Photo by taste-buzz/Flickr CC
I've been somewhat critical of tasting menus in the past. While I agree with the idea that sometimes after three bites you're ready to move on, I think the trend of multi-course tasting menus has gone a little overboard. Where five or six courses used to be the standard, now it is typically closer to twenty, and some amuse on top of that. It can be excessive, especially when the kitchen is hiding behind luxe ingredients like truffles, caviar and foie gras. And they're expensive as hell.
So lately (recession, anyone?) I have been far more interested in finding the exciting and extraordinary in the everyday and the affordable.
Which is why I was surprised when I wound up at a stellar thirty-course meal, which included wine, and walked out only $15 poorer.
The secret? Eat Korean.
As I wrote about in my love letter to D.C., City of Great Food, the suburb of Annandale, Virginia, is home to a host of excellent Korean restaurants, from the 24-hour BBQ party Yechon, to the fried chicken chain Bon Chon, to more homestyle places like Gom Ba Woo and the place I finally settled on for a long evening of great Korean eating, Oegadgib.
It was at Oegadgib, a small, rather uninteresting corner room a little off the main artery of Annadale, where we embarked on a meal that lasted more than two hours and included several dozen courses.
First came the banchan--complimentary snacks from the kitchen that accompany your meal. But this is no single serving of free nuts or stale bread--where Korean cooking is done right, banchan usually means a dozen or so small white bowls filled with a variety of flavors, some spicy, some cool; some crunchy, others that melt in your mouth. If I were better educated in Korean cuisine (and took better notes), I could rattle off all the different tastes for you, but ignorance prevents me from doing so. Besides, part of the fun is not knowing exactly what's in front of you--pickled zucchini? fern shoots? eggplant?--and allowing yourself to be surprised.
The small saucers keep coming, and soon fill your table--and that is before you have even been served your main course, which could be some peppered beef or spicy pork belly, or steak that is grilled on your table, all accompanied by steamed rice.
For me, the evening was surprisingly reminiscent of tasting menus past--a constant barrage of new flavor, textures and temperatures: Cold, milky and sweet soju rice wine; endless refills of hot tea; peppered beef, which had the kick of a good beef jerky (that's meant as a compliment); strange little bottles of rice milk for dessert.
The tab came to $15 a person, including tax and tip. We'll be back.
7331 Little River Trpk
Annandale, VA 22003