Friday, August 24, 2012

Koreana in Chinatown and a Rant

Nobody felt like cooking on a Friday night late last month, so we (Mom, Richard, Andrew, and myself) had dinner at Koreana in Chinatown. I had previously heard of good things from the family.


The first time I ate there was on Canada Day, where VN and I had the stir-fried kimchi with tofu and jja jang myun (Korean version of the Chinese black bean noodles), along with the banchan. I was surprised at how large the serving of jja jang myun was. The flavour of the black bean sauce was too plain for my tastes. Everything tasted the same to me after two bites. If it weren’t for the slivers of cucumbers, I wouldn’t have been able to stomach more than a few bites. I’m not sure how legit their version is, but I do know that I’m not a fan. VN’s stir-fry was better, though I found there to be too much sesame oil.

When our family arrived for dinner on the Friday night, a table had just left so we didn’t have to wait very long at all. We spent quite a bit of time deciding what to get. Mom doesn’t like Korean food much, but came because she told Andrew to pick where to go for dinner. Lesson learned? lol

After we gave the waitress our order, she brought us some complimentary bowls of miso soup. Once we were finished, she set down the banchan of pickled bean sprouts, daikon radish, potatoes in a sweet gloopy sauce, kimchi, and seasoned seaweed. I typically love the sweet potatoes at Korean restaurants but the sweet gloopy sauce ruined it for me. It didn’t taste homemade.


To start off the meal, we got an order of haemul paejon aka seafood pancake. Mom was disappointed because the pancake wasn’t crunchy and crisp. I had to remind her that Korean pancakes are chewy like this and not flaky like the Chinese version. Unlike the loaded seafood pancake at Nak Won (in Toronto), there wasn’t a lot of seafood in the pancakes we received.

Our main dishes began arriving not long after we began with the seafood pancakes. The mul naeng myun (aka cold noodle soup) arrived in the familiar stainless steel bowl as the jja jang myun I had previously. I knew that the soup was supposed to be seasoned with vinegar and mustard, but the cold soup just tasted like the pickling liquid of the daikon and carrots. I thought the soup was supposed to be a cold beef broth with just a bit of vinegar. I didn’t get any mustard, though I could’ve just asked for some. Mustard wouldn’t have made it anymore tasty.

Richard wanted to order the sukiyaki, but since Mom wanted that, he went with the unagidon aka BBQ eel over rice. He looked like he enjoyed it since he ate it quietly.

Andrew was craving the stir-fried kimchi with tofu. I’m pretty sure it was the same dish as VN’s, but the flavours were well balanced this time. There were pieces of pork, kimchi, green onions and tofu. This was a favourite at our table.

The other favourite was the sukiyaki that Mom got. The beefy soup was sugary. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be like that, but it was strangely addictive. We all kept taking bites of Andrew’s stir-fry and then sips of the sukiyaki.

Though Koreana isn’t the best Korean restaurant in Ottawa, we’ll still come back for their stir-fry of kimchi, tofu, and pork.

On a somewhat related note, I need to vent about the people who review restaurants (small restaurants specifically) and complain about horrible service. I usually check sites like Urbanspoon to see what other people think about restaurants, but I mostly read up on what certain food bloggers think. There are always people who comment more about the service than the food. I want to know how good the food is, not the service. My blood pressure slowly rises whenever I see those comments.

I like to watch other tables when I'm at restaurants. Are the other tables really enjoying the food? Does the food look and smell good? Are they complaining about the service? Are they doing anything about it or are they just sitting there complaining? On most occasions, the tables that complain about service just sit and bitch about it. They don't even make an effort to call someone to help them.

Using the House of Gourmet as an example, I want to explain the typical dining experience in asian restaurants. I’ve seen how busy the waiters and waitresses during the rush hours. They don’t have time to stand around while you decide what to order. In fact, they get annoyed and won’t be shy to show it. If you don’t know what you want, decide what you want first and then flag someone down to take your order. Yes, I said that you have to flag someone down. The restaurant isn’t some high-class restaurant where the service staff is there to baby you and explain what goes in every single dish. If they see a teapot that needs to be refilled, or empty plates to be cleared off the table, they’ll just swiftly swoop in and then leave. And if they don’t notice it, make eye contact with a service staff member and flag them down. Easy, right?

Another example is when we were in Taiwan. I went to have Taiwanese beef noodle soup and dumplings for lunch at a tiny restaurant. It was one of those places where you seat yourself. I sat there waiting to be served. As I sat there, I watched how the locals did it. They walked in, picked up the menu, paper, and pen, sat at a table, and then called out to the kitchen when they were ready to order. Then they got up to one corner of the restaurant and got themselves cups of winter melon tea. They dropped off their cups at their table and then walked to the condiment table and got what they wanted. They sat back down and waited for the food. They ate, paid the bill, and left. So that’s what I did and everything was fine. I wouldn’t say the service is terrible… cause the service I did receive (safe delivery of my bowl of beef noodle soup and plate of dumplings, check) was fine. Did I care that the lady didn’t place it down with a smile? Nope. Was the food really tasty? You bet!

Everybody is different. I’d rather have the service staff check in once in a while during the meal than have them hover over you. That’s the main reason I don’t mind it if they don’t pop by every five minutes. If you’re too embarrassed to flag someone, Koreana has a solution. Against the wall, there’s a small button. You press it if you want the service staff to come to your table. Otherwise, enjoy your meal with your dining companions.

Shouldn’t you care more about how good the food is at the restaurant anyway? Especially if it's just a small restaurant? If the service is shoddy but the food is amazing, why wouldn’t you return? /rant

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