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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Columbia Eats: British Bulldog Pub

I didn't realize Columbia was sorely in need of good Irish-y pub food until I stepped into the British Bulldog Pub last week. If you asked me prior, I don't think I could possibly name an Irish place off the top of my head in the Capital City, one that really did potatoes and meat pies some justice at least. Fortunately, this problem has rectified, and everyone can sleep at night again.

In a nutshell, Bulldog is pretty great. And by great, I mean the best thing you'll find on Harbison, hands down. In a land of not just awful chain restaurants, but all the awful chain restaurants, Bulldog is positive step in the right direction. The menu is kind of surprising; a host of meat pies along with the usual suspects headline the list. Shoving a fish and chips craving aside, I grabbed an order of the chicken, bacon and leek pie. The pie itself was an easy decision, but Bulldog sweetened the deal with something I've never seen before as its side - an order of mustard mashed potatoes. Hand mashed potatoes with a burst of tangy mustard seed, it was kind of awesomely good in a way I wasn't expecting at all. The meat pie was great too, full of potatoes and stuff, in a flaky dough and slathered in nice gravy just because. The photo I think says it all. If a potato, chicken, leek and bacon pie sounds good to you, then you'll like it, no doubt.

Fish and chips did make the table, and delivered just fine. I've had a lot of really great fish and chips this year, so these may not stack up as the best I've had all year, or in Columbia for that matter (check out Bone-In Artisan's monstrosity if you see them rolling around a corner near you). They were totally fine though, and came with grilled lemons (totally cool in my humble opinion, but a distant second to the malt vinegar any day as far as fish and chips are concerned). Bulldog is kind of the most authentic pub I've been too in awhile also, serving mushy peas as an optional side. I've never had them before here, and they certainly weren't my favorite thing in the world, but they are there, and I imagine they are about as decent as mushy peas get.

This being my first visit to Bulldog, it might be absurd to call this one of my favorite places in Columbia, but I definitely liked what I had on this visit and have plans to come back often as long as I'm in the midlands. The beer is a touch pricey (decent collection though), along with the food, but as an occasional splurge, I think it's totally worth it, especially if you're wandering the Irmo area for something to eat.

The British Bulldog Pub on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Guide to Korean Food

Everyone knows Chinese food. And most people at least know what sushi is, and have had a bowl of ramen in some way, shape or form and can pretend know what the gist of Japanese cooking is. Thai curries and pad thai have acclaimed much fame, and Vietnamese even kind of has exploded and become a bit of a thing everywhere with pho and banh mi becoming mainstream. But as far as Korean food is concerned, that's been surprisingly under the radar for a lot of people, especially in the South. Defiantly authentic, unlike it's other counterparts which have sacrificed a lot of tradition in favor of dipping a bit into the melting pot for business, Korean food has always been made for Korean people, unfazed by the pressures of American taste buds. Fortunately, it's really delicious, and fairly no-fear stuff, featuring flavors we all know and love in an Asian backdrop. The following is the big information dump that you need to know before entering the big, beautiful world of Korean cooking.

Banchan, The Initial "Whoa Man" Moment
Banchan is your typical set of a bijillion side dishes that unload the table during each meal. They can be a lot of things (I've had up to 16 dishes at once at some places), but the staples tend to be kimchi (we'll talk about this), a spicy cucumber thing, cold potatoes with a sweet cream, japchae (sweet potato noodles, personal favorite) and often some cold blanched beans sprouts. There are many more, all of which are tasty, delicious, and varying in textures and taste.

Kimchi, The Must Know of Korean Food
Spicy fermented cabbage really wasn't a winning name, so we keep to calling it kimchi here in the United States. And it really is so much more delicious then its unglamorous description. Spicy, crunchy, and like wine, full of varying flavors that make each and every jar a bit different, it's the must-have at every Korean meal, whether as a side or incorporated into the main dish in some delicious way. Koreans are known to fly back to the United States with cases of this stuff. The most authentic kimchi is a long and complicated process, but there are also several recipes for quick kimchi you can make at home as well.

Bulgogi, the National Dish for Meatlovers
Every culture has a great meat dish to prey on, and for Koreans bulgogi (sometimes called Galbi, difference is in how thick or thin it is sliced) is the basic signature they like to stand on. Beef, chicken, or pork can be used (almost always beef though), but the key being the special marinade of soy, sesame oil, sugar, garlic, pepper, and other magical things, grilled over open flame that make it so magical. The fanciest serving is often over a burner right at your own table, ensuring the fresh and hottest bites you can get, often making for a fragrant meal. Bulgogi often goes into various dishes as well, particularly their big rice dish, bibimbap.

Bibimbap, What Fried Rice Wishes it Could Be
One of the most comforting Korean things you can have after a long hard day, bibimbap basically means "mixed rice." It comes in two ways, the basic way where a rice is topped by a variety of vegetables, usually kimchi, shredded carrots and various greens along with a fried egg on top, or the spectacular and often worthy of the extra dollar or so dolsot bibimbap, which puts the rice in a hot stone bowl which caramelizes and crisps the rice to perfection. Both bowls usually come with a bottle of magical red pepper paste sauce, which gives the dish a deep sweet and spicy flavor. It's really pretty when it hits the table, but the secret to eating it is to get everything together and mash the hell out of it until you get something like a fried rice consistency, and then enjoy.

Panjeon, It's the Savory Person's Pancake
No really! Usually vegetables thinly sliced with chunks of seafood depending on the type of panjeon, or just vegetarian, it's a thin savory pancake often served as an appetizer. I sometimes wake up in the morning and fry up a batch for breakfast for a hearty breakfast (surely breaking some ancient rule).

Duk Bokki, Let's Pretend That's What it is Called
Think of it as the Korean version of gnocchi, these chewy pieces of dough are made from rice cakes, pan-fried lightly and then tossed in a spicy sauce for a warm and comforting bite. Really addicting with the chewy rice cakes and sauce.

There's plenty more to explore as far as Korean food is concerned, but this guide hopefully acts as a decent head start into the world of Korean cooking. It's really tasty stuff that's fairly healthy and just flat out good. Do yourself a favor and head out to a local restaurant to get a big, giant bowl of bibimbap with all the fixings now!

Places to Try:
DJ House, in Columbia, SC
Blue Cactus, in Columbia, SC
Tasty Korean BBQ, in Greenville, SC

Friday, November 9, 2012

Columbia Eats: Il Giorgionne Pizzeria and Wine Bar

"mmmmmmm!" exclaims Brittany Walter.
If there was one thing that Columbia always had, it was a wealth of Italian restaurants at every corner - Dianne's, Pasta Fresca, and Garibaldi's, Ristorante Divino, Delucca's, Moe's Grapevine, and Villa Tronco are just a few that come to mind (let's not even get started on those awful chains). In the last few years, however, a flood of newcomers has popped up all over Columbia, filling in those gaps and causing some buzz comparable to the food truck explosion. Rosso in particular made itself a fixture of not just Forest Acres, but in the community as a whole, supporting local events and making itself a staple of Soda City.

So here we stand, at yet another Italian addition to the capital city, Il Giorgionne. After all that, what exactly sets apart Columbia's newest Italian member from the rest?

Well, for starters, authenticity.

This is not an Italian-American joint. Though it's interiors are clean, sleek and contemporary American, the stuff that hits the table is what one might consider Italy to be. No caesar salad or garlic bread or fried calamari, but rather plates of imported cheese and cold cuts, a caprese of tomato and fresh mozzerella, cheese on pretty much everything in fact (a classic clear-cut path towards customer satisfaction if I do say so myself) line the appetizer menu. Paired with a large wine list, the restaurant lives up to its wine bar namesake fairly well.

The entree list at Il Giorgionne is lean and focused, packed with simple, classic Italian dishes including carbonara, spaghetti aglio olio e Rapini (garlic, good olive oil and broccoli rabe over pasta), pappardelle (egg pasta with bolognese meat sauce) and of course pizzas, including margherita and romana. I tried the carbonara and tortelloni alla Stefania on my visit. Carbonara, the classic pasta dish of pancetta, pecarino, pasta finished off with a creamy egg at the end is something that you have to really go to great lengths to mess up, and Il Giorgionne certainly does not here. The pasta was fresh, and the sauce was cheesy and yolky as it should be, just a really fine dish.

The star was the tortelloni though, stuffed with cheese and sitting on a rich, creamy tomato sauce that we were sopping up with any bread we could get our hands on well after the tortelloni were gone. The portions look deceptively small when they come to the table, but the richness of it all certainly makes up for the difference, leaving you feeling very fine by the end of the meal.

The prices, compared to its upscale neighbor Diannes and other Italian eateries are a touch lower, making for a good, local place to get some solid Italian food without breaking the bank. Life-changing it may not be, but Il Giorgionne is certainly satisfying in its own right, and a fine addition to the Columbia Italian scene for what they do.

il Giorgione Pizzeria & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon