On February 28, I was in Puerto Rico sitting by a pool, sipping on a Cuba Libre! with Don Q Cristal rum, minding my own business when I decided to check twitter. I noticed this tweet from the crew at Chopsticks Optional:
I saw a picture of kimchi fries and that's all I want to try now. Can a 518 eatery make that happen ASAP?!
— Chopsticks Optional (@chopsticksopt) February 28, 2014
One of the awesome things about doing this blog has been meeting some of the local business owners. I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with Jose, one of the co-owners of Mingle, on multiple occasions, and, based on prior conversations with Jose, I figured this would be an idea he would love running with. So I let him know about the Chopsticks Optional request. All Over Albany also put the call out to local restaurants to get this to happen. Less than a week later, Mingle was selling “kimchi fries” on their specials menu.
They are described as “house cut & baked fries layered with bulgokee chicken & beef, pork belly an kimchi layered with
Havarti fontina cheese from the The Cheese Traveler and served with our spicy yogurt sauce ($17).”
The Chopsticks Optional crew jumped on this and went right away. I had to suffer through a couple of days of fun in the sun before I could stop in. Painful, I know.
I went this past Saturday evening to have these and a beverage. I’m a big fan of sitting at the bar for a quick meal at Mingle.
I went for the Mingle-aid (Made with Vodka, Limoncello, Sour Mix & Sprite – $7).
It’s a really good drink. Simple and sweet. I love limoncello.
While I sat and waited for my kimchi fries, the bartender and I talked about the upcoming, exciting news about Mingle.
Although this is listed under “Lighter Fare” on the specials board, there’s nothing light about it. The intent is for this to be eaten as an appetizer with a few people. At $17, with all of the awesomeness going on, I had no shame eating the whole thing by myself as my meal.
The dish is layered upon oven baked fries that are crisped in a frying pan on the stovetop. Speculating based on the rest of the menu, my guess is that the kitchen isn’t equipped with a deep fryer. I don’t think it matters; these fries were as crispy as any deep fried potato I’ve ever seen. In the middle of the dish, the fries were a little soggier, but what do you expect when you top anything with juicy, marinated meat, pickled cabbage, and cheese?
Atop the fries are a mixture of meats (steak, chicken and pork belly) as well as a some house-made kimchi. These elements on the dish are reminiscent of the “Meat Lovers Bokkum”, a stir fry of these elements that’s frequently on the Daily Specials menu. The meats are all aggressively seasoned with Korean chiles and other Asian flavorings; scattered throughout the bites are sesame seeds which add some texture and interesting contrasting tastes. The kimchi was great as always, and I agree with the Chopsticks Optional crew that it was more of a supporting ingredient to the meat, especially since the cheese (in my case, fontina, which has been altered from the originally conceived dish to allow the other toppings to shine through) really tames the acidity and heat in the kimchi. One thing I will say, though, is that given the amount of meat and cheese on top as well as the size of the portion, $17 is fair.
My fries came with the spicy yogurt dipping sauce that the Chopsticks Optional crew didn’t get. I used it sparingly for dipping. It did help to add some creaminess and tang to the dish, but, honestly, I didn’t feel like it was necessary. I wouldn’t have complained if a ketchup bottle filled with gochujang showed up on the bar, though.
While I was eating the dish, I mentioned to the bartender that this would be the perfect accompaniment to their Korean Tacos. I believe my exact quote was “give me half the amount of these fries and one Korean taco, and I’d be a happy guy.”
Mingle has apparently been selling out of this special early every day, so I recommend stopping in early for dinner to try them. It’s definitely an experience!
It’s so cool that social media was able to make this happen so quickly. Maybe I can start talking to some people about some of the Puerto Rican fusion ideas I have since visiting the island…