Bibimbap

Snap, Crackle, K-Pop

South Korea: stamps | Passport stamps, Stamp, Getting a passport

Korea

I’m going to go ahead and spoil it, there wasn’t any K-pop playing when I drug the old Culinary-Passport to Seoul Korean Kitchen but the snap & crackle showed up later. The restaurant is kind of odd because they took over another restaurant and that other restaurant’s branding is all over the place still. In spite of that, the employees I interacted with and the décor that was deployed throughout was enough to give a Korean vibe. .

They weren’t too busy when I got there, however there was a short wait while some tables were cleaned and sanitized. While the menu isn’t extensive it does have a good sampling of Korean dishes and I found myself going back and forth between bulgogi and bibimbap. Bibimbap was what I was planning to get when I left the apartment but the lure of the bulgogi made me as wishy washy as a politician checking poll numbers. Fortunately the nice lady taking my order steered me toward the bibimbap. Hot pot version please.

My sides came first.

I love these but I’m not sure why we’re calling them sides instead of included appetizers. Without exception everyone (everyone I saw anyway) who got these ate them before the main dish arrived. I guess it really doesn’t matter, the important thing is they were tasty. The cucumber had some sweet chili oil (or something like it) on them, the broccoli were steamed tender and had a touch of sesame oil on them, yum. The potatoes were ok, the kimchi had just a hint of spiciness and would do for a wide range of palates, I even used my chop stick skills, such as they are, to eat these. I abandoned those when the star of the lunch arrived.

The bibimbap arrived in a very hot stone bowl sitting on a plastic tray thingy that made it possible for the wait staff to handle. This was where snap & crackle came in. The rice under all these other ingredients was frying and creating a crunchy little base at the bottom. As I was getting that auditory show the colorful spinach, carrots, sprouts, beef and nori covered mushrooms provided a nice visual complement. Oh and the sunny side up egg in the center didn’t hurt either. Once I added the sauce and stirred it up it wasn’t quite as eye catching but it was pretty delicious.

As mentioned I didn’t even pretend like the chop sticks were going to be sufficient to the task and dove in fork first. The flavors and textures, including the crunchy rice on the bottom, just blended so nicely together I’m not even sure what more to say other than if you haven’t ever tried bibimbap you need to and Seoul Korean Kitchen can help you out.

If you aren’t tired of Korean stuff check out the recipe, music and random fact on the Tell Me More page.

Taking It to the Haus

Germany

This weekend I met up with my friends Renee & Zack at the Augsburg Haus in Evans, GA for a bit of German fare. It’s located in a busy strip shopping center with 3 other restaurants and a cupcake shop. Odds are pretty good I’ll visit this stretch of real estate again. The parking lot looked full but there turned out to plenty of spots. The Augsburg Haus itself was not overly busy and had plenty of room for seating. We picked a spot near the back away from most of the rest of the folks so we could chat without raising out voices. This allowed us to enjoy the authentic German food that much better. As for German ambiance here’s a shot of the wall I was looking at.

I got there first and decided it wouldn’t be a good German meal without a beer so I went for a Kostritzer Black Lager. It was so smooth I could have chugged it with no problem. I didn’t.

After going over the menu and deciding there was nothing I wouldn’t like I just selected the first item, the Augsburg Special. The special consisted of schnitzel topped with sauerkraut and swiss cheese plus mashed potatoes and gravy. There was also a salad included to start.

When that plate was put in front of me the first thought I had was, “Dear Lord, that is a huge hunk of meat”. Second thought was “That’s a very pale plate.” I got over the lack of color though and dove in. I was uber happy with the results. The potatoes and gravy were nice but the schnitzel was great. It was thicker than I thought it would be with and well seasoned and breaded. The sauerkraut was tart but not too tangy like some you can find and the swiss cheese was a gooey, tasty topper that held it all together. I wound up bringing half of it home for dinner so while we paid dinner prices on Saturday the portions made it a two meal deal for me.

Renee got the Gulasch plate that was beef sirloin tips and gravy on a king sized bed of spaetzle and added a side of German potato salad.

By all reports it was delicious and worthy of a redo. Zack went for the wurst plate with some mashed potatoes and mac & cheese (substituted for the normal sauerkraut). We did appreciate the fact that the server was up front and let us know the mac & cheese was Kraft and not something house made.

Based on this trip I’ll most assuredly visit them again for my German food fix and would recommend it to others. I do have a caveat though, the lunch prices are available on the weekdays only so if you’re budget conscious take that into consideration.

While you’re considering things if you want a recipe, music and / or need to know a beer fact, check out the Tell Me More page.

Murgh-nificent

India

In a rare weekday lunch for the Culinary-Passport I picked up my buddy Swain and we headed out for Korean. But wait, you say, the heading says India and you are correct. For reasons we had to pivot from Korean and landed at the Curry Hut. As landings go it was a pretty successful one.

From the outside the Curry Hut is not at all impressive. The building looks aged and you know they are not the first restaurant to occupy this space. The inside is better and the menu was downright expensive looking in this day and age of laminated or paper one sheeters.

We had two folks waiting on us, one a very experienced veteran of the Curry Hut and one that was a rookie and she let us know she was. So after spending quite a bit of time trying to make up our minds from the extensive menu I went with Badami Murgh (almond chicken) plus a side of garlic naan and Swain got Chicken Hyderabadi with pappadum. We had some discussion about spiciness with the more experienced of the wait staff and both got the spicy versions of our dishes.

You might have noticed the elegant serving dishes and plates. I will admit to a negative reaction. When it came time to leave however, I appreciated the leftover badami murgh already being in a to go container.

The badami murgh is very tasty. Kind of sweet with plenty of heat. The dish tasted like it might have had some coconut milk as well as the almond & cashew nuts. The curry was aromatic, creamy, nutty, and the spiciness was a definite taste on its own. It wasn’t like a specific type of pepper flavor but a sharp hot flavor. In fact the heat was just at the top end of my enjoyability spectrum of spiciness. Overall it was very nice with plenty to take home. Check them out for yourself.

If you want a quick hit of more India related content check out the Tell Me More page.

Ephesian Lunch

Turkey

I grabbed the old Culinary Passport and headed to Ephesus Restaurant on Washington Rd in Augusta for a Sunday lunch. Ephesus calls itself a Greek & Turkish kabob place and I’ll buy that. For the blog though I’m calling it Turkish because a) Ephesus is in Turkey and b) the entrée I got originated in Turkey.

Observations about the restaurant. They have plenty of seating with a fair amount of spaces between the tables. The walls are a light green that I’m pretty sure has a name like Sea Foam or Fresh Mint or some such. Adorning the walls are an eclectic mix of prints, paintings and objects with a mostly Mediterranean theme. Overall the effect is a nice bright atmosphere to have a meal. The lady who waited on me fit right in as well, being pleasant and informative.

After perusing the menu I decided to try the Iskender Kabob meal.

Iskender Kabob plate

This is layers of gyro meat covered in a tomato sauce atop pita bread and yogurt with roasted pepper and tomato garnish. Here’s another shot after digging in.

Iskender plate 2

I’ve had a similar dish before served with rice and was skeptical about how it was going to be just over pita bread but I needn’t have worried. The tomato sauce is paste based with a few spices added making a rich and tasty topper to the meat. It is taken up a notch mixed with the yogurt which adds some additional depth to the whole thing. The pita is cut into bite sized pieces which conveniently meant no knife needed. I honestly thought I’d fly through this but the portion was generous and I wound up taking some home. As she was taking my plate the question of dessert was raised and I was going to pass but baklava was mentioned.

You can see it is in a to go container so I’d have snacks for later. I tried one not long after walking in the door and I’ll say it was good. I appreciate the crushed pistachio topping for the color and taste addition but it still was not as good as my sister and brother-in-law make.

I’ll definitely go back and try some of the other menu items and feel confident recommending them to other people.

For a recipe, music, and a random bit of info check out the Tell Me More page.

Beer, Cookies and Paddles

Once upon a rainy, nasty, cold day there was a brewery that offered an interesting pairing event that drew me from the comfort of my snug apartment to the hinterlands of Lincoln county. Along the way my sister joined me since she was the instigator of this quest.

Our destination was Back Paddle Brewing and a pairing of Girl Scout Cookies and beer. Lunch was in the plans too because beer and cookies on an empty stomach seemed like too much of a risk for people with sugar issues.

I got the Brat Burger and my sister got the BBQ pork tacos.

The Brat Burger was made with heritage breed pork, house made beer mustard and apple slaw as well as lettuce and tomato on a potato bun. It was a tasty combo. The report on the tacos was positive too. My sister had ordered them before so they have to be deemed re-order worthy.

Now the main reason for us being here was the pairing.

They had my top three Girl Scout cookies; samoas, thin mints, and tagalongs. The also had the lemon one. The beers in order they were to be paired with the cookies as listed above were:

  • Easy.Ready.Willing Witbier – Wheat beer
  • No Luck At All – Irish Stout
  • Celebrate We Will! – Brown Ale
  • Black IPA – didn’t get this one

We agreed on the success or lack thereof for each of the pairings even if our taste buds were on slightly different pages. The best was surprisingly the lemon and wheat bear which paired very well together. The tartness of the lemon and the lightness of the wheat beer melded nicely. The tagalongs were to the brown ale as a pesky younger sibling to a teenager. On their own they are perfectly fine but as a companion to the brown ale the sweetness of the cookie just overwhelmed the ale and canceled out the flavor . The black IPA and the thin mints weren’t ideal mates but they didn’t conflict either so that one was ok. The stout and samoa was interesting in that the samoa countered a lot of the flavor but left a coffee aftertaste that was quite enjoyable.

Back Paddle is not someplace you’d just stumble on but it is worth a drive. I liked the picnic style tables they had spaced well apart and pairs of stools at the bar. The folks working there, including the owner, were all very nice and willing to answer questions, make suggestions and let you take a taste of a beer if you needed to help you decide. Nice place I’m very certain I’ll visit again. Oh and the paddles were the tap handles, no one was actually paddled in the making of this blog (well this entry anyway).

Mexican Omelet with a side of bacon

The King of Bacon

Mexico

This week I decided to combine both my Saturday breakfast out with a blog relevant restaurant, Taqueria El Rey. El Rey (The King in English if you didn’t know) is a Mexican place that, as of this blog posting, recently started offering breakfast on the weekend.

The seating area is spacious and I was the only one there so social distancing was pretty easy. I was surprised to get chips for breakfast but I rolled with it.

I didn’t get any salsa and that had me confused until I saw the server, Madeline, distributing ladles at the Salsa bar. Yes, you heard me, the Salsa bar.

In addition to a lot of options they have a heat score card atop the bar so you don’t pick something that will hurt you. I opted to try the spicy version of the salsa verde and the peanut salsa.

Both had some heat but weren’t too spicy. The peanut salsa was different. There was a peanut flavor but I found it a bit thin. Thankfully I only had time to try a few chips in each because my main dish was going to be a challenge to finish.

I asked which item was the most authentically Mexican on the menu and was directed to the Mexican omelet. Madeline confirmed my impression that most of the items were Mexican with a “twist”. I went with the suggestion and because there was no meat in the omelet got a side of bacon.

The picture doesn’t do the scale of this breakfast justice. The omelet was at least a 3 egg omelet, filled with refried beans and mozzarella. It was topped with pico de gallo and sour cream with queso fresco blocks on the side. Talk about a filling breakfast and this has to be in the conversation. Presentation was nice and it tasted great. I could have foregone the bacon but I am so glad I didn’t. For one thing this side portion had to be at least 6 slices of the crispiest, least greasy bacon I’ve ever had. Ever. The title probably makes sense to you now. If you love crispy bacon it’s worth visiting just for the bacon. I had to take a break and read a few minutes to let it settle some before I could finish.

I enjoyed every bit of my experience at El Rey. Even the coffee mug was intriguing.

The inside of the mug was glazed as was the brown chocolate colored dripping around the rim. The decorative painting on the outside was also glazed but the clay was not so you could feel the texture of it. Very interesting.

It’s a shame there weren’t more people showing this place some love but at least there were more people pulling in as I was leaving. Maybe they were waiting on me to leave. If you’re in Augusta on a weekend and want something different for breakfast I’d recommend giving El Rey a shot. The fajita omelet and breakfast chimichangas sound like a reason to return.

Also check out the Tell Me More page for Mexico for some randomness.

Tea Time pt 1

I teased (see what I did there) this on the FB page last month after the family had our post-Christmas Christmas gathering. My niece and her husband got me this bag of teas from around the world.

Outer bag

Selection of countries

Twelve countries and twelve teas. The packaging is utilitarian rather than fancy but that’s ok with me if it helps deliver value. I’ve tried half of the teas to this point and while I’m researching suitable restaurants in the Augusta area I thought this would be a good item to keep my blog momentum going and it certainly is in the spirit of the blog.

A quick note about my preparation that will likely appall any tea aficionados among you. I use filtered water that I microwave to boiling and then steep the tea according to the package recommendation or 5 minutes if there isn’t a recommendation. I take mine with sweetener only.

My first random pull from the bag was the tea from Israel, Wissotzky Tea.

This was a black tea in a double chamber bag with string like the majority of the teas we see here in the US. My tea palate is not refined to distinguish subtle variations within the tea types so my main gauge is strength of flavor. I found this to be a nice black tea but somewhat mild, definitely drinkable and I graded it 3 out of 5 tea bags.

Next was the Azerbaijani tea.

Another black tea, the Azercay Buket was packaged in the double chamber with string format. It was a bit stronger than the Israeli tea which suited me fine. While I said my taste buds weren’t that refined there was something a bit different with this one in addition to the strength that I liked and earned it 4 out of 5 tea bags.

Nepal was the next contestant out of the bag.

The KTE Black with Chai Spices was the first tea with additions and they were nice additions. There was no overpackage to the bag and it was a single chamber style. I like spiced tea and this one came with a very pleasant aroma and taste. I’m not sure what all spices were used but I could taste the cinnamon and cardamom complimenting the mild black tea. As I mentioned I prefer strong teas and like flavors that punch you in the face however I found this enjoyable enough to give it 4 tea bags.

Number four in the tea parade was the Russian entry.

Not a lot to say about the Maisky other than it was a moderately strong black tea with a good tannic mouthfeel. The bag was double chambered with string and no outer package. A 4 bagger on the rating scale.

England represented with a Twinings tea.

The 1706 Strong Breakfast Tea is my favorite of the lot so far. I don’t love this bag style but the tea within was as advertised. This was strong, astringent tea that was taking no prisoners. One of these for breakfast and you’d have to be dead for it not to get you going. If I was the type to add milk to my tea this would be the only one I’d consider because even diluted the tea would still be the dominant flavor. This one gets a 5 out of 5 from me.

The last one for this edition is the Indonesian entry.

The Sosro Heritage Green Tea was the first non-black out of the bag. Green tea is not my favorite as they tend to be subtle but I do enjoy one every now and then as a change of pace. This one was very pleasant. In spite of the label saying there was no roasting the tea presented with a faint smoky aroma that carried over to the flavor. I found the overall taste to be kind of grassy and mild and while that doesn’t sound great the flavor built up as I drank it. It earned a 3 out of 5 tea bags.

That’ll do it for part I. I’ll do part II once I finish the other 6 teas and I’m hoping for at least one more “punch me in the taste buds” like the Twinings in that batch. If you’ve had any of these teas let me know what you thought.

Starting New With a Sunrise

It’s been a while since I posted anything new but life and relocations happen. I’m back in Augusta now after being gone for more than a decade. One thing that excited me about moving back was there would be a whole new set of restaurants to discover.

I decided to keep it simple for the first entry here while I search out the international restaurants. I opted for a good old American breakfast at the Sunrise Grill just up the street from my apartment. I’d eaten here before but it was many years ago so aside from the location I didn’t remember much about it.

Sunrise is in an older or shall we say well established shopping center that has seen facelifts over the years but you can tell it’s on the other side of prime. In spite of that when you walk in to the place it is bright, big and open. The wait staff was extremely friendly and masked up whenever they were interacting with customers. There was plenty of spacing out for social distancing.

I sat at the counter and I don’t think the next stool was quite 6 feet away but the capacity at the counter was cut down to half or less than what would be there in pre-pandemic times. Plus the only other person sitting at the counter sat at the other far end so we’d have needed walkie talkies or at the very least cup and strings to even communicate. OK maybe not that far away since I did hear him order fried bologna and eggs for his breakfast.

I kept my order simple with fried eggs, grits and sausage. Grit consistency is a good gauge for a southern restaurant, are they too soupy, too thick or just right. That attention to detail can tell you how they deal with the rest of the meal.

After ordering I had my meal in less time than it took me to open my Kindle app, sync it and read more than a page or two (no it’s not because I’m a slow reader). The grits passed muster, the eggs were fried up as ordered and the wheat toast was toasty. The sausage was a pleasant surprise because not only were there 3 patties instead of the 2 I’d grown accustomed to at most places now they had a bit of a spicy kick to them. Nice touch. The coffee was middle of the road, not strong, not weak, just hot, fresh and coffee flavored.

Overall it was a good start to discovery or re-discovery of my new old environs. Next week I’ll get the passport out and see what international culinary destination I can find.

German Box Zwei

Well I didn’t cancel my German Box subscription like I meant to so in the absence of a new restaurant let me share what I put together from the most recent box. It included something I’d never had before and have become kind of a fan of even if I don’t see myself seeking it out on a regular basis.

Here are the items I used from the box to construct a meal (actually meals because there were left overs).

Fortunately for me there were English instructions on both the Bread Dumplings and the Schweinebraten mix. I couldn’t find a suitably sized pork roast so I opted for a pork loin of equivalent weight to sub for it, otherwise I cooked as instructed. I mean roast pork and gravy, how could this be bad?

The bread dumplings were the new thing for me and I was digging the packaging and ease of preparation.

Yep, those are little plastic bags with bread bits in them. I went into this with very little confidence in how these would turn out. Man was I surprised. The bags are porous and you soak them in water before you boil them. The packaging contains the growth as the bread hydrates and forms a cohesive dumpling. Once done you just free them from the plastic restraints and chow down. German engineering for the win baby.

The red cabbage and apples just needed to have the jar open. I guess you could heat them up but I liked them just fine at room temp. Once I got everything done the end result was a fine dinner.

The succulent pork loin medallions were fork tender and tasty from the gravy, the bread dumplings were a chewy, tasty vehicle for gravy distribution and the cabbage & apples added a bit of color, texture and a hint of sweetness to the meal.

I’d say the German Box folks did a nice job putting together some items that melded well together.

Hot or Not Cocoa

I posted a few weeks ago that I was going to plow through a variety box of hot cocoa K-cups and see how they stood up. Some did and some didn’t. It took a while to get through them because the unseasonably warm weather just didn’t call out for warm cup of chocolatey goodness. I did finally make it through all of them. Of course as soon as I was done we have sub-freezing mornings, thanks 2020.

The number of different brands and flavors in the variety really surprised me. There were 22 distinct k-cups, some sporting well known brand names and some not. Some with great names that reflected the contents and some that overreached. I’m not going to review them all just the overall winners and the dregs so you’ll know which ones might be worth checking out and which ones to avoid at all costs.

I graded on a 10 point scale and the ratings ranged from 5 to 9. None were total failures but mediocrity was in evidence. I considered the smell, the chocolateness (I know I’m making up words), the success of any adjunct flavors and overall impression in my grading.

There were 4 that hit the top score of 9 and 3 cellar dwellers that had a 5 rating. For stat nerds the break out was:

Score% of cups
918%
818%
732%
618%
514%

The Buy recommendations, in the order they were consumed, are: Soho Cocoa Decadent Cherry Cordial, Bosco Chocolate Mint Cookie, Tootsie Roll Premium Hot Cocoa and Sugar Babies Premium Hot Cocoa.

The Soho Cherry Cordial was a pleasant experience from the get go. There was a scent of cherry that wafted up from the mug to greet me as I took a sip. There was a cocoa presence but the cherry came through as the most prominent taste as well as smell. It might not have been spot on a cherry cordial but it was spot adjacent.

The best of the mint flavors was the Bosco Chocolate Mint Cookie. Minty aroma with an undercurrent of cocoa on the nose. The initial sip hit the tongue with a mild chocolate flavor that was quickly overwhelmed by a bold mint that was definitely the alpha flavor. I liked it a lot. If you’re meant to be mint, be minty and this was.

I’m not going to lie the Tootsie Roll one surprised me because I am not a fan of the candy. As a hot cocoa it was not my favorite in spite of the rating but it did match its name very well. There was a nice chocolate smell and they nailed the flavor of the candy down to an almost waxy taste. It was the single best match of name to taste.

Last on the hit parade was the Sugar Babies. Up front I’ll say the caramel flavor was definitely artificial but not bad at all. Like a lot of the other flavored hot cocoas the prominent smell was from the add in flavor and in this case the caramel charged up from the cup like it was on a mission. On the flavor though the caramel and the chocolate were more balanced than in any of the other caramel flavored cocoas in the batch. That balance and general pleasant taste got it to the top.

The loser list is made up of Pingo Peanut Butter, Charleston Chew Vanilla Nougat and Brooklyn Bean Midnight Hot Cocoa. The first two both suffered from a thin milk chocolate taste and neither had a pleasant aroma. The Peanut butter smell was as weak as the chocolate taste and the taste was only marginally better. The Vanilla Nougat gave off a whiff of burnt sugar and indifferent cocoa. While there was an indistinct sweetness atop the average chocolate flavor, I was hard pressed to identify it as vanilla or nougat.

The BB Midnight Hot Cocoa started with the promise of a slightly bolder chocolate smell than most of the others but the flavor was disappointing as it was only a shade more chocolaty than the plain. If you’re going to call yourself Midnight hot cocoa I expect a certain level of dark chocolate to back it up and that was not in evidence. I will say the chocolate flavor did build up over time and if it had been labelled just Hot Cocoa or maybe Dusky Hot Cocoa it would have been higher rated but Midnight was just too far outside reality for me.

That’ll do it for this entry. Hope not to have such a gap between posts again for a while.