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Monday, March 31, 2008

Everyday Good House

We'd read that Craig Laban was going to review this place in The Inquirer, so we decided to slip-in before the rush and check it out on the friday before the review was published. We figured it was a safe bet that if Laban was bothering to review it, it must be pretty good, and indeed it was true. We didn't have the benefit of his review to guide us, but interestingly, we ended up ordering many of the same things he did, and are in agreement that it was all very good, in fact we might have been even more enthusiastic about it than he was. We had no language problems at all. It's true enough that there's no English on the outside of the building, I'm not sure I would have even guessed that it's a restaurant at all from the street. But once inside, there's English on the menus, and most of the service staff we encountered spoke at least a little English, several sounded like they grew up in Philly. So don't let the language barrier dissuade you, it's not an issue.

As is our custom, we ordered entirely too much food, but we wanted to try as wide a range of things as four people could in one trip. As we sat down, the little plates of banchan started arriving, and there was a very nice selection, all of them quite good. We especially liked the tangy shredded greens which worked as a stand alone salad, and as a great condiment for barbecue. The slices of sausages were slightly odd, in that they were not at all odd: they could have been Hickory Farms Beefstick! Not that there's anything wrong with that...

There was good napa cabbage kimchee, some noodles, marinated beansprouts, some greens, some cubes of root vegetables, lots of good things I didn't manage to get in-focus photos of.

I find it very hard to start a Korean meal without a Haemul Pajeon, the seafood pancake that is often a little disappointing. Not so here, in fact I think it might have been the best Pajeon I've ever had: light, crispy with just barely enough batter to hold it together.

But the real draw here is the barbecue, and I was really happy to see real charcoal in the in-table grill.

We opted for their special spiced Kalbi (beef short rib) and some Pork Shoulder.

Both were excellent, but I especially liked the Kalbi. It wasn't goopy with marinade, yet had a great extra flavor, not merely grilled meat. That said, plain-old grilled meat was just fine on the pork side: it had plenty of flavor from the charcoal, the very high heat giving a really nice sear on the outsides. The staff was really nice about checking-in on the heat source, and changing out the grilling surface a couple of times, so it didn't get too gunked-up and smoky. This was really delicious barbecue, I'm eager to head back for more of that Kalni in particular, but I also want to try their Bulgoki, which Laban seemed to like.

We're also suckers for a Dolsot Bi Bim Bap, a rice-with-stuff dish served in a hot bowl, which creates a beautiful crust on the rice. Here's ours just before dosing it with hot sauce and giving it a stir:

I'm not sure what it was about it, perhaps just the high-quality fresh ingredients, but this was the best Bi Bim Bap I've had.

We also got a Sundubu Jiigae (soft tofu stew) which was assertively spicy, yet delicate, and very tasty.

Along with it we got some of the most beautiful rice I've ever seen. It happened to be quite delicious too.

We also couldn't resist something called a "giant Eggroll" or some such thing, even though we had no idea of what it would be. As it turns out, it was a large scallion omelet, and very tasty, especially with the suggested condiment of ketchup!

The also very kindly let us sample some rice cakes in spicy sauce, and even though we were about to explode from overeating, the chewy noodles were quite good, and the sauce had quite a kick, a nice way to finish up the meal!

Service was very friendly. If we had any complaints, it was something that was our own fault. We had a huge pile of food on our table in rapid succession, I think next time we'll stagger the ordering a bit. All of the food was delicious, I'd say the best I've had yet in Philly, including some other places up in the Northeast. And prices were quite reasonable, partly because the portions were reasonable: not huge platters of meat for $30, these were better sizes for better prices, making it easier to try a few different things on the grill, or leave space for other dishes. Or both.

So, don't let the nondescript exterior intimidate you, inside it's quite pleasant and the staff is welcoming. Most importantly, the food is worth any inconvenience.

Everyday Good House
(Chez Tae Yun)
5501 N. Front St. (at Olney)
Philadelphia, PA 19120

We went back a short time later, and again had some great food, although not quite as universal as the first visit. The Haemul Pajeon was once again spectacular, it's absolutely required eating when visiting this place. We had to order the spiced Kalbi again too, and it remains a favorite. I'm really not sure how they do it, it doesn't seem to have much of a marinade on it, nor a spice rub, but it definitely has more flavor than most of the shortribs I've gotten at Korean Barbecue restaurants.

This time we also tried the Samkyupsal (pork belly) on the barbecue and we've come to the conclusion that, as much as we love pork belly, this is not the way we like to cook it. We've tried it at a few places now and we're always underwhelmed, it just doesn't have that much flavor, and the quick, hot grilling doesn't enhance the luxuriousness of the fat, instead it gets a little hard and chewy pretty quickly after the raw stage. So now we know, we'll go with the shoulder/butt when here, and the spicy pork at places like Kim's, but save the pork belly for slow-cooked preparations.

We also got a couple of casserole/stew things, and both times, got some raised eyebrows from the waitress. She was a little surprised that we actually wanted these dishes, and in once case she might have been right... We weren't especially fond of the Pork Bone Soup, even after jazzing it up with the coarse salt and tangy sauce they provided. It just didn't taste like much, although the bits of meat in it were fairly tasty.

We had much better luck with the Oxtail Stew, although again, our waitress seemed a little surprised that we wanted it. It was a little hard to eat: the meat was still pretty firmly attached to the jagged bones, and those were packed pretty tightly into the bowl. But it was worth some wrestling to get at the flavorful meat and spicy, rich broth. We're only guessing but we think those might be mustard seeds dusting the top of this dish - whatever they are, they lend a great layer of flavor to the already intense concoction underneath.

So, we didn't love the pork belly nor the pork bone soup, but everything else was quite good. We liked the banchan, especially the shredded salad, although the variety is a little greater at Seo Ra Bol. And the meats are a little more saucy and flavored at some of the other barbecue places, such as SRB or Kim's or Pan Dol Re. Still, that spiced Kalbi is a winner, the pajeon is unmatched, and the bi bim bap is hard to beat, so we'll be going back to Everyday Awesome House before long, I'm sure!

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