Monday, May 20, 2013

O Jung Sam Mi

For our last lunch in Seoul, Korea we ventured out to southern part of the city to the ritzy Gangnam district (yes - that Gangnam, sexy lady!) as we had reservations at an organic restaurant called O Jung Sam Mi.  The chef/owner has several advanced degrees in organic medicine and is quite renown in the Korean food industry for her healthier approaches to traditional Korean cuisine.  The lunch special served is bibimbap. Not just regular bibimbap - but all out fancy, eaten from brass serve ware, with the highest quality organic ingredients, and full blown Gangnam-style.

Bibimbap literally means "mixed rice" and is a signature Korean dish served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables) and gochujang (chili pepper paste). A raw or fried egg and sliced meat (usually beef) are common additions. The ingredients are stirred together thoroughly just before eating.  The offering at O Jung Sam Mi describes it as "The Seven Treasures Flower Pot - Jinju Bibimbap Set" for 28,000 KRW per person.


The city of Jinju, the capital of the North Jeolla Province of South Korea, is famous throughout the nation for its version of bibimbap, said to be based on a royal court dish of the Joseon Dynasty. Their version does not include egg and features more fish and seafood items as sides. The royal factor was amplified by the fine decor of the restaurant and a colorful mural on the back wall of our private room.  We were told this picture is reserved for backdrops of the royal court settings only, so we definitely welcomed the temporary high class treatment.

The royal quality carried over to the serve ware as I mentioned, which was high quality brass in flower shapes.  Soon our appetizers arrived and included steamed fresh octopus sliced thin.  It was very tender and not chewy at all.  Next, we ate a seasonal salad with wild raspberries and a fresh strawberry dressing.  We were explained that these berries were currently in season and thus the most fresh.  The dressing was generously poured and I was worried it might drown the vegetables in sweetness, but the tartness came through more to balance it all out.


Next we were each presented with our own large tray of the "Jinju Bibimbap Set."  It was a lovely spread of our main bibimbap bowl, sides of kimchi, pan fried vegetables, soup, and steamed fish.  The steamed fish was a whole white croaker with lemon zest and had little teeth.  The server quickly and efficiently took each fish from our tray and using only a pair of chopsticks, first removed the head, then split it in half, and removed the spine. Simple as that!  The fish meat was light and had an umami flavor that was almost buttery.  I really enjoyed it.


Next, I sampled my soup.  I had a clear fish broth with bean sprouts, white fish, and dried squid. It also had lots of seafood flavor and was perfect for my more fragile palate.  Keith, on the other hand, had the traditional spicy kimchi soup with his regular meat set.  My mother makes her own version of this soup as it is one of her favorites.  Surprisingly, it is now one of Keith's favorites as he slurped up the whole bowl and remarked on how tasty he found it.


Finally, I tackled the main star - the bibimbap.  Vegetables commonly used in bibimbap include julienned cucumber, zucchini, mu (daikon), mushrooms, doraji (bellflower root), and gim, as well as spinach, soybean sprouts, and gosari (bracken fern stems). For visual appeal, the vegetables are often placed so adjacent colors complement each other.  Each element was neatly cut and arranged in the bowl like a work of art.  Also in the bowl were diced shrimp, plus meat for Keith, topped with edible gold leaf (for the royal factor, of course).  The white rice was in a separate smaller bowl and we were instructed to dump the rice into the larger bowl and mix everything together.  You can also add as little or as much of the gochujang (chili pepper paste) to adjust to your spice level liking. I absolutely loved this dish!  The flavor combinations worked so well and were very comforting and satisfying.  There was crunch from the vegetables, a bit of saltiness from the shrimp, some spice from the gochujang; it all married so well with each bite.

After we finished the main meal, we were presented with a simple dessert of fruit: a slice of watermelon and Korean melon.  The fruit was a refreshing way to end our lunch.  Additionally, I received a cup of sukcha tea made from mugwort. Mugworts are used medicinally, especially in Chinese, Japanese and South Korean traditional medicine, and are used as an herb to flavor food. I was told the tea is best for females to help with their reproductive organs.  Keith received a different tea, that was much darker and stronger, which has medicinal advantages for men's health.

Overall, the royal ambience and treatment by staff at O Jung Sam Mi is high class and what would be expected for a place known as the "Beverly Hills" of South Korea.  They too have the infamous buzzers on each table, that tie back to a watch that your server wears. In case you need anything at all, simply press the buzzer and she is there in a second! We really enjoyed the bibimbap and their modern approach to healthier simple meals.

Total Rating: 4.65
Food: 5, Price: 3.5, Service: 5, Ambience: 5, Accessibility: 4

What I ate:
Vegetable Bibimbap Set

Plus Keith ate:
Meat Bibimbap Set

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