Jews have Hanukkah, WWE fans have Wrestlemania, and I guess NFL fans have the Superbowl (and of course, those commercials). But what do geeks and nerds have? Well, they have a lot actually. There’s Wondercon, Fan Expo, PAX, E3, the list goes on. However, the granddaddy of them all is the San Diego Comic Con International.
It’s the biggest nerdfest on the planet, and for me, it’s the happiest place on Earth, though I’m sure Disney would disagree. Founded in 1970, San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) has grown from a three day event in the US Grant Hotel to a four day (five if you count preview night) extravaganza that fills the San Diego Convention Center and spills out into the neighbouring Hilton and Marriott hotels. It is now the place to go for a network or company involved in anything related to nerd consumption (tv, movies, comics, action figures, etc.) to promote their product. Comic Con is where you will find the first preview of things like the Iron Man movie, or the first screening of the recent CW series, Arrow. At Comic Con, there are panels, autograph sessions, and of course, the Exhibition floor, where companies like Hasbro sell their products, and major broadcasting companies such as Fox, will hand out swag and organize limited signings from cast members of shows on their network, such as The Big Bang Theory. San Diego, specifically the Gaslamp Quarter, has since embraced Comic Con and supported it. Pubs will paint pictures of Marvel heroes, and restaurants will have trivia in exchange for a discount coupon or some other deal.
Comic Con also spills out into the streets. The Hard Rock Hotel redecorates with movie posters. Sy Fy took over the cafe at the Hard Rock Hotel and turned it into Cafe Diem from Eureka (when the show was still running at least). Lou Mickey’s, a steahouse across the street, turns into the CNET recharging station, where you can recharge your tech, play some games, and have some free food (love their sliders). It goes even farther, up to Market street, and right to Petco Park.
In 2011, I was forunate enough to purchase a resale badge, and I lose my Comic Con virginity. I’ll be a honest. I’m a miserable person. I’m rarely happy. But at Comic Con, I’m like a starving glutton at a free Three michelin starred buffet. The next year, in 2012, I had another opportunity to go to Comic Con. Both times were great. I got to meet actors like Robert Picardo (The Doctor on Star Trek Voyager), Lara Vandervoort (Supergirl on Smallville), Joshua Jackson (Peter Bishop on Fringe), and those are just some of the people I got pictures with. I saw Brent Spiner once. Brent freakin’ Spiner!
Once again, I managed to snag a presale badge for 2013. And I will be returning to Comic Con for a second time (unless I can’t get the time off work). It’s a total cliche, but in the following weeks leading up to Comic Con, I’ll write more entries on the topic, and I’ll provide my dos and don’ts, as well of course, restaurant recommendations.
Well, no, not really. I didn’t have kimchi during my meal, and I didn’t order wine. “Wait, what the hell are you talking about?” you ask. Jungsik is what I’m talking about. The Michelin starred Korean restaurant (possibly the only one in the world) in Tribeca, specifically, the in space formerly occupied by the now closed Chantrelle restaurant.
When i was constructing my New York restaurant list, I browsed some of my go-to blogs. And in doing so, I stumbled on the The Wandering Epicures’ blog entry about Jungsik. It immediately caught my attention, and after reading their blog entry, I put Jungsik on the list, at a medium priority. A Korean Fine Dining restaurant. For me, it was new. I was curious to see how it would be.
I made my way to the restaurant on the Red Line, and walked up from Chambers (no taxis for cheap ol’ me). The hostess showed me to my table in the very white dining room (“very Korean” I thought). My captain came over with the menu and explained the format. The menu has five columns: Appetizer, Rice/Noodle, Fish, Meat, Dessert. Each dish, with the exception of desserts, is offered in a tasting size as well as a full course size. Alternatively, A ten course tasting menu is available. I made my selections a la carte, and sat back, waiting, wondering how this meal would turn out.
Things got kicked off with an amuse: (clockwise from center) House-Made Tofu with Eggplant, Fried Chicken Burger, Crispy Rice Cake, Sweet Potato Crisp, Rice Cracker with Yuja (Koreans say yuja, not yuzu). The tofu was delicious, and it was probably the best soft tofu I have ever had. The crispy rice cake was a reference to tteokbokgi, spicy rice cakes served at street carts. A version of this is served at Momofuku Ssam Bar, and I believe Momofuku Daisho in Toronto.
Three kinds of bread were offered with butter: raisin roll, rice sourdough, and olive ciabatta. The Raisin roll reminded me a lot of the buns my eldest aunt would buy and serve for breakfast in her home when I spent time there.
Bibim, Tomato, Arugula Sorbet. A play on bibimbap. In this case, Chef Jungsik Yim (the restaurant is named after him) took the word “bibim” which means “to mix” and applied to the flavours of Tomato, Arugula, Romaine, and Potato. The arugula was served as a sorbet, and the potato was fried thin and crispy, which added a nice crunch to the dish. While it didn’t evoke any memories, it was a great dish, and I thought to myself “a big bowl of this would be great in the summer”.
Spicy Ramyun, Pork Belly, Savory Broth. Every Korean has had ramyun in their lives. I remember having cup ramyun with my family during trips to White Rock and Tofino. Every Korean (except the adopted ones) have a memory of ramyun. Koreans consume the greatest amount of instant ramyun per capita….or so wikipedia says. I would have to say though, that this was my favorite version of ramyun. It hit all the notes. If I wasn’t in a Fine Dining restaurant, I would have picked up the bowl and tilted it back. My one complaint is the tableware bowl itself. It was too narrow and high up that I couldn’t get my spoon in their for the last little spoonfuls of delicious broth. One other thing that I need to mention, is their S.A. Now, I use my right hand for my fork and my left hand for my knife, which is the complete opposite of almost everyone in the world. Every time my cutlery is replaced, I watch and see if they would put the fork on the right side, and the knife on the left. The S.A. took notice and placed the fork on the right side. For me, it’s a bit of a big deal in the “details” department. Moving on…
Smoked Pork Jowl, pickled ramp. As I kept tasting the broth, it reminded me of something, until finally, at the end, once I had almost finished eating the dish, I realized what it was that was so familiar. It was the pickled ramp broth, which reminded me of my mom’s pickled garlic scapes.
Galbi Ver. 2, Wagyu Short-Rib, Chestnuts. Served with Red Pepper, Chow Fun (which they prefered to call rice noodle), and Jus. The kitchen team scored the emotion/memory evoking hat trick as the streak of good food continued. I did however, feel that the red pepper had no place in the dish. When my captain asked how I liked the dish as he cleared the plate, I wasn’t sure if it was better than my mom’s or not.
Quince Trifle. A play on Sujeonggwa, a (primarily) cinnamon flavoured drink, served after the savory meal. In this case, Jungsik made a layered trifle consisting of (from top to bottom) vanilla, persimmon, cinnamon, and chestnut.
Green Tea Cremeux, Sweet Red Bean, Roasted Bean Ice Cream. Deconstructed Patbingsu. Simple as that, but done with finesse, and without sweet rice cakes. Patbingsu is a Korean dessert consisting of shaved ice, sweet red bean, condensed milk, rice cakes, ice cream, and sometimes if not usually, cereal (like lucky charms, not frosted mini wheats).
I was given three last bites to end my wonderful meal. (left to right) Mugwart Financier, Chocolate Covered Mango, Ginseng Macaron. The Macaron impressed me the most because of the balance achieved with the flavours. It wasn’t overwhelming with ginseng, but it still had a strong presence, contrasted by the chocolate in the centre.
My fears had left me, and I was left happy, and hopeful for the future of Korean food at Jungsik. It’s just a really great place to eat. The food is fantastic, and if you’re Korean, or familiar with Korean food, you get that extra bit of pleasure from the memories their food will evoke. The food at Jungsik, for me at least, is the food your mom would make if she were a classically trained chef.
2 Harrison Street
When you think three michelin starred food, and the cost of it, you expect it to cost an arm and a leg….and maybe a kidney if you get wine. But during lunch at Jean Georges (not Jean George Nougatine. Make sure you go to the right one), you can have your marshmellow, and eat it too.
During my first trip to New York, I was so blown away by my lunch there that I made a return trip a week later (my captain even recognized me). So, it was an obvious choice to return to Jean Georges for a second time.
I knew what I was going to order before I even crossed the US/Canadian border: Foie and Chicken. The captain (thank gods he wasn’t French) took my order, and I waited for the fun to begin.
I was given a trio of amuse to start. Squash Soup, Dashi, Parmesan Foam. Beet, Toasted Rye, Pecan, Ricotta. Tangerine with “snow”. The soup was actually really good, and the dashi added a nice umami to the soup.
Foie Gras Brulee, Dried Sour Cherries, Pistachioes, White Port Gelee. It was a small torchon with a bruleed disc of sugar and toasted brioche on the bottom. It wasn’t as good as the first time, but it was still good.
Parmesan Crusted Organic Chicken, Artichoke, Basil and Lemon Butter. The first time I had this dish, I met Jean Georges after the meal and asked him to put it on the menu at Market at Shangri La in Vancouver. I never went to eat there because I was afraid they wouldn’t be able to make it exactly like the one in New York. This time around, I had artichokes instead of salsify. It worked well together, and the acidity from the lemon elevated the dish.
I opted to skip dessert. An assistant captain came cover with the marshmellow cart and a small plate of chocolates. i tasted a couple and asked for the rest to be packed up (for my hostel roommates) as well as a copy of the menu.
If you find yourself in New York, reserve a table. To my knowledge, this is the cheapest three michelin starred meal you can have in the world.
1 Central Park W, New York
When I first planned my trip, I had only intended to go to New York and London. But D.C. was so close, and I wanted to take some pictures, as well as go to the Smithsonian. But most importantly, I wanted to eat. Jaleo was there. The original Jaleo. The flight was cheap, so I thought, let’s go. Turned out to be a good experience, but I didn’t budget it. Good thing was that I had plenty of money to cover it (I stress the past-tense, sadly, but worth it).
I like to fly overnight, if not early. That way, I don’t waste the day flying. So, the night before my flight, after a late dinner at Cafe Boulud (review to come), I packed my things and then joined some of my new found hostel friends at a nearby pub for a drink. I stayed up all night because I was afraid I might miss my alarm if I slept. I paid for that later. I fell asleep easily on the shuttle bus to the airport, but things got a little worse. I fell asleep at the airport (unintentionally of course. Thank god my things didn’t get stolen). i ended up waking up 10 minutes before my flight was scheduled to depart. I woke up to the sound of the PA calling my name. I ran to the gate, and barely managed to make it to the plane.
I made it to D.C. and I took a bus and metro (beautiful stations) to my hostel. After dropping off my things, I took a taxi to “Spike” Mendelson’s “Good Stuff Eatery”. After lunch, I walked my way through the national mall, making a quick detour to the national archives, around capitol hill, straight through the Smithsonian Institute, past the Washington monument and reflecting pool, finally stopping at the Lincoln Memorial.
The next day was more of the same. The national mall is someting that requires probably three days and one night to see. I only visited the Air and Space Museum, Natural History Museum, and the Museum of American History, where I got to see Julia Child’s kitchen. It was there that I also found a great deal. A Jaques Pepin cookbook valued at $40 was on sale for $15. I didn’t plan on buying books, but that was a steal.
Then it came time to say goodbye. My time in DC was over. It was time to go to Toronto. Now I would never go to Toronto. There was nothing that really appealed to me, other than the fact that I have friends there. They were the only reason to go. I didn’t even have restaurants planned. The journey to Toronto was easier, but more of a headache. My flight was delayed by at least an hour because the airport was incapable of properly de-icing the plane. However, but the time they de-iced the plane, the temperature was above freezing, and the de-icing fluid was at that point, unecessary (all that for nothing…). I seem to have a light case of “The Travelling Ivon”.
I wish I had more money…so that I can just get a $50 cab to my locations. Travelling with heavy luggage is not fun. It’s a little awkward too. Toronto was a blur. 3 days and 3 nights seemed more like 2 days. I got in touch with people I know there and made plans. But, to quote Jayne from Firefly, “what [I] plan and what takes place ain’t ever been similar”. Plans got pushed, restaurants were left unvisited, time was wasted.
I gotta say though. Once you get over the size of the Eaton Centre mall, you get over it and realize that it’s not all that special. It’s just another mall. My friend, who works at the Oliver and Bonacini company, hooked me up with a tour of their catering and production space within what I believe was The Bay tower. it’s a giant space. It’s big enough to supply a hotel. It’s bigger than the Olympic Athlete’s village.
I found myself in the Kensington Market area the next day. I expected it to be indoors and kind of organized like the St. Lawarence Market, but it wasn’t. It was like someone took the food shops of a hipster-ish neighbourhood and compressed them into a 1 car lane alley-street. Cool, and hipster, but, not really my thing. I made my way back to my hostel through Chinatown, picking up a mediocre banh mi and chinese baked goods along the way (Oh Maxims and T & T, how I miss you).
I never expected to like Toronto, possibly due to a rivalry bias against the city since I’m from Vancovuer, but, I honestly might move to Toronto one day for 3 seasons of work. I hate the idea of spending time in Toronto during the summer, so, go there in the Fall, and the leave at the end of spring. Toronto, DC, hopefully, I’ll see you both again.
It’s been a while, I know. i’ve been busy eating, shooting, drinking (really should’ve had a budget for that), walking (my feet could use some physio), and according to a rumour, having sex in the bathroom of a hostel with a cute girl (wish that was true).
Restaurant reviews will come soon. Once I get to London, things will slow down a bit for me, and I should have more time. But hey, at least I have a lifetime (unless the internet dies first from some sort of apocolypse like Revolution or H+ or of course a zombie apocolypse) to write my blog :). Joe, I don’t know how you do it, especially when you travel.
Boarding now…I’ll update again