Dish: Mul Nengmyun
Place: Sam Oh Jung, Lynnwood
In the bowl: Per the menu: “Cold noodle in beef broth soup with sliced beef and pickled vegetables.” Those vegetables are cucumbers and daikon. There’s also Asian pear, half of a boiled egg, and–check this out–ice.
Supporting cast/What to do: The noodles come with hot mustard, and there’s vinegar on the table. You’ll want to add these two ingredients to the bowl, finding an agreeable balance. Your server can offer suggestions. You’ll also get scissors, which you use to cut the noodles to a more manageable length.
Noodling around: There are a couple of things that will immediately jump out at you regarding this noodle dish.
First, it’s really cold. It’s served cold, it’s kept cold in a metal bowl, and it’s actually got a little ice floating around in the broth to make sure it stays cold. And that’s what makes it especially refreshing as a summertime meal.
Second, these buckwheat noodles are quite different than Japanese soba. Instead of being soft, they’re springy. Some people complain that they’re like rubber bands, but the texture is part of the treat of eating them. They’re fun to chew!
Once you reconcile these things, take note of the broth. Get the additions of mustard and vinegar right (some also add a little sugar), and you’ve got a tangy soup experience that’s simply terrific. The coolness intensifies the crispiness of the Asian pear and the pickled vegetables as well. If I have one gripe, it’s that there’s only one thin slice of beef (brisket, I believe), but you’re having a big bowl of beef broth. (It’s not a deep, hearty beef broth. If done right, it’s balanced by dongchimi (daikon radish) brine.)
This soup would be ideal after eating Korean barbeque to cleanse the palate. And note that you can get the spicy relative of this dish, bibim nengmyun, which I did previously at Hae-Nam Kalbi & Calamari.
If you want more: I’m not sure you need to order anything more. In contrast to Chan, Sam Oh Jung serves up plenty of banchan–and at no extra charge. My meal came with nine bowls, including a couple of types of kimchi, peppers, and potato salad.
But if you’re feeling adventurous and want more, try the chung gook jang chigae ($10.99). This fermented soybean and soybean paste soup (you can think of it as a type of stew) has a strong, funky taste, reminding me of the flavor of natto. It comes with tofu, so it’s a good dish to get at a place that calls itself a tofu house.
Be aware/beware: You may read negative reviews about service at Korean restaurants like this, but you’ve got power. On your table you’ll find a server call button. It serves a purpose. Don’t hesitate to push the button when you need anything. Complain only if they don’t respond to the ring. That’s not likely to happen.
First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on June 11, 2012.