Friday, July 13, 2018

Ryan Smokehouse

I met Charles around 6:30 this evening, and we walked the short distance from Jamshil Saenae Station (formerly Shincheon Station) to Ryan Smokehouse [sic—not "Ryan's"], which sits about 250 meters back from Olympic Daero, one of the main streets in southeastern Seoul. If you're interested in finding the smokehouse yourself, take the subway (or a cab) to Jamshil Saenae Station, find Exit 4 of the station, walk in the direction toward which the exit is pointing, then take your first major left turn away from the main street. After that, just walk along the slightly crooked street for about 250 meters until you see the sign and doorway for Ryan Smokehouse on the left.

The smokehouse has a bar and sit-down area on its first floor, but the lady host greeted us and took us back outside and up a metal flight of stairs on the side of the building to the second-floor area, which is dedicated exclusively to restaurant-ish activity. Charles and I were seated at a roomy four-top in the corner, close to a window that gave us a nice view of the street below. Having both read Joe McPherson's writeup of this place, we decided to go with the Big Boy Platter, which presents the newbie with a tour of many of the treats on offer. Here's a picture of what the platter looked like. Click on the image to enlarge:

We were told that the corn fritters came, as a side, with the meal, so we could pick three other sides to go along with the platter. We chose cole slaw, Brunswick stew, and potato salad—no lack for carbs. I'm not sure that Charles was all that happy with the choice of potato salad (I may have insisted on it a little too avidly), but in the end, I think it proved to be a decent selection. Here's a closeup of the fritters (no click needed):

The fritters proved absolutely delicious when hot—sort of a light and fluffy, "hush puppies meet sopapillas" type of bread—crunchy around the edges and soft and aromatic on the inside. Charles wondered aloud whether I was okay eating the fritters despite the onions inside them, and I told him I didn't mind.

Part of the platter was a heap of pulled pork, and another part was some beautiful, fresh-baked bread, still redolent from the oven. Inevitably, my friend and I had to make pulled-pork sandwiches, and that's what we did, slathering barbecue sauce onto halved rolls, piling on the pork, and topping the meat off with pickles and purple slaw (all visible in the first picture above). Below is a shot of my first such sandwich:

It shouldn't have been a surprise, but many of the side dishes proved to be as memorable as the main items of the platter. Below is a picture of two such sides: the Brunswick stew and the potato salad, the latter of which proved to be just as good as Joe McPherson said it was in his article. The potato salad managed to avoid the sin of being obnoxiously mayonnaise-y and vinegary, and the Brunswick stew caught my attention because of its spicy smokiness, a sure sign that this had been concocted by a Texan.

Speaking of Texans, founder Ryan himself made an appearance, shook our hands, and talked with us a bit. (In fact, we had a few helpful staffers either serving us attentively or explaining how the current menu was about to undergo some changes as the restaurant targeted its market more closely. Normally, I don't like having my meal interrupted by people who wander up and just start talking, but in this case, I could feel the optimistic energy of the place, which is fairly new and still looking eagerly toward the future, so in that spirit, I was actually glad to hear what these staffers had to say.) If I recall correctly, Ryan solicitously asked more than he told, but one of the things he did tell us was that we were seated at the exact table where Joe McPherson had been with his daughter. Call it karma.

Brunswick stew and potato salad:

All in all, I'd say this was most decidedly a thumbs-up experience, and Charles and I have agreed to return to the smokehouse at a later date, this time with Charles's wife, who is also a BBQ aficionado.

So let's talk a bit more seriously about the ups and downs of tonight's culinary adventure. Don't worry: I'm not going to say that I actively hated any part of the meal I ate, but you have to realize that I'm becoming pickier in my old age, and I also have a string of BBQ joints in Seoul against which to compare this latest dining experience. I've been to Linus; I've been to Manimal; I've been to two out of three of Joe McPherson's places. At this point, I think I can call myself a veteran of the Seoul BBQ scene (as can Charles, who has probably been to even more places than I have—and both he and I have cooked certain BBQ-related items on our own, thus giving us even more insight into this particular cuisine), so I no longer come into a smokehouse as a complete and uncritical tyro.

Starting with the sides, then: the corn fritters, already described above, were fantastic. Same goes for the Brunswick stew, of which I could have eaten buckets. That stew was packed with flavor, and I think it blindsided me, partly because I approached it as if it were a mere side. That was a mistake, and the stew itself demanded respect the moment I tasted it. The bread rolls were awesome as well—puffy and soft, but dense enough to be taken seriously, and the perfect consistency for use as a pulled-pork conveyance. The potato salad, which Joe described in his writeup as "buttery," was subtle in flavor, and the taters themselves were mashed to just the right consistency: there was a bit of chunkiness in the midst of all that smoothness. If there was a loser-by-default among the sides, it would have to be the purple cole slaw, which went largely uneaten: Charles and I, through combined effort, probably scraped off maybe the top third of the slaw, leaving the rest to be packed up at the end of dinner (and taken home by yours truly). It's not that the slaw was bad: Charles complimented it several times during dinner. It's just that, among a crowd of very good sides, this was simply the least good. Oh, before I forget: we also had a small side of pickles that proved to be quite delicious. Not too sweet, and sitting inside a small metal cup, just chilling alongside some jalapeños and raw onions. I made sure to slap some pickles onto my pulled-pork sandwiches.

Let's shift our focus to the main items on the platter. Obviously, Charles and I went for the pulled pork first, but we both agreed that there was a massive slab of pork rib, in the middle of our tray, that was calling to us. The pulled pork wasn't bad, but it proved to be a bit dry and didn't have nearly the flavor I thought it ought to have. Perhaps it needed a bit more sauce, but I think it was mainly the dryness, along with a lack of strong seasoning, that was the problem. If I were going to judge pulled pork, I'd look at the following factors: juiciness, meat/bark contrast in texture and taste, spicing/seasoning, and saucing. The more I think about it, it's a wonder that the Brunswick stew could be so packed with flavor while the pulled pork ended up so bland. None of this is to say the pulled pork was bad. I enjoyed the hell out of the little sandwiches I made with the pork; I simply wish the pig could have had more oomph.

The sausages were obviously smoked, but despite whatever amount of time they spent in the smoker, their interiors were soft and easy to chew and swallow. They had more spicing and seasoning than did the pulled pork, but I can't say that they were the most memorable items on the tray. No, that honor would have to go to the two biggest stars: the smoked half-chicken and the slab of barbecued pork rib. As you'll recall from my writeup of Joe McPherson's first restaurant, the chicken that Joe had made was so fantastically incredible that it pretty much altered the structure of my brain right then and there. Comparing other places' chicken to Joe's chicken seems more than unfair because, quite frankly, there isn't a chicken in Seoul that can make the grade. That said, Ryan's smoked half-chicken, taken on its own terms, was fantastic: smoked all the way through and not just on the surface, the meat was perfectly tender, and the skin had a toothsome texture—crispy here and there, but also participating in the chicken's juiciness in other spots. Very addictive. The pork rib (I think Joe called it a pork-belly rib) had all the taste that I would have expected from the pulled pork. Charles got the meatier end of the rib, but my end of the rib was still loaded with flavorful meat—a bit dry at the extreme end (which was to be expected: it was a burnt end,* after all), but juicy, tender, and smoky the farther in I went.

Charles had eaten a large lunch, so he couldn't get into the BBQ mêlée to the degree that I could (I'm a big eater even after having had a big lunch). Still, despite my valiant efforts to clear the tray, we ended up with enough leftover food for yours truly to have bagged up. Overall, I'd say my experience at Ryan Smokehouse was a massively positive one. There were a few little hitches, but I'm pumped about going back and trying other parts of Ryan's extensive menu. Charles and I both love brisket (like Joe Mac, we passed over the brisket this time around), so we'll likely be focusing on that the next time we visit.

Ryan himself is a big, friendly guy. Visit his Instagram page here. His staffers are all friendly, helpful, and not at all annoying: they're there to enhance your dining experience, and I for one welcomed their presence.

ADDENDUM: how could I forget to talk about dessert? When Ryan visited our table, he brought a complimentary dessert with him: house-made bread pudding. I told Charles that I had a soft spot for the obnoxiously enormous bread pudding served at the local Famous Dave's in Alexandria, Virginia, but I have to say that Ryan's bread pudding definitely gave Dave's pudding a run for its money. Although much smaller in size than Famous Dave's bread pudding, Ryan's dessert made up for its midget status with amazing taste that came through as a nice balance of different flavors, with nothing overpowering anything else. As Charles and I dug deeper into the dessert, the pudding's texture seemed—to me, at least—to improve as we got down to where the bread had absorbed more of the liquid elements of the pudding (probably butter, eggs, milk, and maybe some vanilla... Charles would doubtless add that there was bourbon in there, too). Unfortunately, Charles and I destroyed the pudding before either of us thought to take a picture of it, so I don't have any images to show you. Sorry. Maybe Charles has a shot, but I don't remember him taking any dessert pics. (We also failed to take any selfies with Ryan, whom we saw chilling outside when we left the restaurant.) Ah—Joe's article (linked at least twice above) has a pic of the bread pudding.

*Technically, it was a rib tip because (1) it was pork, not beef, and (2) it was literally from the tip of the rib, not from the end of a beef brisket. Still, I'd call what I ate a close cousin of a burnt end. Yum. That'll do, pig. That'll do.


Charles said...

Alas, I do not have a photo of the dessert; I took that one photo of the Big Boy platter before we plowed into it (the better to taunt my poor student with), and that was it.

I'll chime in here, since I probably won't do a write-up of my own this time around. I think we're pretty much in agreement, so I have no dissent to add, but I did want to say that I think the sausages, while no means the stars of the show, were definitely better than a lot of sausages I've had at other BBQ places. For some reason, the sausages always seem to get the short end of the stick, but I really liked Ryan's, even if they did end up playing second (or third) fiddle.

The rib was indeed excellent, and I feel a little guilty about snatching the juiciest part for myself. Not guilty enough that I wouldn't do the exact same thing again if I had a second chance, but still a little guilty.

As I mentioned on our walk out, I thought the pulled pork was fine, but I agree that it could have used a little more juice. Best pulled pork I've ever had, believe it or not, was at a place called Oink in Edinburgh ( It's just an unpretentious little chain, but my oh my is it wonderful, and the sauces and relish you can get with your sandwich harmonize perfectly with the meat. We knew when we walked up and saw an entire roasted pig in the front window that we were in for a treat. My only regret is that we didn't go back for a second visit.

Ahem, anyway, back to Ryan's. Agreed as well on the chicken, and I do wish I could have had more of that. Oh, and it wasn't that I wasn't happy with the choice of potato salad--it turned out to be quite good--it's just that I knew that I wasn't going to be able to eat it. In fairness, though, when they comped the corn fritters, I was at a total loss as to what to pick for our third side.

As I told Ryan when he came to our table, next time I'm fasting before we go. Well, maybe not fasting, but definitely going light on lunch. My usual salad should suffice.

(Oh, man, I just looked at Ryan's Instagram page and saw a photo of him holding a bottle of Founder's KBS! I didn't even look at the beer menu, but that would be insane if they had that. "KBS" stands for "Kentucky Breakfast Stout," by the way, and is a stout aged in bourbon barrels. It is awesome.)

Kevin Kim said...

Ah-- it was the corn fritters that came for free? I'll change my review to reflect that.

Charles said...

Ah, wait, was it the stew? You might be right about that. I think I got it mixed up. Oops!

Kevin Kim said...

Given how often you correct the details I get wrong in my movie reviews, I've come to trust your memory more than my own. In the end, it doesn't matter: it all got photographed and eaten.