The Winter Olympics in Korea may be over, but you can keep alive the memory of those two weeks in February by enjoying the gold medal cuisine at Tong Tong Korean restaurant.
Despite the two large-screen TVs, the décor boasts an Asian theme, and the staff radiates warmth. Our steamed dumplings ($6.99) were delivered with our server telling us how good they are. It was an exclamation rooted in first-hand experience, not so much a brag as an envious statement.
The eight hand-sized turnover-shaped dumplings are made with paper-thin wrappers and filled with ground pork, beef and vegetables. These are also available fried with the same ingredients. Because ours were steamed, the texture was slightly chewy and the filling mixture subtle. Otherwise, bright, bold flavors and colors are the norm here.
Entrees are categorized as Stir-Fried, Hot-Pot, Soups, Grilled Fish, Korean Barbecue, Noodles and "The Others." The latter included dishes that suggest acquired tastes: pork feet, freshwater snail and Korean sausage made of beef noodle stuffed in pig intestines. These, and the Budae-Jeongol, made with ham, sausages, baked beans, tofu and ground meat, fueled my curiosity but not my appetite.
The squid with pork belly in kimchi sauce ($15.99) and Bulgogi ($15.99) had more appeal. But before the entrees arrived, while still enjoying the dumplings, a cart was rolled out of the kitchen with banchan, complimentary small plates of appetizers and sides.
Each vibrantly colored food was named as it was set on the table: turnip kimchi, grilled chicken with whole garlic cloves, sliced eggplant, coleslaw, salad, cabbage kimchi, tofu and chive pancake. All, except the pancake and chicken, are served chilled. I especially enjoyed the eggplant, which was faintly smoky thanks to sesame oil. This was the same flavoring on the dice-size pieces of tofu.
Kimchi might well be considered Korea's national dish: fermented cabbage and vegetables with a host of spices that add piquancy and tartness all at once. We had several opportunities to sample it here.
The main courses arrived with a small rice bowl and a cup of beef broth, which was bland compared with everything else. Still, no one leaves Tong Tong hungry.
The squid and pork belly dish featured just the right amount of spicy heat. Some of the generous pieces of squid were a tad leathery, but the thinly sliced pork had a surprising amount of meat and very little fat. These, with sliced zucchini, carrots and scallions, were coated with kimchi.
Bulgogi is one form of Korean barbecue. Thin pieces of beef are marinated in a blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, garlic and spices for a blend of zest and sweet in each bite. Mushrooms and onions add texture. It's easy to understand why this is such a popular dish. It was also a filling one.
The meal ended with a chilled cup of ginger and cinnamon tea. It seemed an odd drink on a cold night, but the refreshing taste somehow made it easier to brace the frigid weather outside.
My only complaint has to do with the hard benches along the walls. They're uncomfortable after a short time. Next time I know to grab a cushioned chair instead. As noted, the staff readily identified each food item placed on the table and didn't seem to mind when we asked for reminders.
Tong Tong is popular for dining in or taking out. Daily lunch specials are offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with many of the dinner entrees at reduced prices.