back).
As soon as we walked in, we immediately noticed a tiny butchery on the left-hand side of the entrance. We didn’t know what it was for – if it was meant for people to buy on their way out or if people came in to the restaurant just to visit the butchery. Once we were seated, we took a good look at the extensive menu to find that it was really … extensive. The fancy restaurant had fancy names for the different beef cuts. We decided it was best for the waiter to suggest something for us. Upon ordering, we received our sides. This is also another restaurant that had my heart for their sides. The salad dressing had a creamy and fruity taste to it (the picture is a horrible example of that – you can’t really see the sauce!)
The lettuce leaves (for Ssam – Korean lettuce wrap) that were given to us had a mix of different greens – from red lettuce to Nappa cabbage leaves.
The mountain of thinly sliced onion is pure gold with BBQ. Most Korean BBQs will serve a small individual plate of a light soy sauce based vinaigrette topped with sliced onions. When I first encountered this a few years back in Toronto, I didn’t know what it was meant for. Was it a side? But why did we each get one? Is it an appetizer?
Neither. It’s meant to be eaten with your grilled meat. You wrap your meat in the drenched onion and lightly soak it in the dressing again. And there you have it, gold with more gold (meat)!
Let me take a few steps back – since the photo is already spoiling the surprise of the meat.
The beef that the waiter ordered for us looked like perfection. The colour looked like it was freshly cut and the marbling was fantastic. They were already pre-cut strips of beef. The cost of this (portion for 2 people) was approximately $70.
It was juicy, tender, and even way better with the great sides that were available to us. It all added to the taste. We were also given a plate of kimchi – the very basic – which was OK. But I much preferred the red lettuce salad with a spicy vinaigrette – a mix of red chilli peppers and sesame oil as dominants, as well as some other ingredients.
The waiter took the liberty to grill the meat for us – couldn’t tell if it was because I was accompanied by a visible foreigner or if it was just out of courtesy. Could have even been because it was quiet and we were practically the only ones there.
With every BBQ meal, you’re almost always served a warm soup/stew. In this case, it being a fancy restaurant, we were given a soup called Haejang Gook [해장국]. Known for being the ultimate hangover remedy, this particular soup was something I had previously avoided. Why? Probably because of those jelly-fied pork blood. Yep, that brown stuff in the soup isn’t meat, it’s blood! I knew that Andy wouldn’t eat something that looked way too foreign, and I felt bad enough to leave that supposed “good quality soup” untouched, so I went ahead and gave it a shot.
After all, being a foodie, I learned one important thing. YOLO. If it’s terrible, spit it out. But it’s always worth a try. On top of that, most of the time, it’s just all in our heads. So I took a spoonful and tried it out. Little do you know, it doesn’t take like what you would expect. It’s actually not so bad! So I had a couple of spoonfuls before I set my spoon down to have enough space in my stomach for post-BBQ cold noodles!
This restaurant had possibly the best Naengmyun from all the others that we tried out during our vacation. Surprisingly enough, this was largely the reason why we returned a few weeks later – not necessarily for the meat.
It had the BEST broth. We had eaten just a bit too much that night, so we only ordered one bowl of cold noodles and shared. They were nice enough and surprisingly knew that we were sharing it, so they knew to bring us an extra bowl! It was very kind and thoughtful of them.
**Funny side story: See the egg in the cold noodle broth? Well, since we were sharing the noodles and there was only 1 egg, we kept insisting that the other person take the egg. Another side story to the funny side story: We both like to eat a WHOLE egg with our cold noodles. We don’t like halves. We prefer a whole egg. Hence the reason why we kept telling each other to take the egg instead of cutting it in half and sharing it. So as we kept insisting, I finally gave up and decided to take it. So Andy went ahead to fish it out of his bowl … only to find out that it was actually only a half-egg already cut in half … just flipped upside down to make us believe it was a whole! We had quite a great laugh insisting each other to take what we thought was a whole egg.
Every following cold noodles we had, we made sure to check before making big decisions like that. We learned!
Soo Rat Gan, The Second Visit
Just a few short days before leaving the country, we knew we had to go back to Soo Rat Gan. We wanted to have a dinner that would guarantee our satisfaction for our last meal.
This time, we went during normal dinner time – which meant that there would be a lot of people. And let me tell you this … there was indeed a lot of people – people with lots of money to be able to afford imported cars! Benz, BMW and Audi on both sides of the tiny parking lot.
It was indeed an interesting sighting.
Since we knew what we were getting in to this time around, we walked in and went straight to the butchery to select our meat for that night. It appeared as though we were peering into a nursery at the hospital where all the babies are in their cubbies. Seemed and felt as though we were picking out a baby. However, we were completely lost so the staff helped us pick one.
He pointed out the beef tenderloin [꽃등심]. There was three displayed and we ended up picking our $100 baby.
We sat down and, again, the table was set up in just seconds. This time around, I told them to hold off on the Haejang Gook because I didn’t want them to waste such quality soup on two people who would barely touch it.
Here’s the thing. I love pork. It’s not as healthy as beef, but I love my good share of bacon, pancetta, sausages, and pork belly. Gotta love that piggy (sorry, vegans and vegetarians!). Having pork sometimes feels like a guilty pleasure. It’s mostly greasy and it isn’t good for you and your heart. So I try to limit myself sometimes. On the whole other hand, beef is another story. Red meat is GREAT for you, although a bit more pricier comparing to our pink chunky friend.
Here’s the second thing. Andy isn’t big on pork. Korea is big on pork – only because it’s everywhere. And it’s everywhere because it’s affordable comparing the premium Hanwoo beef. During our vacation, we had beef every single time we went out for BBQ and had pork belly twice in the same sitting as one of those beef BBQ moments. The first time was at Bong Oo Hwa Ro (for our second visit) and we had some for our second visit at Soo Rat Gan. We ordered a single portion so that it wouldn’t fill us up completely.
I apologize for the terrible picture quality – it’s a bit blurry. I think I was too impatient to take pre-bite photos. I was a bit too hungry at this point to even tell if the picture had great resolution or not.
Pork is not always picture pretty – unlike beef/steak. But it was a lot more tastier than it looked! The satisfaction of having pork in a country that loves pork just as much as I do, it was “mmm” good! That bottom left piece there is a mushroom just being sly and camouflaging itself as meat. Nonetheless, the mushrooms were huge, chunky, and juicy.
Depending on whether you eat beef or pork, they change the pan for you. For pork, they brought out a thicker pan with smaller slits because it drips a lot of oil and it’s dangerous to have oil constantly drip into the charcoal right underneath. On the other hand, the beef was served on a fishnet-like pan. Oh, and here’s the picture of half of that $100 steak (is it weird that I don’t actually have a full picture of the full $100 steak??)
The best I have is this picture where you get a glimpse of the full $100 steak just sitting in the background – waiting to be cooked.
The best part of cooking your own beef is that you can eat it however you want. I usually like my steak rare or medium rare. So we had ours pretty rare – just enough for it to be warm in our mouth, but melt instantly like sashimi.
All in all, on our second visit to this restaurant, we did things right. We ordered the $100 Hanwoo tenderloin, added a single portion of pork belly, passed on the Hanjang Gook and, this time, ordered our own bowl of cold noodles.
Why Soo Rat Gan?
Why did this place make it to one of the top restaurants on my list? It had really delicious quality premium beef and also had the best Naengmyun. The side dishes were also something to take note. Considering all three (beef, cold noodles, and side dishes) were above average, I’d say that this restaurant as a whole succeeded in making it way high on my list.
I forgot to comment on the grill! This restaurant, seeing as it was more on the fancy side, had quite a sophisticated one. It had a nice copper outline and interestingly, it didn’t need a vent coming down from the ceiling like the ones we had seen from other restaurants. Instead, the smoke would disappear and be sucked into the holes that surrounded the edges. It was also sunken into the table- which is great if you’re eating pork and the grease jumps out at you a bit.
The rating I’d give this lucky find is probably a strong 9/10. Sometimes when you find a good BBQ restaurant, you can’t necessarily get good Naengmyun – and vice versa. But this restaurant had such good taste for all parts of the ultimate trinity.
On my next blog, I will finally feature my final restaurant from the Top 3 best BBQ: Han Wa Dam – the most expensive meal I’ve ever had and a restaurant well-known for its aged steaks. And even aged shrimp!?
Stay tuned 🙂