Yesterday, we followed a Soviet woman (actually she is our Uzbekistan but ethnically Korean friend) to Seoul’s ‘Little Russia’ (Dongdaemun History & Culture Park station) for some Uzbekistan fare. However, the girl couldn’t find the restaurant she had in mind so she dragged us to another restaurant she knows: My Friend & ALA-TOO. The place offers both Russian & Uzbekistan food at very reasonable prices. Like many Soviet restaurants there, the price never reflects the quality of the food. What we got was simply amazing.
I mentioned Gostiniy Dvor a while ago and the place is the bar for me to judge Russian food in Korea. And I must say what I ate at My Friend & ALA-TOO far surpassed the standard my bar had set.
The 6 of us all ordered the same samsa (Uzbek/3000 KRW) as an “appetizer”. I though that samsa was samosa for a moment (excuse my shallowness).
From the look of it, it is absolutely not samosa. For 3000 KRW, it was huge. The crust is sorta flaky, while the filling, seasoned just right, oozed lamb-chunks-and-diced-onions goodness. I don’t know if I like samsa or samosa better, but I guess that a hybrid between them would be ideal: samsa crust + samosa filling (mainly because I love the spices in samosa; it’s all about personal taste).
Another item we all agreed on was Lamb Shashlik (Uzbek/3500 KRW). I wrote some time ago that you can’t go wrong with lamb at Simyang in Hongdae, but for Shashlik, there is no definition of “wrong”–you are on your way to your revelation.
The lamb chunks were big and juicy. The smokey flavor of the charred delectable lamb married so well with the cumin. Gorgeous.
We all shared ‘Fried’ rice–I believe that the Russian name is Plov (Russian/6000 KRW). Don’t be fooled by how ordinary it looks. Plov is actually not fried; after you cook the carrots & onions, add rice with LOTS OF SPICES (cumin cumin cumin, peppers, bay leaves etc.) to the same large pot, add water and cover the pot to cook until the rice is done. The jasmine rice just EXPLODED with flavors. Paired with the beef (which looks dry but is actually superbly tender) on top, it was beyond amazing.
Onto personal dish, one friend got herself a Lagman (Uzbek/6000 KRW). The broth bursts with black cumin & pepper and the chewy noodles had a texture different from any noodle I had tasted before.
Beef Stroganoff (Russian/6000 KRW) is a Russian classic. I guess that everyone has tried it. I quite liked it, but after stuffing myself with lamb, beef suddenly tasted too tamed and mild.
Steamed manti (Uzbek/6000 KRW)–basically large mandu stuffed with lamb and onions. The filling is almost identical to that of Samsa but I much preferred the flaky crispy crust of the latter.
Pork pelmeni (Russian/6000 KRW) was very good but I wish they had given us sour cream instead of mayonnaise.
MY DISH. Cutlets with mashed potato (Russian/6000 KRW) was awesome. It was much better than what I had at Gostiniy Dvor (and I thought that I loved Dvor’s cutlets to a point of no return). It looked ordinary, yes, but DO order when you have the chance.
How our table evolved–and it evolved quickly, because the food came fast.
My lowcarb buddy and I shared Pancakes with stuffed cottage cheese (RUssian/6000 KRW) as dessert. It was quite decent, but not as good as what I got at Gostiniy.
My verdict: My Friend & ALA-TOO, despite the name of which I have no idea about, serves some of the best dishes I have had in Seoul. My favs are the “Fried” rice, lamb skewers, samsa, and pork cutlets. Definitely a gem.
My Friend & ALA-TOO, Dongdaemun history and culture park exit 5. Cross the street at the Wooribank building (10 meters from the exit). Walk to your left and My Friend & ALA-TOO is at the first corner on the right.
(img credit to Gloria)
Failed group photo: