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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

도동산방 – DoDong San Bang

Korean Royal Cuisine. At least that’s what the brochure said.  And usually when an establishment feels compelled to say how great their place is, I am immediately suspect. In this case, however, every bit of that tag line is deserved.

DoDongSanBang is nestled in the mountains near Eonyang. Somewhat secluded and even a little difficult the find. Once there, however, the majesty of the mountains, the exquisite care given to the landscaping and lavish attention paid to guests can indeed make one feel just a tad royal.

The Main Entrance – photo by Aaron Corn

Photo by Aaron Corn

 

photo by Aaron Corn

Once we got past the front gate we spent several minutes in awe of the site. Hugging the slope of the mountain and tucked against a large pond the restaurant is an oasis of calm and serenity, which was a welcome respite from the bustling city. With no traffic noise, no trucks with loudspeakers selling fruits or vegetables, and nothing but the peaceful sounds of birds and bullfrogs I would have been quite content to just sit in the tea room adjacent the pond and relax.  But our mission that day was to sample the “Royal Cuisine” and sample we did. Splendidly.

We had the lunch set menu. At 35,000won per person, that might seem pricey, but the quantity and quality more than makes up for it. As well it should;  the Head Chef of DoDongSanBAng is none other than Shin Mi Hwa (신미화) . Shin is a local celebrity and has appeared on numerous cooking shows on KBS and MBC.

We settled into our own dining room and the dishes just kept coming. First was the appetizers, a set of folded, delicate rice – tortillas, for lack of a better word – that we used to wrap around vegetables and dip in sauces. Also included was jellyfish, pork tenderloins and salads.

The appetizers – rice ‘tortillas’ and various salads

Next was the buckwheat noodles, or 메 밀 냉면, followed by  shrimp balls – artfully decorated puffs laid out on the shells.  As this was a lunch time, I was getting close to full, but the food just kept coming in waves.  Next a tray of abalone was brought out.  As my wife’s family is from the coast near PoHang, I’m accustomed to getting abalone on the holidays.  But never has it been so tender and delicious as what we were served here.

Not your average bibim naengmyeon

 

Shrimp balls

 

The best abalone ever

Next came the steak platter, a tender ground beef steak with a light gravy. And right behind that was a platter of baby octopus in red sauce.    Many of these dishes I’ve had in various restaurants around town. And almost every time a new dish came out I thought I recognized the dish and knew what to expect with taste. And to my complete enjoyment, not a single one tasted like the usual, run-of-the-mill Korean dishes that can be had at dozen, if not hundreds, of restaurants across the city. Each dish had a delicate mix of flavors and spices that set it apart from the everyday variety. The baby octopus was exceptionally delicious and the red sauce was a light, smoky flavor with only a touch of spiciness. We were wary of the red sauce as we were warned it was spicy, but we were impressed. I’m not even a big fan of octopus, but we all ate heartily of the little eight-legged creatures.  Next came the galbi-jjim, meaty chunks of beef ribs that were so tender we could lift the bones out directly.

beef steak, tender and lightly seasoned

One of the final dishes (before the required rice that every Korean meal must contain) we were served a large platter of baked fish. Not familiar with the flavor of this one, we asked the species and were astounded when told it was a Patagonian Toothfish.   You won’t find that in many restaurants in town.

Patagonian Toothfish

The tea room, where one can relax and enjoy nature after a large meal

Well beyond full but unable to stop eating the incredibly delicious fare before us we continued until just a few scraps remained. The amount and the excellence  of the food was beyond my expectations. Had we not been there for lunch and in need of returning to our jobs back in the city, I would have enjoyed relaxing (and digesting all that food) in the tea room. The tea room features an outdoor seating area near the pond and one level below the restaurant. Here, even the sounds of the restaurant above cannot penetrate the tranquility.  With appetites fully sated but time unrelenting, we returned to the city. I was more than a little disappointed to leave without a chance to relax over tea by the pond.  Even as we walked to the car, I wanted to stay and linger in the gardens surrounding the restaurant. Flowers were everywhere and butterflies took advantage of them.  As we drove off, we promised ourselves we would return again soon when we had more time to enjoy the splendor of DoDongSanBang.

To get to DoDongSanBang, your best bet is to use their address and enter it into your GPS navigation system.  That address is 울주군 상북면 산전리 50-16.  However, if you don’t have the GPS system, then you’ll have to trek it the hard way. Take Route 24 past Eonyong and past Ulsan KTX station.  Take the exit for DoDong GyoChaRo (도동 교차로).  Take the first left after the service road that leads back onto the highway and follow it up the mountain. It quickly becomes a one-lane gravel road, so don’t despair if you feel like you’re lost – you’re almost there. You’ll see the majestic spread of buildings on a wide plateau just below the base of the steep mountain.  You’ll thank yourself for not giving up on finding this gem.

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