I have a KMA gig in Ulsan next week, so I had to swing by the Yeouido office to pick up my train tickets (KMA is footing the bill) and hotel-reservation information. After visiting the office, I cabbed over to Itaewon to meet my buddy Tom, who was interested in hitting a few different shops, including some purveyors of Western herbs and spices that I'm going to need to start making homemade Italian and American breakfast sausage. Tom also wanted to hand off the armpit deodorant he had bought for me while he'd been vacationing in the Philippines with his wife and son. We did the handoff, like a drug deal, in a Starbucks.
One of our first stops was at a cell-phone shop because I had a question about what to do when my current two-year contract expires: does my contract renew itself automatically, or do I have to actually visit an office and do the renewal paperwork face-to-face? As it turned out, "face-to-face" was the correct answer, at least according to the woman I spoke with. Tom told me that he also needed to know what was going to happen, so I got an answer for both of us.
We were supposed to visit a particular shop called High Street Market, which carried all sorts of hard-to-find goodies that would be common in the West. For me and my future sausages, this meant finding things like sage, fennel seeds, and other herbs, spices, and seasonings. I was also curious as to whether the place would be stocking dill weed and cumin. Tom had never been to High Street before, and neither had I, so we both popped our High Street cherries the moment we walked into the store. I ran down my checklist, and happily, High Street had everything in stock. The only minus was that most of the magic flakes and powders that I wanted were being sold in tiny plastic bottles that cost W3,500 each.
Before Tom and I got to High Street, however, we stopped at another "international" market that was situated on Itaewon's infamous Hooker Hill. That place, run by South Asians, carried a wide variety of herbs and spices, but most of them skewed Indian. I noted with interest that, at this place, a large bag of jasmine rice cost W18,000, but a similarly sized bag of so-called "Thai rice" (I'm sure there has to be a more specific term than that) was only W7,500—a good value even by the standards of Korean sticky rice which, truth be told, isn't that cheap.
After meeting at Starbucks, hitting the South Asian place, visiting the cell-phone lady, and shopping at High Street, we trundled over to a sandwich shop called Rye Post. Tom had recommended this place based on good reports from some of his other friends and acquaintances. I was a bit on my guard; Tom and Charles are convinced that Itaewon, as a food destination, has markedly improved over the years, but I'm still getting over an instinctive mistrust of Itaewon in general. All the same, I trusted Tom, if not Itaewon, so we stepped into Rye Post to nab some sandwiches.
The clipboard menu was simply laid out, which was a plus. Our server (does anyone say "waitress" anymore?), who also doubled as our food runner, was bright and cute, and she cooed at my Korean skills. I decided not to remark that she needed to raise her expectations of foreigners: many Koreans are startled when a foreigner speaks to them in Korean precisely because the Koreans' expectations are so low. Unfortunately, many foreigners still confirm those low expectations, making it harder for the rest of us to convince Koreans that, yes, Korean-speaking expats do exist outside of TV.
And this is where I popped my bánh mì cherry. I saw the Franco-Vietnamese fusion sandwich on the menu, and I wavered between that and the Cubano, neither of which I had ever tried before. I elected to go with the bánh mì, thinking to myself that, if it was good, I'd come back and try the Cubano later.
Tom refuses to eat vegetables, so he ordered what was essentially a nude cheesesteak, and we got the cheesesteak waffle fries to share—again, without veggies, on Tom's insistence. Alas, when the fries came out, they had been liberally sprinkled with minced green onion. Tom shrugged and used a tiny plastic fork to scoop out the onions before digging into the fries.
Bad points about my sandwich and the restaurant's service first: the drinks were canned, which meant no free refills—a major minus. My bánh mì was rather small, and it wasn't made with a proper French baguette. Like other hot sandwiches I've had in Itaewon, it had obviously been run through a panini press. I don't know what the Korean obsession with panini presses is all about, but it's ruining some otherwise decent sandwiches (I wrote a bit about this last year: my boss had a Reuben that had also been run through a panini press).
That was it as far the negatives went. As I mentioned before, we had good, friendly, cute service from our server. My bánh mì, though disappointingly small, was nevertheless rib-sticking; once I supplemented the sandwich with several steak-y waffle chips, I was mostly satisfied with my meal. I did immediately begin thinking of ways to improve upon the bánh mì I'd received, but the sandwich was very tasty on its own terms, despite not having been made with a proper baguette. Tom's sandwich looked a bit meager, but he's much smaller than I am, so I'm going to assume his meal filled him up more than mine filled me. The true surprise, though, was the side: those cheesesteak waffle fries were amazing—easily better, in terms of taste and price—than the kimchi fries sold at Vatos Urban Tacos up the street.
Here are three pics of our meal: the two sandwiches and those miraculous, sainted fries. Verdict: I'll definitely be going back to Rye Post again, and next time I'll be ordering the Cuban. Or maybe two, if that sandwich is similar in size to today's bánh mì. Click on the second image to enlarge it. Enlarge it further, after clicking, by right-clicking and doing an "open in new tab" command. Enjoy the visuals.
First up, those fries:
Click the following image of my bánh mì to enlarge:
Tom's scrawny sandwich:
All in all, today was an excellent reconnaissance day for me. I'll be hitting High Street again sometime soon, and will also very likely invade Rye Post one more time to try out their Cubano. Maybe I'll order a Cubano and bánh mì at the same time. Mmmmm.