It’s been a while. This leisurely Saturday morning I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich – black mission figs roasted in balsamic vinegar, applewood smoked bacon, and brie between rustic slices of whole wheat levain – grilled in bacon fat on a cast iron skillet. It was delicious. I’ve been eating well but a bit lazy about sharing these transcendent experiences that come in the form of a simple meal. In the past several months, I’ve traveled a few times to spend time with family. On our way to Palm Springs to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday, we made sure to make a pit-stop in LA, especially Koreatown. Our first meal upon arrival, Kang Hodong Baekjeong for Korean BBQ. I imagine that pretty much any random Korean BBQ place in Koreantown will be great, and Kang Hodong Baekjeong was no exception. The steamed eggs and corn and cheese was a novel and very Korean addition to classic BBQ.Even the stews and sides were spectacular. Eating Korean food in LA made us angry. We’ve eaten Korean in LA countless times when Sam was living in Southern California, but it had been at least a few years. I just cannot understand why the Korean food in Southern California is so far superior than in Northern California. LA’s Grand Central Market. We only had a couple days in LA, so we had to make each meal count. For breakfast, a ridiculously simple and ridiculously delicious sandwich from eggslut: hardwood smoked bacon, over medium egg, cheddar cheese and chipotle ketchup in a warm portuguese bun. Some green juice to balance the meat and carbs we planned on eating that day. Because we started the day a bit late, lunch was pretty much immediately after breakfast. For the past 5 years, we have tried to find a lomo saltado that even came close to Mario’s in Hollywood. Honestly, it wasn’t quite as mind-blowing as we remembered, but it’s still the best lomo saltado we’ve ever had. Though we’ve got so much love for Daikokuya and Orochon, we opted to try Silverlake Ramen for the first time with some old friends who lived in the area. And this dish, spicy tuna on crispy rice, made the trip worthwhile. And, my ramen go-to, spicy tonkotsu. After having experienced southern California for a few years, Sam and I have become those northern Californians who consider the north side the best side. LA is so sprawling and huge, but I must admit, there are pockets of beautiful things throughout this huge city. Including…Korean pork ribs…and Korean pork neck soup at Ham Ji Park in Koreatown. This was our last meal before heading to Palm Springs.My anger burns as brightly as this spicy squid with noodles. Why, San Francisco, do you pale in comparison? In Palm Springs, the whole family stayed at a house with a beautiful salt water pool and spa, and most days we ate in. I failed to take photos of the Korean short ribs, pork ribs, and other delicious things we made.We visited Joshua Tree National Park. It was gorgeous, and the first time in Sam’s parents’ 70+ years of life they saw flora quite like what we saw in Joshua Tree. I went to ATL to surprise my cousin Janet with our two best friends. We were each coming from all different corners of the country, all to keep her company shortly after she gave birth to her second baby boy, Jonah. Also, to totally freak her out and give her a heart attack, which we successfully accomplished. We took zero photos together. None of us particularly like photos, so nobody remembered or cared. It was for the best, each day we only left to pick up carry out in our pajamas. Showering was optional.
There are a lot of Koreans in the Atlanta area. Where there are Koreans, there is good Korean food. Our first meal was Dan Moo Ji, where they serve Korean comfort food in the form of kimbap filled with stuff like tuna, friend chicken, and kimchi. Also, shown above is this amazing kimchi fried rice with roe, served with corn and cheese. This is bibim-mandu: fried dumplings with cabbage, bean sprouts, and spicy sauce. I’m pretty sure we also ordered ddukboki (spicy rice cakes), but I neglected to take photos. I also forgot to take photos of these huge dumplings from Mega Mart that were spectacular and a hot pot place with an unparalleled sauce bar, Mini Hot Pot 2. I did not, however, fail to photograph my favorite meal in Atlanta, Chai Pani, where they serve Indian street food. Every single dish was a taste explosion. This dish was one of those transcendent moments in life where I eat something delicious I never had the privilege of tasting before – sev potato dahi puri (SPDP). Savory puffed flour crisps (puris) stuffed with potatoes, onions, cilantro & crunchy chickpea noodles (sev), drizzled with sweet yogurt, tamarind & green chutneys.
Mixed vegetable Uttapam – savory crepes made from rice & lentil batter topped with carrots, peas, onion, cilantro, ginger & chillies. Served with sambar & coconut chutney.Kale pakoras – Indian style savory kale fritters made with curried chickpea batter. Served with green chutney & sweet yogurt.Sloppy Jai (Kheema Pav) – spicy lamb hash simmered with tomatoes, ginger and aromatic spices. Garnished with onions & cilantro, green chutney, sweet yogurt and served on two toasted buns.Samosa chaat – samosa served on spicy garbanzo bean stew with sev (crunchy chickpea noodles), onions, cilantro, topped with tamarind & green chutneys and sweetened yogurt. Every single dish blew my mind.Since this would be my last meal before heading back to SF, we did the obvious – ate two lunches. After Chai Pani, we had pizza for dessert at Antico Pizza. As you can see, it was totally worth it. Besides, there’s always room for pizza. Always. I couldn’t get over how much cheaper and larger the restaurants in Atlanta were compared to SF. No waiting, plenty of seating, and affordable unpretentious food. And for our second dessert, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream near Star Provisions where I got a perfectly simple prosciutto and butter sandwich on a baguette for the flight home. Also, I’m a sucker for lavender in my ice cream. Around Christmas last year, I went back home to Detroit for my cousin’s wedding. When in Detroit, you have to eat Middle-Eastern food. My cousin took my sister and I to this wonderful chicken shawarma joint, Bucharest. We also had the Hamtramck gourmet hot dog with kielbasa, braised red cabbage, bacon, and spicy mustard; falafel with hummus; and sliders. Next stop, Great Lakes Coffee. Our family cannot live without coffee, and we have some serious coffee game. A couple current and former baristas, and probably at least six different ways to brew coffee among the Yo clan. We also ate Detroit-style pizza multiple times. I was obsessed with Buddy’s and couldn’t get enough. Michigan in the winter is stark, cold, tough, and beautiful. Ending where we began… home is where the Korean food is.