Thursday, November 11, 2010

Restaurant Review: Din Tai Fung (Seoul, Korea)

In short, one of my worst, most disgusting meals I've ever had was at Din Tai Fung in Seoul, South Korea. If you like "Xiaolongbao" (aka soup dumplings), avoid this place at all costs.

What it should have beenWhat Din Tai Fung is known all over the globe for is the soup dumpling. They are dumplings made with very thin and chewy dumpling skin that is formed into a shape that is more similar to a steam bun, just a lot smaller in size. The dumpling skin is so thin that if you haven't mastered the art of chopsticks (that precise, gentle but firm control), you will most likely never get one into your soup spoon without spilling its guts back onto the bamboo steamer. If you manage to get one onto your soup spoon, after dipping into some ginger infused soy sauce of course, the next step is to top it with some ginger.

Now it would make sense from here to shoot it down like a raw oyster. And it would indeed be delicious. But the correct way to eat it is to bite into it while it is on a spoon. Half of what is inside is soup, the other being the pork stuffing. The pork stuffing is delicate and buttery. Whoever thought of putting together steamed pork, soy sauce, and ginger was nothing short of a genius. The soup inside is heavenly. The thin and chewy dumpling skin does an excellent job keeping all the goodness from escaping. After you eat what is on the spoon, you will have some soup left over in your spoon. The soup in your spoon will be a mixture of soy sauce, soup from the dumpling, and just the right amount of tiny fat globules that you would expect from a really good soup containing pork. After you drink the soup, you should be thinking, "Damn, that was one fine dumpling. It is possibly better than any other type of dumplings that I've ever eaten."

The reason Din Tai Fung has been so successful selling these dumplings is that they don't stray from quality. They only use the center of the grain when making their dumpling skins to achieve maximum thinness and elasticity. They use high quality pork. And when you eat at a Din Tai Fung, the quality is apparent to even casual eater. They do not disappoint. This was the case when I ate at Din Tai Fung restaurants. But unfortunately something went horribly wrong in Seoul Korea.

What it turned out to be
Passing through Korea's brightest and busiest shopping area, Myoungdong, I would see Din Tai Fung each time. I would point at it as we passed by and say to my gf, "hey, let's eat there soon. I love that place."

As we waited with nervous anticipation, it was then when I noticed that unlike other Din Tai Fungs, soup dumplings, or any kind of dumplings for that matter didn't seem to be the focus of their meals. I waved it off as nothing important. Considering the size of the restaurant and how many people were there, maybe at this Din Tai Fung, there were more things to try than just soup dumplings.

Food arrived, and it sure looked like the real deal. But as I bit into the first dumpling, I immediately noticed something different. The tops of these dumplings were dry and brittle. This told me that they were not fresh. It was a sign of bad things to come. As I bit into the dumpling, the "soup" was in fact 100% pure liquid pork fat. All that fat coming from a little bit pork inside was not possible, so I immediately came to a conclusion that the pork fat is artificially added. The pork was not the buttery high quality pork they should be using. It reminded me of the B-grade breakfast sausage pork you can buy in a large tube back in the states. Actually, I'm pretty certain now that is what they are using. I thought maybe I just ate a bad one. But as I tasted my second, then third, I realized that it wasn't going to get any better. My gf was looking at me trying to not seem obviously disappointed. And asked, "so what is the soup made from?" Of course, it was clear that she had made the same realization that I made. It became clearer when she started intentionally ripping them on the bottom, and letting them drain out into her soup bowl before eating her third one. I think she stopped at her 4th.

I felt ashamed that I had even made the suggestion to eat here. I painfully and begrudgingly ate them because it was not cheap. One by one, with every dumpling consumed, it infuriated me exponentially more. I would have much preferred if the dumplings were plain and abysmal than be totally disgusting. As we were exiting, my gf noticed that customers with a Lotte card could get a free side course. I told her, don't worry, we are never coming back anyway. I had never been so clear in my decision to never return to a particular restaurant after one meal. I am usually very open minded and usually give any restaurant that serves me a subpar meal at least one more chance to redeem themselves in the future just in case I had shown up in an off night.

After I exited the restaurant, I literally felt like I had just drank liquefied bacon grease and it was just slushing around my stomach as I walked around the busy Myoungdong shopping area. I wanted to find some bread to soak some of that crap up so I wouldn't have to digest all of what I had just consumed. Or at least look for some hot tea to cut through the grease. Doing nothing seemed equally painful as just sticking a few fingers down my throat. In the end, I ended up getting some black coffee and light cake and all I can think of was getting back home and tearing this restaurant a new asshole on my blog.

This experience reaffirms my original belief that there is no soul in Seoul. Good food in Korea is accomplished by the desire to make money, technique, and the desire to compete. They are all good things but the best restaurants are the ones that run on passion or love for what they are serving you. And they would never serve you what they would not eat. It may seem like a crazy concept to Korean business types, but hey that's how some people run things outside of Korea. And that is what makes them great. You will find nothing like that at Din Tai Fung in Seoul, Korea.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

This is an example where capitalism fails for the consumer.

In Korea, for about $25 (~28,000 won), you can get a wifi router/firewall with all the bells and whistles. In the US, when comparison shopping at Fry's, you'll see a carefully crafted features checkboxes for the next model up. Only $10 more for the one with legacy encryption support. Oh, you want the business model with VPN features? Another $30 will do. These are all features that are mostly enabled and disabled by the firmware, but carefully disabled to upsell you on the next model up.

On top of that, the wifi routers in Korea is probably not engineered to suck or kill itself in a slow death after about a year of use. Does anyone remember cracking open a brand new 802.11g router, and seeing how good the 54 Mbit/sec really was? And then finding yourself terribly disappointed that it didn't even do half that. For some reason, the Korean wifi routers do this with ease. The speed doesn't crawl up there trying hard, very hard, to eventually reach its limits. It does this with finesse. As for reliability, I have a theory that the manufacturers in the US just insert a little bit of NAND in there, and voila, you got a totally consumable product (in 1-3 years depending on usage), just like a Big Mac has a 1-3 minute usage. Just remember to plug and unplug your router to eek out another 3 months of use before it becomes too annoying to a point where you find youself plopping down another $60 at Fry's. Maybe you will try another brand this time. And this time, maybe it'll have a glossy finish. From my first hand experience in the US, I can tell you that they are all the same. Netgear, Linksys, D-Link, Belkin...they've all screwed me. It is the dirty little secret of the wifi router/firewall/switch business. What if you want a router that doesn't actually suck in the US? Now you are talking big bucks. Unfortunately, most of that money is spent paying for the metal casing outside as the hardware and software are pretty much the same inside. Except with less NAND this time. You need it to look less like a toy when putting in equipment for a moderate sized office. Dicking around with the router/switch should be only a once-in-a-decade experience in places where business actually happens. It must be great for business, but consumers unknowingly have a subscription to the bi-yearly router service.

I am torn these days between the benefits and negatives of captialim. I'm both the consumer and businessman. I always want to have my cake and eat it too.

Friday, July 16, 2010

How Apple can turn the iPhone 4 failure into a total PR win.

It seems as through Apple has many fires to put out these days.

The gizmodo thing. The death grip. And it being a victim of its own success of becoming too popular. When you become too popular, you are no longer the humble diamond in the rough. You are the evil corporation. The Man. And the people who appreciate the value of something novel and unique want nothing to do with you. On top of this, the fandroid army seems to be growing loud and proud of how sucky their iPhone is, even if they don't really own one.

Maybe Apple can do something cool like recall all their iPhones to fix the antenna problem. And while they are in there, say thank you to the early adopters by doubling the storage capacity. 16GB to 32GB. And 32GB to 64GB. They can do it. The technology has been out for a while now.

Of course this would totally kill their stock for the next few seasons, but I think in the long run, it would set them up to come back stronger than the path they are currently headed.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I guess this is why teachers keep doing what they do.

Today one of my a problem students stopped by to tell me that he got a 100 on a homework assignment that I helped him with after class. I felt great knowing I am providing some good influences in his life.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Bye Thinkpads

It is painfully obvious that someone at Lenovo (when it seperated itself from IBM) had decided 2.5 years ago, models with numbers 60 and above should start falling apart after 2 years. Some parts that were metal before were cleverly replaced with cheaper pastic parts that would wear out due to wear and tear after 2 years. It is literally falling apart on me. My older Thinkpad that is more than 4 years old is still holding up well, aside from its lack of horsepower. What I hate above all else is when a company will intentionally retard their products, in this case going against their motto for being tough and reliable, so that they can make a few extra bucks on maintenance. In the end, they betray their loyal customers. I'm no expert on those things but it would seem like that would hurt them in the long run.

I'm walking away from Lenovo, formerly known as IBM. Bye.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The eagle has landed

I landed yesterday roughly around 6am at Incheon airport in Korea. Stepping outside the airport, the temperature reminded me of stepping outside a car for the first time when you arrive at a place like Big Bear. It was cold but without the snow. I arrived in Seoul at around 9am. Still a full day to look forward to. First order of business? Nap time. I was only able to sleep about 4 hours combined on the air plane. The passenger next to me was a very large female and unfortunately took up some of my already inadequate space. I had a very large backpack, and the seat that I had didn't have any room for me to store my backpack. So I had to just wrap my legs around my backpack while fighting for room with the passenger next to me doing the exact same thing.

When I got to Korea, I knew the first thing I needed to do when I got there was exchange the money. It turns out that the bank here is closed on the weekend. And I had already left the airport at time when I was made aware of this. I will exchange my money at a bank on Monday, so I will have to make due with the little bit of Won that I had brought with me. So if you happen to arrive in Korea on the weekend, make sure you change some spending money for the weekend at the airport. It will be at a premium but at least you won't be totally SOL when you need cash.

One shocker that I experienced was when I looked at iPhone prices. You can get an iPhone here for as low as $35 a month with the cheapest service (including the 8GB 3G phone, and you pay almost nothing out the door). The top of the line iphone only costs you $10 more a month for the 32gb 3GS. The likely plan people will choose however is about $15 more so you can use up to 500MB a month. That's still about $60 a month for the best iPhone out right now. Not too shabby.

I also ended up cancelling my netflix when I got here. It turns out streaming (Watch Instantly) is blocked. So I won't be able to make use of it. Kinda makes me wish I had brought my terabyte harddrive full of movies and TV shows I had collected over the last decade.

While perusing the streets of Seoul's most popular shopping district, I ran into a street vendor selling dragon beard candy. Since this candy had eluded me for years, I had to try it. The best part of this candy is seeing how its made. Its like watching noodles made by hand. A hockey puck sized amount of maltose pierced in the center then pulled and stretched until it becomes the thickness of hair while being covered in cornstarch or rice flour so it doesn't stick together. I guess more accurately resembles the hair from the beard of a dragon...if they grew beards...and dragons of this nature. That's why it must be called dragon beard candy. I also grabbed an assortment of sasusages on a skewer. And had some really good cha jang myun for dinner. It was a good first day in Korea. So much to look forward to. But I can't officially get started until I get my alien ID card at the immigration office which is going to take about a week. I need that to get a cell phone and open a bank account. Until then I will be learning how to get around and meeting up with some contacts.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Time for a reset.

I'll be leaving for the airport Thursday evening to start my year long journey in Korea. I plan to teach English and travel while I'm there. With a bit of luck, I hope to gain some worldly knowledge and grow my "circle of influence".

What is a circle of influence? Imagine there is a circle inside of a circle. The inner circle is everything that you are capable of doing comfortably and with confidence because you've learned to do these tasks and got good at doing them. It can be anything from learning a new skill (a sport, a musical instrument, a job related skill) to overcoming a fear (a fear of heights, flying, or public speaking). When you are faced with a situation inside of your circle of influence, you always feel in control and confident that you can get this task done.

Things outside of your circle of influence, the outer circle sometimes called circle of concern, are your challenges in life. When challenges are presented, they are challenges because you are unfamiliar with the task at hand. There are many unanswered questions about how things can get done. It will be stressful and uncomfortable. There will be mistakes (aka learning experiences) along the way. Maybe you were able to avoid these situations in the past, but whether it is something you want to learn how to do or something you are obligated to do, these challenges will always be challenges that limit your life until you confront them.

You confront things outside your circle of influence by breaking out of your bubble by learning how to do something by devising strategies, taking classes, and learning through trial and error. You do it enough, and what you used to consider challenges has now become something you are good at. You will also realize you are not just good at doing that one more thing, but you are a lot more confident doing things related to your new skill, that you may have found to be difficult, maybe even impossible to do in the past. When you make this realization, so many more things feel like its within your grasp, you feel you are capable of doing so much you haven't done because you've increased your circle of influence.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why some people don't like Avatar.

Some people like to go against the flow. They dislike things just on the sheer fact that too many people like the same thing. They would rather hunt for flaws so they can say they don't like something that majority of the population seems to like. Why do they do it? Well, what if I said...I personally didn't like all the Godfathers, Shawshank Redemption, all 3 Lord of the Rings. They were all are predictable and kinda slow. Hey, look at me! I have a different opinion! Did I get your attention? I was kidding about that, but I bet it kinda lit some kind of an urge to argue against me.

I 100% agree that Avatar is a rehash of a classic story like Pocahontas, but its told in a fresh new way. I never watched Pocahontas thinking, wow, I wish I lived in that Chinese village with all those talking animals. I never felt immersed in any movie like I did with Avatar.

If you expect the movie to do something predictable, you are just watching the clock until your expectations are met while totally missing all the good parts in the process. Why not do the opposite and hunt for something to appreciate. With this movie, its not too hard.