Friday, January 23, 2015

The Joys and Sorrows of James' Cheese Ribs

The standard fare at James' Cheese Deung-galbi: cheese deung-galbi (baby back ribs)

I love to play with my food. Decades of french fry fortresses and Al Khazneh temples carved into watermelons slices can attest to the fact. In my mind, the act of creation is as fun or more than the act of eating. Put them together and you have a winning scenario.

The NetBot, on the other hand, simply loves to eat. For robot taste testers, the process from plate to mouth should be easy, smooth, efficient, without interruption except for conversation. There shouldn't be any food creation happening in between.

Today's featured restaurant is definitely not for robot taste testers. James' Cheese Deung-Galbi (제임스 치즈 등갈비) in downtown Pyeongtaek was made for people who think food is just as much fun to play with as to eat. 

James' menu is simple: baby back ribs and mozzarella fondue. That's it. The ribs come in four levels of spiciness, and the cheese in three quantities of cheesiness. There are five automatic sides that basically amount to mashed potatoes, mashed pumpkin, Vienna sausages in tomato sauce, canned corn in mayo, and scrambled eggs. Everything comes out on a big, compartmented, cast-iron pan with each food in its pre-ordained space. Cheese level one ribs liberate 14,000 won from your pocket and increase 2,000 won per cheese level. 

It's a simple and wonderfully organized system. The sides are just okay, but the real focus is on the tender, flavorful ribs and gooey, stretchy cheese. And that is where the fun, or, if you are a taste testing robot, the stress, begins. 

The challenge — or joy — is how to dip your ribs in such a way that the rib ends up cocooned in mozzarella and your fingers don't end up with third degree burns. And then there is the very serious issue of trying to balance your dipping with staying clean and enjoying the side dishes. These things seem simple enough, but if you are lacking coordination and brainpower like a certain food blogger and robot taste tester, these things don't come easy.

Dip success! Careful not to 
burn your fingers.
Lets start with the dip. With the standard cheese order, there was enough to completely cover all our ribs with cheese, and we still ended up scraping cheese off the bottom of the pan when the ribs were gone. But this was less because of the quantity of cheese and more because it was hard to get it on the ribs. So when you eat at James' Cheese Deung Galbi, you need to master the art of the cheese-rib-dip. Our waitress illustrated the method, dipping and twirling an imaginary rib in the air after she prepped the ribs at our table. I picked the movement up quickly. It's all in the wrist. The NetBot, though, either did not notice the demonstration or just couldn't get the hang of it without burning herself in the process. In the end she turned off the camp-stove heating our food to avoid further damage. This killed the fun fondue effect, but made the food much easier to eat. Food preparation, at any stage, is not ideal for taste-bots. They are programmed for processing and judging the molecular composition of food, not making it. An ideal situation for the NetBot would be ribs pre-rolled in cheese. Only then can she place the morsels into her molecular detection and analysis scanner or M-DAS and process the results without stress. Bare of cheese, however, the ribs, she said, were really delicious. If only we had paid more attention to the little tongs on the table designed for holding especially hot items.

Dipping ribs in cheese may be for those better abled, but so also is staying clean while sampling side dishes and twirling cheese around ribs. James' is kind enough to give you a clear, plastic glove to protect your hand from the sauce, but you only get one. Realistically, you only need one, but that leaves the very serious question of which hand to put the glove on. And this choice has grave repercussions for the future of your meal. 

That ghostly hand is the only thing between 
you and the torture of grimy fingers.
Being right handed, I decided to glove my right hand. What a grave error that was. If you're fastidious at all about cleanliness like me, and you want to try a side dish in between cheesy rib dips, you can't pick up your chopsticks with your saucy glove hand. To do so would leave your silverware less stainless than you found it, and a danger to cleanliness of the world around you. The only option is to attempt to use the chopsticks with your left hand — not so easy. There was a spoon, but as I said, this is a hard place to eat at if you are lacking any gray matter. I overlooked the spoon. Ultimately, I decided to switch gloves from right to left, but by that time my hand had sweat so much the glove stuck to my hand. It was no simple feat to get it off without turning it inside out, and I may or may not have eaten a bit of plastic from the tip of the glove in the process. But what a difference a gloved left hand made! With chopsticks in my right hand I became master over my meal. Not only had I easy access to the sides, I gained complete mastery over the ribs. With my left hand I could dip and twirl ribs in cheese with ease and enhance the process with the chopsticks in my right, deftly spinning the cheese around the ribs like a spider cocooning a newly caught fly. Too bad the cheese hardened so quickly after the stove was turned off. It was for a good cause, though. NetBots shouldn't have burnt hands. 

There are three James' Cheese Deung Galbis between Osan and Pyeongtaek. The one we visited is within easy walking distance of Pyeongtaek Station. The main roads in front of Pyeongtaek Station form a hand.  The station sits in your palm and each road is a different finger. Your pinky and thumb form the main street crossing in front of the station. Your middle finger stretches directly away from you. And your ring and pointer fingers are roads that extend at 45 degree angles to the middle road. Cross the street and walk down the pointer-finger road. Turn left on the walking street immediately after ArtBox. Walk straight until you get to a 'K' shaped intersection. Take your first right. You can think of this right as the bottom leg of the 'K.' Near the end of the street you will find James' Cheese Deung Galbi on your right side.

The menu is all in Korean, but the manager has an English version on her cell phone. (Weird, I know)

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