Chung Suk Gol - All Night Korean Dining Where the Writing's On the Walls
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
There are times when one has to venture into the unknown, the unfamiliar, and even the bizarre to discover and experience different and new culinary creations. Chung Suk Gol, located in Upper Tumon's East-West Center, just above Red Chicken and Truong's, seemed to embody all three "mysteries". In fact, the first few thoughts that came to my mind when we first entered this second story crypt-like hideaway were wondering what were we doing here and whether anyone else was going to join us.
From the outside, all you see is bamboo poles running from floor to ceiling behind the front glass windows, and the doors have cardboard posted up against the inside with scrawling writing all over...you'd think this place was abandoned even before entering. Yet there are people who know better, and these people are from another dimension in time. After all, the opening hours for Chung Suk Gol Restaurant and Lounge are from 6pm-6am, and from what we determined from our 'early' visit (around 7-ish), was that the real action must take place after midnight or even later, like 2 or 3am, when everything else has closed or is shutting down.
The people who frequent Chung Suk Gol have found an intriguing way to combat boredom and to pass the time waiting for service which was noticeably sparse. What they do and have been doing is overwhelmingly and almost insanely - they have written all over the walls, the wooden partitions and even the ceiling at Chung Suk Gol...it's bordering on cultish, since the room is eerily dark. Once your eyes adjust, and you listen to the soulful sounds of contemporary Korean heartache songs, your curiosity takes over. This is a restaurant, too, which is why we came, and after having a bottle of water delivered with the menus, we placed our order with Jien, who we found out later, was not only a server, but also doubled as a cook. During our entire stay there, Jien was the only person working at Chung Suk Gol, and she had to serve and prepare food for three different tables.
The menu is easy to read and has photos illustrating the various entrees. We wanted to keep things simple, so we ordered Galbi, the ever popular Korean-style marinated short ribs ($16), Bulgogi ($12), and then something totally unusual for me that we'd been told by a friend to try, a dish called Duk Boki, which Jien said was the Sauteed Spicy Rice Cake ($10). There were photos for all three dishes, and I couldn't decipher what all of the food elements were in the spicy rice cake picture.
While we waited, we just kept looking around the room, fixing on certain spots and noticing familiar names of people or businesses. There is a huge candle in the middle of the floor. When I say huge, it's like a mound that's 2 feet tall and it seems to have just dripped in place for a couple of years. Jien told us that this restaurant had been here for 9 years. The writings on the wall made it look like a lot longer!
Several pan chan dishes were brought out and we started to nibble on these when the Bulgogi was delivered. Though it looked appealing, there was something about the taste that I didn't quite like, so I didn't eat it.
The Galbi was brought out on a sizzling cast iron platter. It had a sauce on it that we thought tasted kind of sweet. We ate these short ribs without incident, though in my mind, I knew that this was not a great Galbi adventure, like I'd get at Chung Hae or UriJip. However, with the pan chan, the steamed rice, and my Lite Beer, things were going alright.
When the "Duk Boki" was delivered, I didn't know what to think, because I saw a lot of spicy red sauce, green onions, cabbage, carrots, sesame seeds, fish cake pieces, and something "tubular". These tubular things were the rice cake or duk, and reminded me of mochi...in fact, my first bite turned into an unexpected and prolonged pleasure chew! This dish became a fascination for me, and I really thought it was the highlight of the night. There was a boiled egg right in the center of this platter, and I took my half and enjoyed it. What we didn't order nor expect was Jien bringing us a small cauldron of hot scrambled egg with the consistency of custard. I scooped spoons of this onto my rice and mixed some in with the spicy Duk Bol Gi.
Chung Suk Gol's menu had a lot of spicy seafood soups featuring squid, octopus, and fishcake, along with noodle dishes. It made me think more of the kind of menu that would appeal to people who'd been drinking all night. Spicy, hearty, and exotic. The prices ranged from $12 to $30. This didn't seem like a family dining place, though since they did open at 6pm, I guess you could bring kids. I should warn you that there may be a few inappropriate scribbles on the wall of words not accepted in most households, so it's better not to bring the kids. I didn't ask Jien if kids came to Chung Suk Gol. Their phone number is 647-1554 but remember to call after 6pm.
I know I used the word "bizarre" earlier, however, I don't know if any of you have travelled to Chung Suk Gol's neighbor, "Dracula". This is a night club that has glass topped coffin tables with vampires inside. No, they're not real...just dummies, painted up with sharp teeth, but vampires nonetheless. This place is open at unbelievable hours, too, so I guess I would need a serious case of insomnia to explore more of Chung Suk Gol's menu and Dracula's strange libations some night or early morning. It may not be anytime too soon.
If you would like to appease your curiosity by seeing something beyond the normal type of restaurant experience I'm used to reviewing, then Chung Suk Gol should certainly make an impression you won't soon forget. I hope it's as positive as the discovery of Duk Boki was for me!