Chung Dam Restaurant: a delicious junction for Korean culinary traditionalists and Silicon Valley
It’s wise to make a reservation ahead of time if you decide to go to Chung Dam. It’s one of Silicon Valley’s many Korean restaurants, located near a bubble of tech giant campuses. Serving both lunch and dinner, Chung Dam is a popular spot for upscale Korean barbeque, which is enjoyed by everyone from stay-at-home Korean moms wearing knock-off Chanel to visiting businessmen. The most interesting part, however, is that the owner isn’t a chef, but the owner of a semiconductor company in Korea. Known only as Mr. Yim to the restaurant employees, he resides in Korea while providing ideas and resources. It’s up to John Yongmin Lee, the business manager, to work with other staff to execute those ideas. This is done exceptionally, however—the quality of the food and the decor are luxurious and modern.
Simple porcelain vases, lacquered wood dividers, frosted glass, and whimsical cloud lights greet you as you step in, as well as a tsunami of Korean chatter. Marie Kondo would approve. The waiting area is almost never empty if you choose to visit at dinner time, but on weekday lunchtimes, it’s less hectic. The lunch menu is lackluster and not worth its high price compared to its dinner offerings, though each dish is still presented with drool-worthy and perfectly photogenic standards, unlike its more casual counterparts, such as nearby restaurant Jang Su Jang.
Once you are seated, attentive servers will present your cup of dunggulle-cha, a tea usually saved for fancier occasions. According to Lee, this upscale experience is exactly what Mr. Yim had in mind.
It’s seasoned really well and isn’t too sweet like the yangnyum galbi, but salty and tender with a light marinadeJohn Yongmin Lee
A wide array of multicolored banchan, or Korean sides, will be served first, ranging from kimchi to dotorimuk, acorn jelly, heralding the arrival of a mosaic of traditional Korean food with an innovative spin.
Haemul pajeon, a seafood-scallion pancake with a light layer of crispy fried noodles on top, is a customer favorite. Its unique quality, compared to dishes you might find elsewhere, is that it’s thicker and has a larger batter-to-filling ratio, leading to a slightly undercooked texture in the middle, with vegetables and seafood sparsely distributed throughout. It really tastes more like a beach boardwalk than a slice of the sea—doughy and greasy with a hint of seafood, but the unexpected texture contrast is its saving grace, a unique twist to this traditional dish that yields a satisfying crunch when bitten.
Hot meat is soon to follow, each bite a little package of intricate seasonings tied up with warmth and comfort. According to Lee, all the galbis—grilled beef rib dishes—are well-appreciated by customers, but his personal favorite is the Suwon galbi.
The yangnyum galbi, was tender, juicy, and seasoned well—the perfect umami. The sweetness is balanced by the banchan and salads, avoiding the pitfall of a cloyingly sweet marinade. The galbi was of good quality, and there were no large lumps of fat or gristle. It was extremely juicy and tender, and the flavors were all well balanced. Though this may seem like the end of the meal, more is yet to come.
Don’t skimp on the dwenjang jjigae, fermented soy paste soup, available in either seafood or beef types or a type of naengmyun, cold buckwheat noodles to
help end this gastronomical adventure with a bang, or if you so desire, the delight of a rainy summer day.
The dwenjang jjigae has a good kick that shakes off the onset of grogginess after the meat course and it contains a variety of veggies, bits of meat, or seafood. On its own, it’s very salty, so it’s a good idea to either have it with rice or leftover meat. Helpings are small but big enough to not leave you wanting. Still, if you’re dining in groups of four or more, it’s a good idea to try a naengmyun as well.
You can have naengmyun either in a cold broth or with spicy sauce and cucumbers, Korean pear, and half a boiled egg.
The Korean pear provides a refreshing crunch and texture after the previous courses and is a perfect touch to the overall feel of the dish—after all, it is a favorite fruit in the oppressing heat and humidity of Korean summers. It’s important to also add the provided mustard and vinegar to taste, as it’s bland on its own.
Traditionally, a meal is concluded with sikhae, a sweet traditional rice drink, but at Chung Dam, you get hobak sikhae, a sweet pumpkin variant. It’s usually saved for special occasions, but at Chung Dam, it’s what they do—innovation and improvement.
Written by Abi W.