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August 18, 2008 at 9:39 AM

What I did on my Korean “staycation”

Yesterday I had a few hours to myself. So I went to Korea for fried chicken:

Actually, I wasn’t expecting to have fried chicken. I had gone to Pal-Do World for soondubu. That spicy soft-tofu soup is served with complimentary banchan (side dishes) at Cho Dang Tofu, a small cafe inside the 40,000-square-foot Lynnwood shopping complex. I’ve long been a fan of this Korean supermarket-slash-mini-mall, though I’ve neglected to mention its Korean cousins, which might be closer to where you shop in Bellevue, Federal Way or Tacoma. There’s even one as far south as Beaverton, OR. (Note: the Federal Way Pal-Do is soon expanding into an “old Tagert” complex according to the company web site.)

Since 99 Ranch Market opened far closer to my front door, I’ve made fewer trips to Pal-Do World to stock up on Asian condiments, rice noodles, inexpensive produce, cross-cut short-ribs and “exotic” fish-parts. And if I’m in the mood for soondubu, I can get that at BCD Tofu House next door to Ranch 99, or at nearby Hosoonyi — where I’ve been feeding my soul for years with spicy soft-tofu soup and excellent banchan.

Now, imagine the look on my face — joy! awe! wonder! — when I walked into Pal-Do World on a Sunday afternoon to find women offering banchan samplings at the entrance, and this new place– billed as “Korea No. 1 Chicken!!” — in the corner near the housewares aisle adjacent to Cho Dang Tofu:

I figured I’d buy some fried chicken for dinner, and indulge in some soondubu first. But when I sat down, the waitress brought my menu and — cue the Hallelujah Chorus! — along with the usual stews, the bibimbap and barbecued meats, Chicky Pub had its very own page. A reasonable $8.99 bought me six plump joints of fried chicken worthy of any flag-flying American’s proper picnic-basket, plus crunchy-sweet pickled daikon and a hearty mustard for dipping. Oh, and (yes!) a half-dozen variations on the banchan theme (including another picnic-basket staple, apple slaw):

Chicky Pub is a franchise, my waitress explained when I asked, and it opened at Pal-Do 10 months ago. While I waited for my chicky-basket I was joined at the next table by the Chungs, fourth-generation Koreans from Honolulu:

Unlike me, Matthew and Jan (on the right) were on an actual vacation, visiting their son, Nick (who lives in Seattle’s University District) and their daughter Kristin (here from Nebraska, where she attends college). Because they had a hankering for dolsot bibimbap and soondubu, Nick brought his parents and sister to Lynnwood to show-off Pal-Do World. They were duly impressed. And when they sat down (with a bagful of kimchee, made in-house — as were the banchan offered by the front door), they, too, were surprised to find the Chicky Pub menu tucked inside their menu-cover. Much discussion ensued regarding whether or not to order some chicken. They wanted it, but figured after nibbling their way through the store’s many samples (banchan! blood sausage! seafood pancakes! walnut cookies!) they didn’t need it. That’s when I leaned over and put them out of their misery.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “You can share mine.” “We’ve got a lot of Asians living in Hawaii,” said Matthew, after we stuffed ourselves silly, “but we don’t have Korean food this good.” The chicken, by the way, was amazing: golden, juicy and crisp but not too oily, with a crunch that rivaled Ezell’s. Unlike at Ezell’s, where you can finish up with sweet potato pie or peach cobbler, Pal-Do World sells “fish cakes” hot from this incredible contraption:

It’s a good thing I ceded a wing and a breast-hunk to the Chungs (who offered some of their lunch in return — though I declined), because when I roamed the store in search of goodies, I found Korea’s answer to Krispy Kreme in the rear of the store. I bought a boxful of the sweet black bean-stuffed beongohbbang (that’s Korean for “Take it from me, you want some!”), made to-order by this smiling fellow:

I ate them at home, later, with a nice cup of tea:

Let’s see: Time alone from my kid, the dogs and a multitude of Sunday chores ($2 worth of Chevron’s finest); lunch with the charming Chungs ($8.99 plus tip); fish cakes for later ($5); and an authentic taste of Korea 12 minutes from my house? Priceless!

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