Sometimes I feel sorry for my wife. Not because I snore, neglect my “honey do” projects, or make fun of her yoga, but because I’m probably not that much fun to eat with any more. None of our friends want to eat with us; they know I’m too opinionated. Despite the fact that my blog readership is miniscule compared to professional food critics, I’m still on the “wanted list” of several local restaurateurs. I sure as hell can’t make reservations via OpenTable under my own name. This food hobby of mine has gotten way out of hand.
So imagine my shock when we sat down for dinner at Takamatsu, in west Phoenix over 25 miles from our house, and our server instantly recognized my wife as “Myulchi Girl.” That’s right, folks, my wife is a celebrity in her own right. She is the celebrity named for tiny dried anchovies, a common side dish in Korean food. Finally, the spotlight was on someone other than me. In fact, they had no idea that I like to write about food. I relished the anonymity. I love being married to Dried Anchovy Girl.
Our mutual love of food and adventurous eating has been a common thread in our relationship. It was on our second date that my wife ordered Ama Ebi at Hiro Sushi merely to see if I was man enough to eat the shrimp heads. Who was she kidding? I crunched those crustacean cabezas with reckless abandon, and the rest was history. Raised in a New Jersey suburb of Manhattan, my wife grew up with Korean food being as common to her as Chinese food was to me. Her childhood friends’ homes smelled of exotic foods that were so different from her Jewish upbringing. Whereas her Korean friends craved the “normality” of a cheeseburger, she wanted Kalbi, Bul Go Ki, and uber-spicy Kimchee. Her favorite, as a young kid, was dried cuttlefish. Clearly, I married a weirdo.
My first introduction to Korean food wasn’t so successful. Paranoid that I would be eating Poodle or Dachsund, I whined the whole way to a New Jersey Korean restaurant, which shall remain nameless. I would not let go of the “dog thing.” I know it’s immature, naïve and ethnocentric, but I couldn’t even get past the smell of the place.
And, then, I saw it. There on the corner of the sushi bar were two shiny cans of Alpo dog food, glistening in the incandescent light. It was the proverbial Smoking Gun. “There,” I said, “don’t you know the Alpo is there to fatten up our dinner?”
Needless to say, a considerable period of time passed before I tried Korean food again. Thanks to Takamatsu, I’m now a huge fan. I can’t vouch for its authenticity except to say that we’re usually the only white people there, and most of the conversation is in Korean. Set in a modest strip center comprised mostly of Asian businesses, the walls of Takamatsu are mostly adorned with photos and jerseys of Korean sports stars, most of whom have the last name “Park” or “Kim.”
On our last visit, the server arrived at our table, turned to my wife, and said “You look familiar. I know you…you’re Myulchi Girl.” My wife is the white girl that eats the stuff that they don’t bring to the white people unless we ask for it. It’s one of the many things I love about her. And I love that they think we’re too timid to eat the good stuff. Once they know the truth about my wife’s taste for Korean food, the floodgates open. The service suddenly gets better, the servers get chatty, and you can see the joy on their faces as they share their culture with you. It’s like my own little “No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain.”
At Takamatsu, you can order from the menu and have the kitchen prepare your food for you, or you can sit at a tableside Korean BBQ table and cook it yourself. We prefer to cook it ourselves, and our last visit included an order of Bul Go Ki, which is marinated beef tenderloin, and Sang Saewoo Gui, jump shrimp. All of it is grilled, by you, at the table along with a healthy side of lettuce (to use as a wrap), garlic and onions. Caution: you WILL leave smelling like a Korean restaurant. In fact, it’s so strong that we usually disrobe in the laundry room so as to not perfume our house with the smell of Korean food. (Not that this is a bad thing.)
Korean food is served with a huge spread of side dishes, ranging from spicy kimchee to tofu, and many others. You’ll likely receive six or eight different sides to munch on but unless you look Korean, I doubt you’ll get myulchi. Ask for it by name, pronounced “meh-oh-jee.” If you’re white, they’ll probably think you’re related to my wife.
My experience with non-grilled items is somewhat limited, but we have always enjoyed the Haemul Pa Jun, a seafood and vegetable “pancake,” similar to what you may find on some Chinese menus. We also like the Haemul Jajang Dolsot Bibim Bap, a mix of meat, rice, seafood and black bean sauce served in a hot stone bowl that will be too hot to touch even after sitting on the table for 30 minutes. I have yet to try the unfortunately-named “Gop Chang Jun Gold – Hot & Spicy Intestine Casserole,” but I will. If you’re less adventurous, there is a full sushi bar and many Japanese-style entrees but, really, what’s the point?
Just tell them that you know Myulchi Girl and let them do the ordering for you.
Photos of the meal can be found at www.ericeatsout.com
9393 N 90th St, Scottsdale, AZ 85258
4214 W Dunlap Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85051