By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
That water cooler is up front, right under the large Samsung flat-screen television that is piped with surround sound shooting from speakers in the ceiling. Television reinforcements are in places out of big-screen gaze, so you can't escape the broadcast leer and jeer even if you wanted to. On one visit there was, as best as we could tell, a Korean dating game show. There was lots of laughter and applause, and every once in a while a fat exclamation point in loud purple would explode onto the screen. Captions were anchored with yellow smiley faces. On another show a man is stretching on the floor while a woman lays wet towels on his belly. Sometimes he grunts. She smiles.
Yet the strangest screen flicker appears to have come from Hollywood--with Korean subtitles. A plane crashes on a deserted tropical island. A pair of blondes sunbathes near the wreckage. Despite the twisted aluminum, smoke plumes and flickers of flame, nobody seems injured, except for the man who has a piece of fuselage sticking out of his chest. Everyone is concerned for his welfare, save for those sunbathing blondes. One of the most concerned is a petite Asian woman. "She is one of the biggest stars in Korea," says the You-Chun chef, sitting at a table in front of the screen in a starched white coat. A pair of reading glasses rests on his breast, tethered to a chain ringing his neck.
The You-Chun staff engages the diners, what few of them there are. "Do you know what kind of restaurant this is?" a server asks us as we enter, looking at us like we're a pair of pizza stalkers. He brings us menus only after he's convinced we're not disoriented or loaded. The paper place mats are covered with Korean script, but the menu has English subtitles. The bill of fare has only a dozen dishes under four headings: You-Chun arrowroot starch noodles; dumpling, traditional Korean pancake; meat dish; and special menu of the You-Chun.
Cold spicy noodle with sashimi is of the arrowroot pasta ilk. It arrives in a stainless steel bowl. The noodles are a military greenish brown, thin, and they form a bed at the heart of the large bowl. A thin but large half-moon slice of Asian pear is on top, as well as half of a hard-boiled egg, the yolk as yellow and perky as those smiley faces on the game show captions. A part of the bowl is dedicated to ray or skate--irregular pieces of flesh stained orange from seasoning. Cucumber slivers are scattered over the top. The server instructs us to stir it up. I pick up a pair of spoons and toss the thing like a summer salad.
"No," says the chef, rising from his chair, "like this." He takes my chopsticks and pokes and prods the mound, pushing the sticks deep into the bowl, upheaving the contents until the ingredients are well-dispersed and slathered with the spicy sauce. The cool pithy noodles have a hearty give that goes beyond al dente, yet they're not undercooked. Skate pieces are moist and tender, but chewy. Cucumber freshens the mix with its quenching crispness.
Fine hot noodle with chicken is in a large plastic bowl. A stack of smaller blue plastic bowls with Korean script on the edges is placed next to it. This stack of smaller bowls holds soupspoons, large metal ones with paper sheathes slipped over the spoon bowls to advertise sanitation, one presumes. Oddly, it feels like having dinner with a hotel toilet seat before the paper sanitation strip barricading the doughnut hole is ripped from its moorings. But that's me. Noodle strands are modest, separate and slightly gummy when struck by incisors. The broth is rich and smooth and rippled with irregularly shaped bits of chicken; some dark, most white. The chicken is juicy, though there are errant patches of parched flesh. It's filling and nurturing and could be prescribed during the flu season, if the myth of the mothering chicken remedy means a damn.
Prescribing here wouldn't be outlandish either. Walk through the doors. It's like entering a health club with a clean-room motif, or a clinic dolled up in high-tech chic. The dining room is sterile white, with thick glass panels bordering rows of tables. Some of the glass is frosted. There's a sign above a window up front, just beyond the jagged wall of glass bricks. "Bar," it says, with some Korean characters below it. Of course, it isn't a bar, as You-Chun doesn't mess with hooch. What is behind the glass window is a large commercial kettle of gleaming polished stainless steel. Hard to know what is cooked in it, but irony would reign high if it were a still.