By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com
New places fill empty niches
Korean cuisine has been missing from the metro since Arirang/Teriyaki House gave up four years ago. Some say sorely missing, as Korean food was named the hottest new dining craze last year in both Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The Korean equivalence of taco trucks are spreading the word in California. So are health concerns. Tofu (soy bean curd), a key ingredient in Korean cuisine, has been called the world’s healthiest protein. Health magazine named Korea’s most famous food, kimchee (chile pickled vegetables), on its list of the five “world’s healthiest foods.”
So Canton Korean/Chinese Food Express’ entrance in the skywalk brings something hot and contemporary back to the civic table. This is an unusually comfortable skywalk venue with a 50-seat dining room and tall windows. Efficiency rules. A single chef worked two woks and a deep fryer to keep more than half a dozen Chinese entrees, plus fried dumplings, crab Rangoon, pork rolls, spring rolls, noodles and two kinds of rice all buffet-ready. Five dollar Chinese lunch specials attracted lines at rush hour — my waits ran three to 14 minutes. These specials, made with fresh vegetables, included entrees, starch and an appetizer or soup. Vegetarian choices were reduced to one, whereas there were a dozen chicken and half a dozen beef dishes on the menu. Chinese food has been downtown for 105 years, so I was more interested in Korean offerings.
Kimchees (there are some 2,000 recognized types) are the most popular parts of banchan, which is Korean cuisine’s comprehensive first course. Korean tofu houses on the coasts offer a dozen of these little dishes. They aren’t designed for a business that depends upon fast turnover, yet Canton included two with my Korean orders — pickled cabbage and pickled daikon. Still, I longed for a full banchan service. Beebeembop included chili paste, rice, loose meat burger and sautéed vegetables. I wasn’t expecting the loose meat, which isn’t easy to eat with chopsticks. Bulgolgi delivered marinated beef strips that absorbed so much sesame, garlic and sugar flavor I couldn’t taste meat at all. It was served with steamed rice and cabbage kimchee. From the regular menu I found a doenjang-chigai that reminded me of the good tofu soups I seek out when traveling. I tried a chajang-myun that tasted way better than it looked — a pile of noodles topped with a subtly sweet black bean paste. Tang-sooyook resembled sweet and sour pork, as kan-poongki did Chinese spicy chicken. Mandoo-kook delivered dumplings in a good beef broth. Ramyun was a Korean instant ramen dish.
Royal Grill is a white tablecloth Mediterranean café in Urbandale with lots of meat dishes, plus good homemade breads and fantastic homemade desserts. I tried three kinds of sausage, none of which included pork; an off-tasting veal kebab; splendidly seared gyros of a beef/lamb blend; and grilled chicken breast. The gyros were the best of the bunch, all bargains at $3.50 to $7.50. Pita offerings ($4.50) included burek, sirnica, zeljanica and mantije, all delivering unleavened bread with meats, cheeses or spinach stuffed inside. Tahrana was a Bosnian version of dumpling soup in a tomato broth. I tried two dessert tortes, each priced just $2.50. I have paid triple that for lesser pieces of cake. One was thrice layered with flaky crumb, thick cream cheese frosting that was not too sweet, plus fresh orange and fresh figs. Baklava, cheesecake, and crepes were also featured on a dessert menu that changes daily with the availability of ingredients.
With so many places serving mediocre or no sweets, Royal Grill fills another empty niche — as a destination café for the dessert course.
Half price wine nights are drawing crowds to Dos Rios and Dish on Wednesdays… Bistro Montage’s new toys (a thermal immersion circulator and vacuum chamber) help implement Thomas Keller’s sous vide cooking. Ask for the cassoulet with sous vide duck confit, garlic sausage and pork belly. CV
Caption: Chajang-myun tasted way better than it looked at Canton, 501 Locust St., skywalk level, 282-4202. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Royal Grill, 7003 Douglas Ave., Urbandale, 270-0175
Thursday through Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.