Exploring Korean Cuisine at Anju
by Whitney Babash, Dame de la Chaîne
Following a suggestion by Dame de la Chaîne Kathryn Cleary, members of the Bailliage of Greater Washington, DC, gladly left the dreariness of a rainy November evening outside and entered the warmth of Anju, in the heart of the city. Anju (Korean for food to be eaten with alcohol) is the creation of Danny Lee and his mother Yesoon Lee, as well as Scott Drewno and Drew Kim, Danny’s partners at CHIKO, where the Bailliage’s Mondiale branch learned about Korean beverages in 2018. Natalie Park, Danny’s wife, designed the casual and welcoming ambiance of the restaurant.
The staff welcomed the diners with a glass of Corte Fresca Prosecco and a selection of appetizers, each with its own flavor profile. Diners eagerly sampled the sour crunchiness of the pickled stuffed cucumbers, the sweetness and nuttiness of the lotus root, and the light soy flavor of the shredded bellflower root, a plant grown on the Korean coast. Anju is known for its kimchis and the diners were treated to two. First was a refreshing mix of apple, brussels sprouts, and chili; the second was Anju’s renowned 30‑day kimchi, layers of cabbage fermented with shrimp paste and chili. Executive Chef Angel Barreto, a graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine, told the Chaîne that the restaurant serves an incredible 1,000 pounds each week.
Adding to the conviviality of the occasion, dinner was served family-style, in two courses followed by dessert. Diners shared and sampled several dishes, delighting in the kaleidoscope of textures and flavors. First came:
Dosirak Salad, a combination of Bibb lettuce, avocado, walnuts, diced butternut squash, pomegranate seeds, fennel, and yuja vinaigrette. The salad was served in a metal box that the diners closed and shook to mix. (Yuja or yuzu is a very sour citrus fruit frequently found in Korean, as well as Japanese and Chinese, kitchens)
Tornado Potato, a skewer of a fried spiral-cut potato that eaters pulled apart and dipped into citrus aioli.
Mandu, pan-fried dumplings stuffed with a combination of minced pork and piquant kimchi, with a sesame dipping sauce.
Korean Fried Chicken, with a spicy gochujang glaze that provided a lingering warmth on the tongue and very crispy skin that contrasted nicely with the tender meat, making it a particular favorite.
Diners assembled the components of Ssam Board into a lettuce wrap: rice, seasoned and roasted galbi (short rib), slices of fresh and pickled radish, fried onions, sesame leaves, and a peppery chutney.
These were followed in the second course by:
Dak Jjim, chunks of chicken thighs cooked in a sweet chili sauce with potatoes and onions.
Palace Ddukbokgi, a vegetable dish with round lengths of chewy rice cake (that reminded one diner of the shape and color white asparagus), slices of braised lotus root, mushrooms, and vegetables in a rich, umami-laden yet sweet sauce.
Kimchi Bokum Bap, a rich and satisfying dish of wok-fried rice with scallop, squid, and buttered kimchi.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, Chef Barreto served two desserts.
Ho Dduk, a thin pancake wrapped around warm sugared chopped nuts, reminiscent of a panini or a single layer of baklava, served with a lightly sweet syrup and slices of cold banana that provided a nice temperature contrast.
Coconut custard with slices of stewed persimmon, caramel, and candied walnuts provided another study in contrasting textures, with the silkiness of the custard, the bite of the persimmon, and the crunch of the candied walnuts complementing each other.
Anju served both soju and makgeolli, two rice-derived Korean beverages. Soju (18% alcohol) is distilled while makgeolli (6-8% alcohol) is fermented and highly regarded for its nutritional value akin to yoghurt. Anju serves its makgeolli in metal teapots, the traditional manner in which Koreans purchase and serve it. Professionnel du Vin and Sake Master Christian Choi shared with the diners how soju and makgeolli are made and recounted vignettes from his childhood in Korea, including picking up his family’s makgeolli order. Choi shared an important piece of Korean drinking culture – it is vital that one does not serve oneself; rather one serves others at the table. To prove his point, he gleefully glowered fiercely at the nearest table until one quick-witted diner filled his glass to the amusement of the others and the satisfaction of Christian.
In appreciation for the fun meal and fresh insights into Korean food and culinary tradition, Bailli Judy Mazza presented Chef Barreto with a Chaîne plate and Natasha, who had taken great care of the bailage, with a Chaîne pin. The bailliage thanks Dame de la Chaîne Cleary for the great idea and behind-the-scenes engagement to make this dinner a reality and encourages venue and event suggestions from all members.