Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

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Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby Skillet Doux » Mon Apr 09, 2012 8:14 pm

So apparently, there's been a fabulous Korean joint open until 2AM seven days a week (11PM on Sundays) for the past eleven months, and it's been flying under the radar this whole time?!? THIS is precisely why we need a good community board in this town.

I'm headed over tonight... will report back.

Cafe Ga Hyang
4362 West Olive Avenue
Glendale‎ AZ‎ 85302
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby katfishkh » Mon Apr 09, 2012 10:19 pm

Cat is out of the bag! Marian and I checked it out the Sunday prior to Easter Sunday for lunch, and it was pretty darn good. Just wanted to get at least one more visit in before declaring it as solid.

Banchan was fantastic and there were about a dozen or so. We hit it blind and as I was checking into foursquare it is listed in Chinese or Korean as are the tips on what is good here. So, we just ordered some random dishes to check out. Duk Boki was fiery hot but lovely, Gom Tang was also fantastic, chock full of deep flavor, brisket and tripe. We had one more dish, the name escapes me, but it was beef atop some lovely charred caramelized onion. The most tame of the bunch but still nicely put together.

Interested to hear how your late night journey goes. I think I even commented to Marian after seeing the late hours listed on the door, that is must be some sort of mistake!

When does phxfoodnerd boot camp start again?
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Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby icchef » Tue Apr 10, 2012 12:23 am

I think the Chinese thing is left over from the previous restaurant by the same name. The new owner who took it over May 2011 was quite adamant that her food is not Chinese and traditional Korean. She may have kept a few items like egg rolls, kung pao and sweet & sour pork to please the old patrons but put a Korean spin to them.

The new owner used to work at Takamatsu. She claims they make all the noodles and banchan including kimchee are made in house and it shows. The cham pong (spicy seafood noodle soup) was delicious and the noodles had a great texture. Next time I need to try the jajang myun - probably made with the same noodle.

The naeng myun was the best I've had in the valley - super refreshing with great acidity and lots of crunch from Asian pear slices and pickled daikon. Really good at the end of the meal to cool off the palate.

Kalbi and seafood soon do bu (spicy tofu stew) were just average unfortunately. But the fact they're open until 2am everyday except 11pm on Fridays makes up for a lot. This is like a dream come true for me! Hope tonight's late night crew find it to be the same.

Kevin: I confirmed the 2am time with the owner. She says lots of industry people go. Apparently she's the only one serving until she gets one person to help on weekends. She's over 60 - amazing!
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby Skillet Doux » Tue Apr 10, 2012 1:51 am

I love the timing of this. Love it. This is exactly the kind of situation this board was made for.

I'm slipping into a food coma here, so forgive me if I slowly drift in and out of delirium, but we've got to fill this place up. I'm so flipping excited about this. It isn't going to impress somebody who's hitting really good spots in L.A., but everything we had tonight was at least very good, some of it was awesome, the lady running the place is a total sweetheart, and they're open until two. Seriously, this is a food prayer answered. What kills me is that I was THERE. This past summer, I had some business on the west side -- don't recall what -- and once it was done, I figured I'd pull into some random strip mall and grab something to eat. It was the Korean joint or Siamese Kitchen. MAN did I bet on the wrong horse.

I'll post some more tomorrow... I'm falling asleep at the keyboard. But this is the most I've enjoyed a Korean meal in Phoenix, and it's about fracking time one of these places was open late. Can't wait to get back.
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby Christina » Tue Apr 10, 2012 9:20 am

Wish I could have joined you. Cannot wait to get there, and hear the rest of the details. We usually eat dinner 9-10 pm so keep me posted if you hit it late-night. I must have the naeng myun! I can't remember the last time I had great Korean - never found a place in Boston.
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby Skillet Doux » Tue Apr 10, 2012 10:26 am

Christina wrote:Wish I could have joined you. Cannot wait to get there, and hear the rest of the details. We usually eat dinner 9-10 pm so keep me posted if you hit it late-night.

Pick a night and toss something up on the events board! If it's towards the later end of that 9-10 window, I can jump in most nights.

Now that I'm not drifting in and out of consciousness, a little more detail. Of course I just took my camera in for repair yesterday, so blurry cameraphone pics will have to suffice. I'll come back and replace these once I get some better ones.

It's a funny but comfortable place... part Korean village, part disco. Not sure if the latter is a holdover from its previous incarnation. The current owner has been in the place for about 10-11 months, and yeah, it sounds like the menu was completely revamped around the middle of last year. I've attached a PDF of the menu to this post (Note : moved to first post in the thread), with apologies for the poor quality. The original (photocopied takeaway menu) wasn't much more legible than the scan.

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Banchan

As I believe has been pointed out, the banchan are a real strength. It seems everything is made fresh in-house, and it shows. Great assortment, great flavors, fresh and delicious, and a dozen for four of us.

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Cham Pong

Another big hit. For reference, you could fit a basketball in this bowl. Really nice flavor, some kick but not so much that the flavor is lost. Delicious seafood, including some really fresh shrimp -- quality headsucking to be had here. And the noodles, which she makes in-house, have a really nice, tender bite. And it's kind of a steal at $12.

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Jap Chae

I can't say there's anything for me that separates this from any other well-prepared Jap Chae, but when this is the low point, you're having a pretty damn good meal. Don't let the terrible photo lend the wrong impression. This was delicious.

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Kalbi

Very restrained in the seasoning, but nicely cooked, lightly crisped just so, juicy and flavorful. She was quite insistent that we eat this with the Jap Chae. She was quite insistent about how we ate a few things, actually (going so far as to pair certain banchan with certain dishes). It was awesome... like a food-obsessed grandma making sure you eat it right.

gahyangkotgaechigae.jpg
Kot Gae Chigae

I enjoyed this an awful lot too, though it tailed off quickly as it cooled. Best to get it while still bubbling. It's a hot and spicy crab stew with a good deal of crab. Somehow I missed out on the crab until I ended up with an abandoned bowl that was cold, so I can't comment on the quality of the crab, but the soup was lovely, light and spicy and briny with crab flavor, both the clean and funky aspects. I'd get this again, but I'm too anxious to try others.

I'm really anxious to get back here. I used to consider it a horrible joke that we didn't have a late-night Korean joint. That we now have one and that it's really, really good is a double blessing. Check this place out. We need to support it, not just because we need to make sure it sticks around, but because if this is anywhere near the norm, it totally deserves it.
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Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby icchef » Tue Apr 10, 2012 10:42 am

Thanks, Dom, for the great descriptions and pics. I'd love to go back and try more dishes.
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby Christina » Tue Apr 10, 2012 1:09 pm

Skillet Doux wrote: She was quite insistent about how we ate a few things, actually (going so far as to pair certain banchan with certain dishes). It was awesome... like a food-obsessed grandma making sure you eat it right.


Love that.
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby misterk » Wed Apr 11, 2012 1:24 am

That grandma was the best. "You put this banchan with the soup. NO, not that one! That one no good! I tell you! This one!"

It was a great time. I'm amazed they're open so late in such a deserted strip mall. Really hope the business takes off - in general as well as getting late night customers.

Definitely need to go back for some dolsot bibimbap comfort.
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby Skillet Doux » Wed Apr 11, 2012 1:33 am

This place is going to be dangerous for me...

gahyangmandu.jpg
Gyoza (Mandu)

On the menu as gyoza (and folded like gyoza), these little fellows were enjoyable, if not up to the standards of some others I've had. The skins are crisp and otherwise nondescripts. The pork and cabbage filling is wonderfully juicy. The first one I bit into squirted halfway across the table. And it's a nice dipping sauce, a little more interesting than most places, I think, with sesame and chiles and number of other flavors worked in.

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Beef Soondubu

I haven't had a whole lot of soondubu, but I really enjoyed this. Bubbling hot, spicy hot, filled with slurpy tofu and bits of meat, hidden in the depths was an egg that still possessed a molten core. Breaking and mixing in the yolk turned it both spicy and rich. I need to try the seafood version.
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby Skillet Doux » Fri Apr 13, 2012 1:06 am

Can't stay away.

gahyangdukboki.jpg
Duk Boki

This one's bringing some serious fire. The base is cylindrical, chewy glutinous rice cakes cooked up with onions, sliced fish cake and slivered chili peppers, then it's doused in gochujang, a seriously hot chili paste that, in this case, also captures an awful lot of the pepper's sweetness. It's a thick puree, almost an Italian-American tomato sauce consistency, and it tastes as much of the fruit of the pepper as it does the heat (which is formidable, if not unapproachable).

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Sam Gyup Sahl

The only thing missing at this place, as far as I'm concerned, are some table grills. But the grilled fare that comes out of the kitchen still hits the spot. In this case it's pork belly, and though the menu bills it as "thinly sliced," the reality is much thicker, hand-cut slabs that are carefully clipped around the edges so that they remain flat while cooking in the kitchen. This isn't the machine-sliced pork belly that dries up while cooking. The thickness gives it some real chew, and helps it to retain moisture and fat and remain juicy. Ga Hyang serves it with shredded lettuce that's been dressed with oil and rice vinegar, raw sliced garlic and green chiles, salted sesame oil, and ssamjang, which is essentially a spiced fermented bean paste reminiscent of miso.

I continue to be impressed by this place. I learned that the owner/cook, Sun, was in the kitchen at Takamatsu around the corner before she left to run her own place. I know I'm enjoying this place a lot more than Takamatsu. And in talking with her about the food, it's clear that she really cares, and is trying to do things right rather than cutting corners here and there to save some change. It really shows. Plus, as a solo diner I've been getting nine dishes of banchan, with a couple rotating out and a couple new ones coming in with every visit. I'll say it again, this is a real gem, and we need to support it, particularly late at night because our options are few enough as it is, and I'm giddy about the fact that one of them is this good. It's probably only ten minutes further than you were going to drive anyway. Get over there.
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby Skillet Doux » Mon Apr 16, 2012 2:08 pm

Will somebody please go with me so we can order four or five things and I can lay off for a while? :-)

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Saeng Sun Maeun Tang

This one was sort of similar to the Kot Gae Chigae above, and man, there's a lot of stuff crammed in here. Sliced chiles, onions, carrots, zucchini, green onions, fresh herbs, shrimp, mussels, squid, pollock, three kinds of mushroom, tofu... more I'm forgetting, probably. Just a really nice, spicy seafood broth with chunks of all kinds of tasty stuff lurking beneath the surface. The fellow who has been in the kitchen I think every night I've been there came out and mentioned that they do the same soup with monkfish, which sounds pretty freaking awesome.

I've been letting Sun pick for me, but I'm ending up with some similar items to ones I've had before... time to run the menu through Google and make a list.
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Late Night at Cafe Ga Hyang - Thu 4/19 @ 10PM

Postby katfishkh » Fri Apr 20, 2012 1:19 am

Six of us converged on what more than likely will become if it has not already the late night mecca of Korean food, in the valley. Not just any food, outstanding grub. The bonchon slightly different than last time for me, all super fresh. Very cool to see the assortment of bonchon rotate. Really dug the cold buckwheat noodles after our host augmented with some hot mustard swirls. A nice respite from the fiery dishes. The seafood pancake was outstanding, cooked perfectly and with a few laps of sauce it was just lovely. Everything I put my tounge to tonight was just killer. Late night loves of the Korean food, if your coming any given night, give me a tweet, dm but just get me, and I will join you more often than not. :D
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby misterk » Fri Apr 20, 2012 1:36 am

Right on, katfishkh! Sorry to miss out tonight - but definitely on my radar soon. May have to do the pancake before my bibimbap (and will give you due notice when I'm heading over!). Any other highlights?
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby Skillet Doux » Fri Apr 20, 2012 2:01 am

ARRRRRRGH

I am so cursing the fact that the first string camera is in the shop right now.

Anyway, I'm unsurprisingly with katfishkh here. I enjoy this place more every time I go. I think this was my best meal so far. Nice to have a little crowd so we could do some damage.

The one thing that was a little lackluster tonight was the bulgogi, but even though I enjoyed the kalbi and really enjoyed the pork belly above, all of the BBQ leaves me somewhat wanting since we're not firing it hot on the spot. BBQ is not the strength here. That said, it's still good enough that it scratches the itch, and in some ways I like that it pushes you away from the same old late night Korean BBQ rut. Or it would, if we actually had any other late night Korean joints.

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Kimchee Je Yook Bokeum

This was the "extra" dish we added after a couple more folks showed up, and a good thing too. It's a pork belly dish, grilled with a robust, sweet marinade and served along with slabs of firm tofu. This was good, but it wasn't until the second pass that I caught the bed of kimchi underneath that I got it. The kimchi and pork were really just a beautiful pair... more than the sum of the parts when put together.

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Haemul Pa Jeon

You know, you see this everywhere, and rarely is it so good. The vegetables are fresh, and the seafood is delightful, but what makes this is that they handle the texture just right. It's warm and soft in the middle, but has a really nice, crispy browned crust top and bottom. It's one of those ones where you sit there and ask yourself, is this really so hard? Why can't everybody get this right?

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Naeng Myun

Dish of the night for me, due in no small part to the fact that it was completely novel. To me. I've never had this before. The buckwheat noodles were vermicelli thin, swimming in an icy broth along with sliced cucumber, Asian pear, sliced beef (brisket?) and a few other goodies. When I say icy broth, I mean icy. Around the edges floating on top there is shaved ice, and it's so freaking brilliant. It keeps the whole dish frigid, and it's a really cool textural element as well. A little spicy mustard added to keep it from being all cold and sweet, and this is going to be my favorite dish in town come August.

The great dishes keep coming. I'm so thrilled about this place.
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby Firenza00 » Fri Apr 27, 2012 2:44 pm

We're trying here tonight. I'm a VERY casual Korean food person and Tara, despite being Korean-born, hates it. We're going with a friend who has more experience with Korean, so hopefully she can guide us.
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby Skillet Doux » Sat Apr 28, 2012 9:01 am

Firenza00 wrote:We're trying here tonight.

What'd you have? What'd you think?

We were there hot on your tail last night, and tried a couple of new (to us) ones. The Ah Gu Mae Woon Tang, mysteriously listed without a description on the menu, is the monkfish version of the Sang Sun Maeun Tang, above. And I'd say it's pretty much the same soup, just with monkfish. I don't know my Korean transliterations very well, and it kind of seems like there are about seven different systems for doing so, but are Mae Woon Tang and Maeun Tang the same thing? Odd to have two different transliterations on the same menu, but perhaps one was a remnant of the old menu that was never adjusted. Anyway, good stuff.

gahyangbibimnaengmyun.jpg
Bibim Naeng Myun

This one had been on my short list for a while, and I'm putting it on the list of favorites. It's in her cold noodle section, the same thin, sticky, glutinous buckwheat noodles as the naeng myun in chilled broth, above (the naeng myun are the noodles themselves, I assume?). They're served with the same accompaniments -- sliced brisket, hard boiled egg, Asian pear, cucumber, etc. -- but here in a thick, sweet, spicy sauce heavy with vinegar. I had this last summer at a place in Las Vegas (Soyo Korean Barstaurant) that's kind of been the new hotness for Korean over there, and I think it says something that I preferred this one. A heavier hand with the vinegar just gave it more balance and made it more refreshing. It's not a dish I have a ton of experience with, so I'm unsure if this is typical variation or if it's more common for it to be more or less vinegary. But I know which I prefer.

Frankly, the big star, once again, was the banchan. Sun served us a staggering fourteen items last night, including no fewer than four I hadn't seen from her before. I wish I'd gotten a photo. One in particular that I really enjoyed was slivers of dried pollack that had been partially rehydrated and dressed in a sort of sweet and mildly spicy oil. And I love that once you get past the most basic kimchi with napa cabbage, there are usually one or two other types of kimchi that are a little different every time -- a different vegetable, a slightly different balance on the pickling brine... there's a lot of care that goes into the kimchi, and it's such a stark contrast with other Korean joints in town.

The fellow who's holding down the kitchen at night is named Nick, and he's a friendly fellow as well. I need to corner him for a while and pick his brain one of these visits.
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby Firenza00 » Sat Apr 28, 2012 8:00 pm

We got there at 8pm and the place was completely empty. Within an hour, all the tables were full. Service was great but the waitress was unintelligible for the most part. Tara and our friend W couldn't understand a thing she said. I was getting the gist of most of it. She seemed to be funnny even if we didn't catch most of it. She was very sweet.

Tara and I stuck to the basic "gringo" option, bul bolki (or however they spell it). We both loved it. Our friend got the thing with deckle on the menu. She really enjoyed it but Tara and I thought it was quite bland. W loved the small dishes that should could have. She's got some dietary restrictions for health reasons.

All in all, we loved it and will be back when our other friend who was busy can join us. We left a little before 10, so we probably just missed you guys. I think it speaks well for an ethnic place when it's full and only two of the people are white folks. Well, Tara IS actually white. She just looks Korean. When we were leaving, we saw one other caucasian at a table.
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby Skillet Doux » Sat Apr 28, 2012 8:39 pm

We rolled in at about 11:00 and I'd say it was about half full. Even when we left, there were a few other tables. I'm not sure how significant of a difference it is, but I get the impression from Sun that it's been busier lately. Makes me very hopeful that maybe we can have an impact by getting the word out about the good places.

Really glad you enjoyed it!
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Re: Cafe Ga Hyang - The Holy Grail?

Postby SalamanderX » Tue May 01, 2012 1:36 pm

Was there last weekend around 4PM (sorry, early) and it was empty. However a New Times photographer showed up with tripod. I showed them a printout of your blog post (skilletdoux) and they were thrilled to read it. Someone needs to help consult them on basic internet marketing.

Anyways, pork belly and kimchee rocked. Beebimbop too. Really nice folks. Great effort and tasty with solid prices.

Sidenote - the area looks like a little Korea town developing - lots of other places and markets. Who knows what the future has in store for the area...
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