My wife and I gathered with six of our friends for a Northern Korean (Kaesong style) dinner at the wonderful Los Angeles K-town restaurant Yong Su San. Kaesong was the capital of ancient Koryo for a few hundred years and is renowned for its highly-developed cuisine. The cuisine of Kaesong is quite interesting and different from that of the Southern Korean. Anyone in the Los Angeles area should make a point of visiting this exceptional restaurant. Both the unique cuisine and ambiance make it a LA treasure. Our group of eight was given one of the many private rooms. I had arranged ahead of time to bring wines and stems. I have dined at Yong Su San several times, albeit, sans wine. The task of pairing the wines with the various dishes was quite challenging, even more so with the added stipulation of a small per person wine budget. Enough babbling...onto the dinner and wines.
We started with Ho Bak Jook (soft creamy pumpkin pottage) which is a thick and viscous porridge, very concentrated in flavor. It paired really well the light and crisp NV Zardetto Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut.
Next up was three dishes served together. Gye Ja Che (Gold strands of jelly fish with crisp asian pears and cucumber marinated in a spicy mustard dressing, served with 100 year old egg), Seng Ya Che (Fresh green salad in a special sesame dressing) and Kaesong Che Na Mool (Kaesong style sweet sour spicy mixed salad of bean sprouts, watercress, radish and persimmon). These three dishes contrasted nicely with one another, yet managed to compliment each other at the same time. Each dish seemed to have a component that paired well with the other two. The dressing on the Seng Ya Che was especially flavorful. I served a 1999 Dr Fischer Ockfener Bockstein Spatlese. Rather light in body and more resembling a kabinett in weight, it featured notes of citrus and hints of honey. The wine had less mineral and acid than what I like in German Riesling, but seemed to work these three dishes.
Je Yuk Soon De (a plate of steamed tender pork belly slices served with kimchi salad) was the next course served. Not my favorite of the night. The pork was rather bland though the 2003 Domaine du Saint Esprit Rosé (Cotes de Provence) was wonderful. Crushed roses, tangy acid and well structured, makes this one of the better 03 Rosés for me.
Chung Po Mook (Clear soft jelly pasta of mungbeans marinated and mixed with beef and mushrooms, sprinkled with crushed seaweeds) was next. This is a fantastic dish. The supple texture of the mungbean noodles, the earthiness of the mushroom with the beef and the contrasting flavor of the seaweed made this a memorable dish. It paired really well with the 1998 Josmeyer Pinot Gris. Nice aromas of flowers and honeysuckle, with a flinty mineral component. The aromas continued on the palate with some vanilla emerging. This wine seemed to accentuate the earthy flavor of the Chung Po Mook.
The next course was served. It featured two dishes, Jun Yu Hwa (Pan fried egg with fish and zucchini tempura) and Pai Ju Yo Ri (Fresh sea scallop a la Yong Su San with mushroom and broccoli). Both dishes were light and refreshing. The Jun Yu Hwa had a very mild flavored fish and was finished with a flat parsley leaf in the batter, which made for a nice presentation. The scallops were buttery and delicious. I chose the 2002 Con Class Verdejo (Rueda) to go with these dishes. A nice friendly version of Verdejo with a touch of Sauvignon Blanc thrown in for good measure. This wine was both enticing and refreshing. It showed notes of pear and honeysuckle. Low in acidity, but with medium body, this could be considered Spanish Sancerre without the grassy, mineral qualities.
From light and refreshing to pungent and spicy, out came the Kaesong Bo Sam Kimchi (Royal Kaesong style Kimchi, wrapped with various fillings). No wine could compete with this dish and I didnt even consider one. I didnt really eat mush of this, but then again, I have not yet grasped the fine subtleties of Kimchi. All I can say is it smelled and tasted like it should.
On to the main course. Bul Kogi San Juk (Barbecued tender beef fillet, marinated in a soy sauce and garlic) served with Jap Chai (Glass noodles and various fresh crisp vegetables stir-fried in special Korean sauce). The beef was very thin and cooked through in a light, sweet, plum style sauce. It was really delicious. The side dish of Jap Chai added a nice compliment to the meat. The noodles had a sweet fragrant aroma. Some panchun was served with the meat (radish and cucumber, bean sprouts and zucchini). To go with this dish I selected the 2003 Castle Rock Carneros Pinot Noir. I have been following Greg Popovichs wines for several years. In my opinion, he is producing some of the best wines at the $10 and under price point. The 03 Carneros is another well made offering. Showing more of a candied sweet quality than previous years, it still has the power and body to stand up to strong flavors. Notes of cherry, plum, spice and a touch of smoke dominate the flavor profile. The wine is nicely balanced with a full, lasting finish. It was a great compliment to the Bul Kogi San Juk.
We then served a soup course with choice of On Myun/Neang Myun (Warm/Cold buckwheat noodle soup garnished with julienne beef and egg strands) or Jinji and Tang (Steamed rice and soup). I chose the Jinji and Tang which was a chicken broth soup with strands of egg and glutinous balls of rice similar to boba. Having little room left, I sipped some of the broth and set the dish aside. The broth was flavorful and satisfying, but I was much too full to eat anything else. No wine pairing for his dish.
After some time to relax and reflect on the fabulous meal we had just enjoyed, our delightful server brought out some dessert. Su Jung Kwa (Persimmon punch made of fresh ginger, cinnamon and honey) is a refreshing concoction that was served with Yak Kwa (ginger cookies and fresh orange slices). This combination was very nice and the perfect way to end an exquisite meal, almost. Out came a bottle of NV Benjamin Tawny Port. Now we could retire. One of the more memorable meals I've experienced recently.