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Stir-fried duck at Nolbunei

  • Cicely Jan 14, 2009 09:57 PM
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I was intrigued by the mention of duck dishes at Nolbunei, a "Korean-Japanese" restaurant in Santa Clara (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5857...), so I went and tried it out for dinner with a friend. One of the most amazing dishes I've ever had was clay-pot roasted duck at a short-lived restaurant in Los Angeles (it specialized entirely in duck, and so I think failed to catch on either with the Korean community or with beef BBQ-seeking non-koreans), and I was hoping to find, if not that dish, something similarly revelatory. I guess that's expecting a lot.

There are about four duck options: duck stew (jungol), stir-fried duck, pressed duck served with toppings and wrappings (bossam), and I think I'm forgetting one. Optimism and pessimism warred as I considered how good, or how bad, the various treatments might turn out to be. I love pork bossam, but I seem to recall it's usually served just warm, or maybe even cold, and that didn't sound appealing with duck. I don't care for duck in soup, although jungol is a spicy stew that was probably just a more liquidy version of the stir-fry, which is what we did order. Oh, these dishes are on the pricey side at $30 or so, but meant to share among at least 3 people.

The restaurant tables don't have a built-in cooker, so they bring a portable burner to your table, with a wide stone griddle for cooking. The duck comes marinated in a sweetish chile paste sauce, and with a ton of vegetables including perilla/sesame leaf, enoki mushrooms, scallions and napa cabbage. It's a lot like the spicy-sweet chicken stir-fry tak kalbi. One drawback of the cooking setup is that the griddle just isn't big enough for all the food that gets piled onto it... Korean cooking isn't as attuned to the nuances of the stir-fry as Chinese, but I kind of felt that the effect was more like a braise than a stir-fry, as the piled-together ingredients steamed in their own moisture.

My friend Irene summed it up well: "The meat is good when you can get it." The duck didn't seem to be trimmed much, and a lot of the pieces that we fished out turned out to be just fat. And it wasn't flavorful like rendered duck fat, just unpleasantly chewy and flabby.

Unlike that fondly remembered clay-roasted duck, I don't think this dish really did the duck justice... its flavor was lost in the strong marinade/sauce. It wasn't bad, but the dish was more about the seasoning than the meat. It really was like an ultra-dark-meat version of tak kalbi (a dish I like) ... I only wished there were some logs of rice cake to soak up the sauce.

Panchan was good and varied, and service was very attentive.

Oh, I think the sign says "Nolbunei" in Korean but Norbu in English ... "nei" is a participle or some such, though I don't remember what it indicates. Norbu/Nolbu is a Korean folk tale character, as explained in the other thread.

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Norbu Korean Japanese Restaurant
3284 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95051

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