Wednesday, June 01, 2016

the occasional misbehavior

This past Saturday, when I went to see the new X-Men movie, I found myself within the vaulted spaces of the Lotte World Tower Mall, among throngs of weekend shoppers. Famished because I had fasted the previous day—and had dined on nothing but salad during the two weeks before that—I decided to try out a restaurant that I'd passed by many times and was curious about: an Italian-themed bistro called The Tasting Room. The name called to mind huge, generous tasting platters, but as I flipped through the display menu, I saw this was to be standard, and somewhat expensive, restaurant fare. I briefly wondered whether I should skip the place, but the hunger-demon won the mental argument, so in I went.

The menu (by which I mean the physical menu itself, not the items listed on the menu) was a strange combination of trendy and informal. Imagine laser-printed pages clipped to a clipboard; some of the pages were color images of the food; some of the pages were straight-up menu listings. I saw a picture of an appetizer that looked potentially delicious: a tower of crushed-Cheetos fritters with dipping sauces. I went for that. For the main course, I chose a shrimp-and-gnocchi dish cooked in creamy tomato sauce, and for dessert, my eyes locked onto a cookies-and-ice-cream dish.

The crushed-Cheetos appetizer proved deeply disappointing. First, it didn't come in a stacked tower, like in the photo. And the interior of each fritter wasn't chicken fingers or anything so substantive: it was probably ddeok, i.e., sticky Korean rice cake. The fritters, each almost the size of my index finger, were crunchy and salty, so I can't fault the texture, but the ddeok-like interior made for some very bland, chewy eating. The dipping sauces were sour cream in one tiny bowl and honey in the other. I ate everything, but the overall effect was boring.

The main course, by contrast, largely made up for the appetizer. The dish was brought out in a piping-hot frying pan; it had obviously spent some time inside an oven. The lady grated some fresh parmigiano, Olive Garden-style, onto the dish; I told her to put on a pile. The shrimp were small, barely bite-sized, but the sauce was well made. The real star of the show, however, were the gnocchi, which were absolutely perfect in texture, but which, instead of being made in the standard "tiny pillow" form, had been made more like German spätzle or even Korean sujaebi dumplings—ripped up and delightfully uneven-looking. I had never eaten gnocchi like this. The preparation method utterly changed the meal's texture and made for a much more organic, enjoyable eating experience. Hats off to the chef, who had a brain and was using it.

Dessert—ah, dessert was amazing. It, too, came out in a frying pan that had spent time in an oven (sigh... points off for over-reliance on a trope), but this time, the bottom of the pan had been lined with a substantial layer of Oreo cookies, and a large dollop of vanilla ice cream had been placed in the middle and sprinkled with a fine Oreo crumble. The cookies had been stripped of their sugary centers; only the black disks remained. I missed the filling, but in the end, this didn't matter: the aroma of hot Oreos and ice cream was overpoweringly sexy, and I dug into this amazingly simple dessert with relish. Unfortunately, the dessert came with a cocaine-sniffingly tiny spoon, forcing me to consume the cookies and cream at a more moderate pace than I would have liked. But maybe that was for the better.

All in all, two out of three. The appetizer was a miss, but the main course showed imagination, and the dessert hit me right in my chocoholic brain center. (I'll be making it at home one of these days.) I'd go back for another meal at The Tasting Room, but the experience had been expensive: W53,000 for all that plus a Coke. Way too much for one diner.

I'm back to salads again, which sucks, but I'll be allowing myself another occasional misbehavior sometime in the next week or so. Something homemade this time: I have fusili and couscous, plus chicken and beef, so I foresee a pasta-themed meal in my future.


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