▲ Lamb grilling in all its glory. Photo by Steve Oberhauser
Attention all former mutton busting champions, owner Lee Kyung Nam has brought something remarkable to the island.
It is only so long before the law of diminishing returns sets in after consuming various forms of pork, beef, chicken and fish any number of times each week for lunch and dinner. In Shin-Jeju, Lee runs a gold mine in Yang, a precious-metal lamb restaurant.
Every 15 days, 150 kilograms of Grade A, choice-selected, vacuum-sealed Australian lamb ranging in age between 6 and 12 months, arrives at the first restaurant on Jeju laying claim to serve this animal.
“I opened about 5 years ago,” Lee said. “I came from Seoul and didn’t know anyone. With beef and pork restaurants here the owners know everyone and sell the meat to those people. I decided to open a new menu restaurant.”
Many customers, including former Korean President Chun Doo Hwan and notable Korean stars, are glad she did. So are all the foreigners that walk in.
For this feast, a friend and I had an order of unseasoned and seasoned lamb galbi (20,000 won each), along with a medium portion of hot, spicy lamb soup with noodles (25,000 won), followed by Japanese soba noodles (4,000 won a serving) and citron tea for the closer.
The bill can run up quickly, but it’s worth every bit. Even the Argentine Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec and Chilean Chardonnay house wines are worthy of a place at the table for 25,000 won a bottle.
Lee noted that a lot of foreign customers in their early 20’s do not have enough money and just have one order of lamb galbi. So, the side dishes play an important role.
“Usually Koreans are strict and don’t say ‘thank you’ for side dishes,” Lee said. “I feel happy when I hear [positive comments] from foreigners.”
The sides change by season and some are grown out of a nearby garden.
The most popular menu item is lamb galbi. It is understandable why. The seasoned selection is done in a Korean sesame and soy sauce style. Unlike other meats which may be seasoned for a few days, this lamb is doctored right before putting on the grill or it will become too soft, according to Lee.
The female Korean owner was puzzled why various English customers prefer their meat a bit burned while Americans sway toward undercooked red.
No prose can do this lamb justice.
Tender as a mother's kiss? Yes. Eat. Succumb to bliss. Immediately think about the next visit while claw hammering the large lamb bone, daintily, of course, with a napkin, and extracting every soupcon of meat from its hard-to-reach crevices.
With no stomach-space permitting, even the lamb shabu shabu (18,000 won) sounded tempting. Lee produced a big, glass bottle of Reine de Dijon 1840 French mustard used for the sauce and went into detail of studying highly developed Japanese lamb recipes and preparing various sauces. After nixing an expensive mint jelly style option, she finalized her special mustard sauce creation.
Although there are a handful of other places on the island now serving lamb, it is not their primary item. It is certain that Lee’s attention to detail cannot be topped. She can talk for hours on minute details and has some twisted humor.
“I’m an animal lover,” Lee said. “I have 12 dogs and four are in the house, the others are outside. The dogs are stray dogs, I take them in and take care of them. There’s irony. It’s OK because I get the [lamb] meat from another country.”
Lamb meat contains little fat, and what fat there is, half is in the beneficial unsaturated form.
This reviewer is going to go out on a limb and declare, this is one of, if not the best meat selection on Jeju. My native partner in crime and translator for this evening’s event seconds the motion. Consider there is nary a steak to rave about and many of the other meats get blended into the same architectural and neon-signed haze resembling a lack-of-culinary memory.
It is true. This lamb is something to remember.
Yang (羊) 930-11 Nohyung-dong, Jeju, near Lotte Mart Phone: 010-5274-4934 Hours: Every day from 5 p.m. until the last customer leaves
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