This weekend is my last one in Seoul. Yesterday SY took me to the local department store for some gift shopping. While there, I rememered that I needed some cheese and milk. I have been to this department store many times, and was shocked to learn that there is a fill size grocery store tucked away, and I have never seen it! So shopping completed, but dinner plans were changed because my friend CH was sick. So we decided to go eat at a "special place" instead of cooking in.
SY tried to explain this place, she kept pointing to a plastic bag and saying "poly". When I figured out what she meant, I thought she was indicating that the food was somehow cooked in plastic bags!!! (well, I am not completely crazy - I think in America you can still buy rice that cooks in a plastic bag). No, that was not it - she means that the restaurant itself is like a big poly bag. I was thinking one of the "tent" places like we visited at the seashore, but that was not right, either. She then starts to talk about farms, and growing plants when the weather is too cold.... Finally I understand - we are going to eat in a GREENHOUSE. One of SY's friends HR joined us, and we headed to the "country" for dinner.
My Korean friends have told me that many excellent restaurants in Korea will have great tasting foods and big crowds, but they don't pay attention to the decor. I have seen several examples of this phenomenon, but last night's greenhouse eatery has to be the ultimate example of this trend! It was located surprisingly nearby, considering it was essentially a hut out in the middle of a farm. The road to reach the place was dirt and had so many potholes it was like swiss cheese - I thought SY's new car was going to come apart. We parked and had about a 15 minute wait - this place was PACKED! The guests were not limited to any particular group - there were babies to old folks, women, men, friends, families, couples. This place seemed to attract everyone equally.
Inside the greenhouse, there was a dirt floor. Each "table" was simply a steel grill set into the ground, surrounded by some plastic foot stools. There were two small side tables to put your drink, bowl, kimchi, etc. The main course (and only course available as far as I could tell) was duck. The Korean name for this dish is Duck Bulgogi. Basically it was duck meat, some potatoes, onions, and leeks (maybe the vegetable also translates as Welsh Onions?) in a red pepper broth. It reminded me of Kamjatang taste, but much better. It was spicy, but not too much so for my new Korean taste. Just right. After the duck dish is finished, they bring a bowl of rice with some vegetables and make some fried rice in the pan using the remaining broth from the duck dish. That was some of the best tasting fried rice I have eaten.
After eating duck, they dropped me off at Jazz bar, because SY had to do some serious studying. This week she has exams at school. Even though the night was cool, I was sweating from the spiciness of the food. I first went to the bathroom and took off my tee-shirt. As I was standing by the sink, with my pants unbuckled and tucking in my shirt, a man came into the bathroom and saw me. He started telling me "NO NO NO...", and I was surprised and confused. Finally we both realized the problem - he thought I was about to "use" the sink instead of the toilet! We both got a chuckle and went on our way - me much cooler now without the tee-shirt.
I had two beers at the bar, listened to the singer, and was about to leave when the waiter comes to me and has a special request from the man owner of the bar! There are three men guests who speak english and have seen me in the bar before, and want me to join them. Sounds fun, so I go sit with them. One is a Korean Airlines pilot, and the other two are CEO and VP of a Korean steel company. We have a good time talking about Korea, America, and airplanes (funny... no steel talk). The pilot gave me his namecard, and insisted that when I come back to Korea I call him, and he and his family will take me to dinner. This is a good example of the friendliness of the Korean people I have met.