Photo by Jessica CalkinsI'm distressed to admit it, dear readers, but it has come to my attention that this jelly-bellied journalist is entertaining a rival for the affections of my wife. The scalawag? None other than New York chef Anthony Bourdain, author of the best-selling gourmet travelogue A Cook's Tour and star of the Food Network program of the same name.
I know what you're thinking: How could anyone, no matter how thin and famous, outdo this plump pantophagist, this latter-day Robert Morley, this ever-adorable mound of renown?! It's not as if Monsieur Bourdain is trying to cuckold me in real time; nor would my spouse, being as honorable as Caesar's, break her marriage vows. Yet she admits Bourdain, whose show and book chronicle his culinary adventures in distant lands, has caught her fancy as a writer and gastronome. Therein lies the seed of my envy.
She has been reading that blasted Bourdain tome morning, noon and night! And her praise of his alimentary excess is incessant: Bourdain has eaten a still-beating cobra's heart in Vietnam, a veal's face in France and a lamb's testicle in Morocco. A lamb's testicle? Bloody show-off.
That's easy enough when you have your publisher and the Food Network footing the bills. How can I compete, writing for the Village Voice's parsimonious print progeny? John Wayne Airport is as close as I'll get to a trip on this rag's tab.
But then I ran across Yi Dynasty, a cozy Korean-style barbecue on Corinthian Way in Newport Beach. It has been there a year and a quarter, ever since the Kim family decided to relocate their 13-year-old eatery from Buena Park. The new place is smashing, with brass lanterns, yellowish-beige walls, and windows that look like they've been plucked from a Dutch seminary.
But what impressed me upon further investigation was not the décor nor even its Korean barbecue—I'm a past master of the kimchi-kolbi shtick—but rather a menu promising such exotica as honey-corn tripe, black pork bellies, barbecued bone marrow, wild boar and stingray. Granted, these items may have escaped my attention at other Korean joints, but here was a place ripe for reviewing, one where I could surely impress mon amourwith my abdominal audacity.
Once there and seated, I dispensed with self-grilling on our table's gas range and asked the house to cook everything. Normally, I enjoy the whole DIY process, but this time I wanted to stuff my craw posthaste.
We didn't stray too far afield for appetizers, choosing pan-fried dumplings and pancake with green onion and seafood. The dumplings were thick with pork and grease and quite yummy. As for the pancake, it was as green as a leprechaun; filled with scallions, shrimps and scallops; and especially tasty when dipped in sesame-soy sauce.
Next came the panchan—i.e. all the little vegetable dishes one's supposed to eat with Korean barbecue. Served in elegant bone china with a navy-blue floral pattern, they made quite a spectacle alongside the plate of red-leaf lettuce. My wife had beef rib-eye without the seasoning, while the waitress brought me a platter sizzling with reddish strips of wild boar. I found it a delicious cross between pork and beef with a tang I dare not call gaminess as it doesn't begin to approach the strong taste of duck or venison. Needless to say, with a big ol' bottle of OB beer to aid my progress, I finished the entire portion.
I ended my meal with a king-sized bowl of barbecued stingray and cold, wheat noodles mixed in a robust chile paste. How would I describe it? Tastes like chicken. Just joshing; actually, it didn't taste like anything I'd had before. Coated crimson like little firecrackers, the stingray slices were thin and chewy, with bits of cartilage. Similar to a really tough bit of Pemmican. Nevertheless, in a matter of minutes, the bowl was clean.
"My goodness," my wife exclaimed, wiping the chile-induced perspiration from my brow. "Aren't you brave, eating all that stingray by yourself!"
Hear that, Bourdain? Eat your heart out—or your testicle.
Yi Dynasty Korean BBQ, 1701 Corinthian Way, Newport Beach, (949) 797-9292; www.yi-dynasty.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat., noon-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Dinner for two, $54, food only. All major credit cards accepted.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.