I generally prefer to enjoy these meals in their natural environment, but poor planning and a prodigious crowd necessitated takeout.
"The chickpea is neither a chick nor a pea. Discuss." -- Linda Richman, Saturday Night Live, March 19, 1994
My nine-to-five life revolves around books, and there is a saying about books that warns against judging them by their covers. We humans are visual creatures; our eyeballs are on the front of our faces, and what they see dictates much of our behavior. When we see the cover of a book, our first instinct is to interpret it forthwith from that mere nugget of information.
Anyway, that's just my nine-to-five life, but part of it informs my life as it relates to "Fringe Foods." What is a menu, after all, but a slender volume from a very particular genre? We sit at a table, we take the menu from the server's hand, and we judge. True, we judge more from the interior of the menu than we do the cover, but what if that interior can mislead us just as much?
I arrived at New Seoul Korean Restaurant during the heart of the dinner hour. My first indication of what was coming should have been the inability to find a parking spot. It was no surprise that the meager lot in the back was full. That there was no street parking within a block of New Seoul's entryway should have been a sign.
This is not a restaurant review, but it should be noted that anyone who misses his grandmother should head immediately to New Seoul. Regardless of ethnicity, you will feel as though you must find a seat quickly, lest you are relegated to the kids' table. It was homey to the point of almost inspiring guilt just to walk in while everyone else was eating. The lesson is, call ahead or plan for a wait. It is capital-B busy.
If you don't think we form judgments about foods from their names, think about the peanut. It's not a nut, but it's easy to think of it as such. The egg cream contains as much egg as the eggplant. Mongolian barbecue isn't really barbecue; heck, it's not even Mongolian. Still, restaurant chains like Hu Hot and bd's populate their signage and their websites with Fu-Manchued faces and the parlance of the conquering horde.
In a similar fashion, snap decisions are made in favor of the innocuously named and against the oddly named. Would we eat "lakegrass seed" as much as we do wild rice? There's a reason gyro chains don't refer openly to the lamb in their meat. People get more upset about eating cute creatures than they do about eating something mysteriously called "gyro meat." And sure, it might be a facile or glib distinction, but might you be more inclined to eat "beef tails" than oxtails? There's no 'X' in "beef," y'know. X's are mysterious.
I generally prefer to enjoy these meals in their natural environment, but poor planning and a prodigious crowd necessitated takeout. An order of deep-fried beef dumplings kept my oxtail soup company in the paper bag on the way home. I discovered two more stowaways when I arrived: a healthy portion of sticky white rice and a small container of kimchi. It was out of respect for you, the audience, that I chose not to muddy the waters by having any of that funky pickled cabbage.
The soup glistened with oil, laying down a thin slick on my lips as I took my first sample. Green onions dominated the landscape, with the hunks of oxtail underneath and clear, near-invisible sweet potato noodles hiding at the bottom. They didn't taste like sweet potato, by the way. They're just made out of them.
Oxtail can be made into either soup or stew, depending on the nationality of the chef and the ingredients in the recipe. This was most definitely a soup, and could have arguably been called a broth. The dish was generally insubstantial, which one would not expect from such a flavor-, fat- and protein-rich cut of meat as oxtail. The onion dominated both aroma and taste, with the oxtail meat in such short supply that the rest of the non-bone beef matter didn't seem worth gnawing at.
This may have seemed like an awful lot of semantic frippery for a small amount of dish discussion, but that kind of sums up my oxtail soup experience. Being, as I was, at the tail end of a cold, the oniony, oily broth was soothing and rejuvenating. There was, however, little else to say about this meal. The oxtail provided more fringe factor than flavor, even in the meat I did eat. It ended up being all surface impression followed by an anticlimactic meal.
Now, New Seoul's beef tendon soup, on the other hand... That looks interesting.