Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Taste of Korea

Chef Youngsun Lee
The Taste of Korea Dinner was held in the Fourth Estate Restaurant at the National Press Club recently. The dinner, which was emceed by Eric Rhee, producer of the brand-new PBS show Kimchi Chronicles, was very well-received, and the diverse group of those in attendance even included four members of the Korean National Assembly.

Korean food offers “something for everyone,” in Rhee’s words, and the Taste of Korea Dinner aimed to showcase the best of this incredible diversity. Chef Youngsun Lee (Momofuku alum and co-founder of Kimchi Taco Truck in New York City) prepared a delicious spread of food, and served as a knowledgeable and entertaining guide to his innovative creations.

Lee, who also has a background in Italian cuisine, first served an amuse bouche consisting of two types of arancini: one filled with kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage), the other filled with tofu and edamame. Both were served with a tangy aioli.

The first course – my personal favorite – was eggplant with a tofu “ranch” dressing. The latter was comprised of Korean silken tofu, lime juice, lime zest, grapeseed oil, salt, pepper, and quite possibly a secret ingredient. I can’t wait to try to reproduce it at home! The dish was garnished with daikon and what Chef Lee referred to as "Korean croutons” – tiny pieces of fried rice cakes. Whole Foods, could you please sell these in your bulk bins?

We were then served a sampling of Korean banchan, or side dishes: traditional cabbage kimchi, cucumber kimchi, mung beans, and tiny fish (to be honest, the fish were not my thing, although others seemed to enjoy them). The four sides were all served with steamed white rice and accompanied our main course: ddeok kalbi with cucumber relish. Traditionally a short rib dish served to kings, Lee’s creative take on ddeok kalbi was a patty of ground beef served on top of lasagna (mimicking the bone of a short rib) that contained layers of cucumber kimchi.

Finally, we were served a dessert of ginger tofu mousse – silken tofu served flan-style with a syrupy, sweet date and red wine sauce.

Bottom line: I could have done without the tiny fish, but otherwise, the meal was great - and reminded me that I need to eat a lot more Korean food. Fortunately, the D.C. metro area has plenty to offer, particularly out in Annandale, Virginia.

If you were lucky enough to attend the Fancy Food Show, I hope you were able to check out the Korean Pavilion!

By: Sarah Charnes, Capital Cooking Contributor

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