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Intrigued by Bunson's rec for Chungdam as the best Korean in the area, I had a chance to check out this newcomer earlier this month.
On a Monday night, we were shocked that the wait for a two-top for walk-ins would be more than 45 minutes. Indeed, the private rooms had large parties and several tables had solo diners. We finally got a seat in the back with a view of the parking lot by 8pm.
Dinner started with a steaming hot bowl of seaweed soup in a delicious beef broth. Chungdam says it uses higher quality meats and no MSG. The clean finish on this soup seemed proof of that.
Then mixed grain rice and seven panchan. Not so fond of the cabbage kimchi, not spicy enough and the intense sour seemed almost like vinegar rather than natural fermentation. My favorite was the kabocha pudding-like side dish splashed with sweet chile sauce. The fish cakes tasted rather natural and not so processed. Mac salad was oversweetened, which would turn out to be the common thread to this meal.
This was one of the few times I've had crab in the panchan set. Sweet, spicy and briny, and eminently suckable for the layers of flavor more than flesh.
Spotting these pickled radishes on the next table, I asked our server if they might be available. She brought us a dish and explained that it accompanies a specific entree they had ordered, but she was happy to serve it to us.
Seafood Dol Pan Bibim, $18, was a bigger than usual portion for the higher than normal price. This would turn out to be lukewarm and a big let-down. More details here,
On a higher note, Eundaegoo Jorim, $32, black cod stew with radish and kabocha was enormous in size and big on flavor punch too.
Caramelized onions and soft scallions sort of melted into the bubbling cauldron of soupiness. Soft tofu simmered and infused with flavor was almost as prize-worthy as the buttery chunks of bone-in black cod. Quite mildly spiced, this needed more kick to balance the sweet elements.
Dessert was a cold pumpkin slush, the third kabocha appearance on our table. That's not a complaint, we liked this ending very much.
Our server was friendlier and more personable than has been my experience at Korean restaurants, which was a definite plus. We both felt the food needed more chile heat and depth of flavor with less reliance on sugar. At this price level, Chungdam is more of a special occasion Korean spot. I would probably come back here before I'd return to Jang Su Jang.
3180 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95051
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