day twenty-eight: four seasons
June 18, 2011 § Leave a comment
I am a huge fan of banchan, those fragments of deliciousness served in little bowls at the start of many Korean meals. Were it that I could eat an entire meal consisting of banchan and sample the spectrum of Korean tastes in a sitting, I would. This is, generally, my approach to eating at Four Seasons Korean Restaurant: I order as many different things as I can and encourage my dining companions to, likewise, order different things, too, and hope that I might nab a few stray tastes off their plates, in turn.
Each meal at Four Seasons begins with a rotating cast of five or more banchan characters. Last night starred, clockwise from upper right, crunchy, fresh kimchi, spicy fishcake, sweet and salty potatoes, a light soy-based dipping sauce, kongnamul or pickled bean sprouts, and broccoli in light vinegar. All of these burst with flavor and my partner and I found ourselves chopstick battling to see who could pinch the last bite of each. This kind of cutlery quibbling is hardly necessary at Four Seasons, though: You can request seemingly endless servings of banchan and the waitstaff will usually preempt your request by offering more. (Our waitress, for instance, noticed our predilection for the kimchi and offered us a second serving, twice the size of the first.)
My favorite post-banchan appetizer is the kimchi pajun, which is basically a savory, crunchy, scallion pancake with kimchi fried in a wok or pan and served like a pizza. Four Seasons’s kimchi pajun is addictive and has just the right amount of oil, tang, and crunch. I can’t not get it (and don’t ever think I’ve not gotten it) when I go here. It’s not too spicy, so everyone in a party can enjoy a piece, and is great dipped in the bowl of light soy-based sauce or dotted with a bit of chili sauce.
Of the entrees at Four Seasons, my favorite by far is the ojingoh dolsot bi bim bap — and not just because I love saying ojingoh dolsot bi bim bap really, really fast (which I, admittedly, do). By my best estimate ojingoh dolsot bi bim bap translates to “spicy octopus in hot stone pot over rice.” The octopus pieces have a good texture, solid and dense like the best calamari, not chewy, and are coated in a molten lava-like sauce. The spiciness from this dish is not a burn-your-mouth type of spiciness, but rather a permeating, radiating spiciness that fills the mouth.* The rice at the bottom of the deep stone bowl is the perfect combination of sticky and crunchy. In contrast, the regular bi bim bap — rice topped with a mixture of namul (seasoned, sauteed vegetables) and a fried egg, served with add-your-own-to-taste Korean hot sauce on the side — while totally satisfying, has nothing on the spicy octopus version, and those accustomed to bi bim bap more metropolitan Korean restaurants will probably be disappointed. That said, it’s the best in Collegetown and not to be overlooked as a vegetarian bi bim bap option.
Another dish at Four Seasons that I find to be quite magical is one whose exact name I cannot remember, and which, when I want to order, I forgo trying to figure out which menu item it corresponds to and just describe. It is a cold, spicy buckwheat noodle dish served with hot beef consomme, a variation, I believe, on something called bi bim naeng-myon. The cold noodles are long, thin and silky, and served with scissors on the side to aid in eating.
The Korean barbecue at Four Seasons is very pricey and cooked in the kitchen rather than at the table, so I’ve never ordered it. When I do decide to venture out beyond my favorites, I go for something off the stew menu which promises to add “delicious and value to your meal.” I can say that typically, the stew menu does just that. (Other menu sections that I enjoy implore you to “Try house special one” and “Share with your people.”) This time I went for soel lung tang which was described as long broiled beef bone with vermicelli noodle soup. My partner ordered daegu mae un tang, cod fish in spicy broth. Neither of had any more information than this about our dishes nor knew what to expect.
I was surprised, when my soel lung tang arrived, to see that it was a light, milky color. I thought, at first, that it was a rice broth of some sort, but later learned that the milky color came from the titular beef bone, boiled for hours on end. It was light and delicious, but needed salt. Fortunately, it came served with a medium-sized bowl of coarse salt on the side. I wasn’t sure how much to add, so I began slowly, and the flavors all began to pop. By the end, though, I went a little overboard and though I still enjoyed the taste, felt my arteries narrow ever so slightly, so be cautious. The beef in the soup was thinly sliced and tasted somewhat like cheeks, though I imagine it was not. The soup base had a hint of leek and the flour noodles were ideal for slurping.
My partner did not find that the daegu mae un tang added delicious or value to his meal. Though we both enjoyed the ultra-spicy, slightly oily soup base immensely, the vegetables inside it were overcooked and continued to over-cook as the fire beneath his chafing bowl raged. The cod, too, was dry and overcooked, and tasted old and/or freezer-burned. The dish was not among Four Season’s finest, the fish a casualty of being landlocked.
Four Seasons serves beer and is a good pre-going-out dinner spot for a group. The service is unbelievably fast, with each dish coming out right after the other, and the offerings delightfully eclectic. Also, their kimchi to go is really good and better than the stuff you’ll find at the Asian grocery in Collegetown. I like to eat it in the mornings on top of rice straight out of the rice cooker. And, while I’m fantasizing about it, the next time I do that for breakfast, I’m going to take it one big Korean step further and fry an egg to put on it as well.
* Editor’s note: As a note of caution it will, I confess, fill other internal mucous membranes, too.
Price: Higher-end Korean ($12 – $18+)
Location: 404 Eddy Street, right up from Buffalo
Phone: (607) 277-1117