Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Whole Lotta Sole

Calgary's Sole Korea Restaurant and Karaoke Bar is a hidden gem.
Just having Google Maps will get you nowhere. Sure, you might be in the right location, but getting in the building is another story. But boy, is it worth it.
I was stumbling around 8th Avenue walking back and forth between the Uptown theatre and the fancy building on the corner that looked like a hotel (but wasn't). The closest thing I could find was a dark, locked door with four letters glued on:
Locked. I went to the alley behind the row of buildings. There I saw a secret back entrance with some Korean youths standing outside, smoking. My hunger worked like a radar detector and I knew ... this was the place.
I was led to a private Karaoke room that had been booked for my use. The room was dark, only lit by the glow of a large screen (for Karaoke), dim green light bulbs, and fluorescent blacklights.
The karaoke machine was all in Korean, but I soon figured out how to enter song numbers and which button was "Play."
I ordered what was called "Korean Style Bacon" (that came with "salad"), drank freshly tapped Kokanee, and sang midi-accompanied songs while I waited.
Because of the darkly lit room, when the food arrived, I could hardly see what was served up to me on its metal plate, but my body knew it would enjoy. I chopsticked the bacon and wolfed it down, chewing between a balancing act of chopsticks, pints, and karaoke mics.
The bacon was fantastic. The thick slices had an almost "boiled" sort of tenderness, but was grilled, making it taste something like a juicy pork chop/bacon hybrid.
The "salad" that came with it was like a "spicy coleslaw." Thick slices of cabbage (fresh, not like kimchi) were doused in sesame oil, vinegar and enough chili to bring some alertness to my delirium of food, drink, and blacklit karaoke.
In the six hours I spent in that room, I tasted dumplings, Seafood Ramen, and received a complementary Soju cocktail (Korean alcohol which seemed to be mixed with yogurt drink, aloe juice, guava juice, Gatorade and much more ... my taste buds were befuddled and delighted).
The dumplings were a perfect quick fix for beer and karaoke ... but the Seafood Ramen was what made the experience.
I was immediately transported back to my early days as an amateur food critic with the inventiveness of this dish. It was as if the had taken a page from the Ramen book of Garth J. Hernando and put the kind of love and ingredients that I had talked about in one of my earlier articles ... only so much more.
At Sole Korea, they were not crippled by the simplicity of simply noodles and broth ... NO! They threw every sea creature they could think of in that delicious bowl of flavour! It was so dark in that room that it only heightened the excitement ... it was like swimming in a warm ocean and eating whatever swam in your path. Squid, clams, crabs ... I don't even know what was in that bowl, but I loved every minute of it. It left a burning glow of spice around your lips that made you feel like you were stung by a jellyfish. And as much as I once mentioned that Ramen made the most amazing midnight snack ... well it was equally amazing as a snack for late-night karaoke!
So if you can find it, stop by Sole Korea for a night of entertainment for you and your stomach.
This is Garth J. Hernando saying, "bye for now."

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