Mentor moments with Matt Preston
I get a lot of anxiety when someone else decides where we should go to eat. I take my meals incredibly seriously and I have been deeply disappointed even angry when I've wasted a meal on a bad restaurant suggestion.
I was lucky enough to get to dine with Matt Preston. I got to interview him last year on the 3pm pick up at the end of the interview I cheekily asked if he would be my mentor in my dream of becoming a food critic. The next thing I knew I get the call that we are meeting. At a place called Azoto & Arisun. I'd never heard of it so I googled it, I usually do this when I'm not sure of the location/menu/reviews. I notice that the Azoto is the (nitrogen) ice cream half and Arisun (this is the express version of the restaurant located in china town) specialises in fried chicken. My favourite kind of chicken.
Seeing as its Matt Preston's choice, I feel relieved. He's probably the only person who would be more disappointed than me if the food is terrible.
I arrive to a take out/casual diner atmosphere, K pop is playing on the big screen and speakers and its quiet now (4.30pm) although this place is set to be an institution selling cups of fried chicken for $8 and staying open til 3am- the perfect end to an alcohol fuelled evening.
I learn two things fast. Korean's love alcohol almost more than chicken and its one of the plastic surgery capitals of the world. Who knew?
We order a jug of beer and some soju (Korea's most popular alcoholic bevy)
Matt lets me take control of the menu and I admit I researched it before we came. We order a half serve of Sun's original fried chicken and a half serve of Sun's sweet and spicy chicken ($32 for both) chap chae potato noodles ($24) and the pork dumplings ($14)
The soju and beer arrive first. I don't know if its because its almost 5pm now but they are both very easy to drink. I'm not a beer drinker but something about this very thin, icy cold beer is moorish. Just in time before my third gulp the chap chae arrives. Matt dishes me up a healthy serve and all the while is filling me in on many Korean facts I'm flabbergasted.
The chap chae are potato noodles stir fried with fresh cabbage, carrot and zucchini. The sauce is garlicy, salty sweet goodness. The texture of the potato noodles have been cooked to perfection. I'm such a freak when it comes to cooking noodles/pasta and this is taking me to my happy place. I am in heaven! If this is what Arisun is going to be like I am all in.
Next arrives the chicken. I'm with the Matt Preston so I'm trying to show composure and not stuff my face, I realise by the way he breaks the chicken open we are at different levels he is Mr Miyagi and I am the karate kid. He smells it, tastes it and starts thinking. I am chomping away wondering what he is thinking, when he asks what I am thinking? Shit. I really want to impress him.
I want to be a food critic so bad.
I say "I think the crunch is incredible, thats what this chicken is famous for, its cooked twice. Its tender, juicy and tasty" because we ordered it in on the bone its a little annoying when you want to hoe down but with the current company its probably a good thing. I mention it lacks salt. He agrees but mentions that the chap chap has a lot of salt which makes up for it. Jeez he is good. I swig away at my beer (who am I?) I order a little of the honey mustard on the side, the chicken is now complete. I bite into the sweet and spicy next, Whoa! There is an explosion of flavour and then a real undercurrent of chilli hits my mouth but I love it. I love heat. Matt mentions that it won't be for everyone. I agree. As if I am going to disagree!! This chicken is a little disappointing as the crunch is now smothered in sauce so it doesn't have the same intensity.
Finally the dumplings arrive. I'm confused for two reasons, I thought dumplings would be served first and then they weren't how the picture looked (yes the menu was very helpful with pictures) the picture showed them as steamed and then pan fried, my favourite style. These came out deep fried. I was sad inside. I still ate 2 but was discouraged when their was so much dough to filling ratio.
Matt and I chatted. I told him about my nerves when people book restaurants I'm not sure of. He said that was a true sign of a food critique. And that my friends is when my day was complete!
Sitting with a master of food that compliments you is like being touched by a holy monk.
I was literally in heaven. Beer and fried chicken heaven.