Chapter 29: Chapter 29

Looking at the champion heading toward the restaurant in the distance, Ji Yoo sighed, put on her hat and said, “You’re a lucky man.”

Then, she looked back at the summer sea, sparkling brightly unlike the impending darkness.

“So, anything?” the owner smiled and asked in a friendly tone. At that, Ho Sung handed the owner his and the champion’s buckets as an answer and said, “We’ll have sashimi and spicy fish stew, please. Enough for three people. You can keep the rest.”

At that, the owner laughed heartily and said, “Haha! Thank you! I appreciate that you share your catch!”

After a brief conversation, Ho Sung looked toward Min Sung.

“Well, enjoy your meal, sir,” he said.

“Why don’t you come and join me?” the champion said as he took his shoes off and went into a room, staring at the refreshing, dreamlike ocean view through the large window.

“… Sir?”

Although the meal wasn’t ready yet, the thought of having a meal made of freshly caught fish in a room with a striking view filled the champion’s heart with excitement. Then, while he was staring out the window intently, Bowl, who had been fast asleep in the champion’s pocket, crawled out and climbed up on the table. Moaning and staggering as if still half asleep, the doll sat on the table and looked out the window like its master.

“I need you to look into dungeons in the area. No labyrinths,” Min Sung said.

“Are you planning on keeping that doll, by any chance?” Ho Sung asked. Min Sung, glancing at Bowl, who was also staring out the window, replied, “I think I’m gonna give it a shot and see what happens.”

Caught off guard by his response, Ho Sung said, “But you dreaded going into a dungeon! I’m sure you’ve made more than enough money by now!”

“It’ll run out eventually. Besides, it couldn’t hurt to save up and invest some time and resources into training the little guy,” the champion replied, staring intently at the doll from behind with his arms crossed, adding, “It could be a hobby of sorts. I’m sure it’ll do all the work for me once I equip it well enough.”

At that, Ho Sung stared at Bowl with envy and said, “It-it’d be nice if I could…”

… only to receive a cold, cruel glare from the champion. At which point, he waved in denial in a hurry and said, “Haha! Kidding! I-I’m kidding!” While Ho Sung was stammering and panicking, a middle-aged woman came into the room with a number of basic side dishes. Noticing the doll sitting on the table while putting the dishes and bowls on the table, she said, “Wow, that doll looks real!”

At that, Bowl turned its head 180 degrees and stared at the woman.

“Ahhhhh!”

Screaming, the woman fell backward on the ground, tossing the side dishes into air. Then, taking a bowl, the champion caught all the vegetables while they were still in the air and put them on the table. Meanwhile, the woman, shaking uncontrollably, made a run for the kitchen. Shortly after, the owner came rushing into the room.

“Ahaha! I think she was really startled! I am so sorry. My wife can be a little jumpy. Haha! Wait a minute, you’re a hunter, aren’t you? A summoner, from what I can tell? You don’t see them much these days! Did you summon this little fella here? Intriguing!” the owner said, looking at the doll curiously as he set up the table on his wife’s behalf. Meanwhile, Bowl stared out the window quietly while the owner stared intently at it, completely intrigued.

“Uh, sir? You still with us?”

Startled by Ho Sung’s voice, the owner laughed as he snapped back to his senses and said, “Ahaha! Sorry! I kind of got lost there for a second, didn’t I? Wait just a little longer. There are appetizers on the way.”

Then, after returning to the kitchen, the owner came back with yet another set of dishes. Min Sung’s eyes widened from the sheer amount of plates on the table. Never had he seen so much food on a table at once. There were nearly fifty different kinds of small plates. On top of that, a good number of them were made of highly-prized ingredients.

From abalone to clam sashimi, various seafood, and an assortment of side dishes, it was a sight to behold. In fact, there were so many dishes that the champion couldn’t decide on what to eat first.

“Impressive, huh? Not only is there a wide variety, but they’re all fresh and well made. There’s a reason why this restaurant is so popular, and they really make sure to use the freshest ingredients around here. Go ahead, you’ll see what I mean,” Ho Sung said, and Min Sung, nodding, picked up his chopsticks unhurriedly despite his stomach screaming for food.

‘One must be calm and gracious before food, yet appreciate it with passion,’ the champion said to himself. That was his philosophy toward food and his way of maximizing the experience. Then, picking up a small piece of abalone with his chopsticks, the champion brought it up to his mouth.

After the firm, bouncy, and yet crunchy texture, came a subtle and refreshing sweetness. There was not a trace of fishiness, and the experience was more than enough to lift anyone’s spirits. After that, Min Sung had a feeling that the meal was going to last for a good while.

Next, Min Sung picked up a piece of the sea urchin, dipped it in a spicy, vinegary sauce, and brought it up to his mouth. Although sea urchins were notorious for being potent, ones as fresh as the one he was eating couldn’t be more fragrant. Because the smell was the beginning of any food experience, focusing on the fragrance was crucial. Reminding himself of that, Min Sung savored the buttery smooth piece of sea urchin melting away in his mouth and sliding down his throat. With that, he moved on to the clam sashimi unhurriedly.

Plated on its shells, the meat had an enticing hue to it. Although he had never had clams raw, his culinary curiosity drove him to try it without any hesitation. Swallowing, he picked up a shell and pushed the meat on top of it into his mouth. The rich, briny flavor and the tender, moist texture were more than enough to make up for the humble size of the clam.

Then, yet another set of dishes caught the champion’s eyes: conch, raw octopus, and razor clam. By that point, the choices became clear. Because he had had a clam previously, Min Sung brought the razor clam up to his mouth. Its soft, smooth texture and delightful flavor danced in his mouth. While the experience was still raw in his mouth, he picked up the raw octopus, which was still alive and moving, dipped in sesame oil and salt, and put it in his mouth. The sensation of the suction cups sticking to his teeth and tongue was rather amusing. With that, he moved on to the conch without delay. The big, satisfying bite of the conch rewarded him with the fresh essence of the ocean.

‘At this rate, I’m gonna be full before we even get to our main course,’ Min Sung thought. After which, he had no choice but to limit his tasting experience to the items of he prefered. There were simply too many dishes.

After wiping his mouth with a tissue, he reached for the grilled mackerel with his chopsticks. Then, cutting himself a piece of the fish, he brought it up to his mouth without dipping it in salt.

‘Tastes just like my childhood,’ he thought. Though it had been more than a century since his last taste of it, the flavor of mackerel seemed to transcend time. Moist and meaty, the fish was perfectly grilled. At that moment…

“All right! The moment you’ve been waiting for! Ho Sung, make some room on the table, would ya?” the owner said, and Ho Sung started moving the dishes and bowls to the side. Soon, a plate of fresh sashimi made its way to the center of the table.

“Let me know if you need anything, all right?” the owner said as he returned to the kitchen, laughing heartily. Min Sung looked down at the main dish, delighted by the glossy slices of fresh sashimi. However, unlike his prediction, the sashimi turned out to be of the red sea bream.

Although the black sea bream tended to be the more expensive of the two, it was out of season. On top of that, because it was spawning season, its meat lacked texture. However, that wasn’t to say that they couldn’t be eaten. Although the black sea bream wasn’t best enjoyed raw in the current season, it still made for an incredible ingredient for a stew.

“It’s unfortunate that you guys don’t get to try the sashimi, but you just wait. The stew will blow your minds!” the owner said confidently. Setting his expectations for the stew aside, Min Sung focused on the sashimi in front of him. Picking up a slice, the champion looked at its beautiful grain and its deep red color. Then, after lightly dipping it in the soy sauce mixed with wasabi, he brought it up to his mouth.

“…!”

As soon as the meat touched his tongue and his teeth sank into the meat, he immediately understood why the fish was highly-prized and sought after. Fitting to the strength with which it had resisted when it had been first caught by the champion, there was firmness to the meat and an incredible depth of flavor. One would describe the flavor as that of the vigorous ocean.

‘This is amazing!’

It was as if the fish was shouting to Min Sung through its chewiness and the sweetness. Once tasting the main dish, the champion no longer had the urge to try any other dishes around it. Then, after wrapping the meat in perilla leaf with a slice of garlic and some soybean paste, he put the concoction into his mouth. The subtle bitterness of the perilla leaf created a striking harmony with the smoothness of the sashimi and the savoriness of the soybean paste stew. Savoring the flavors in his mouth, Min Sung ordered a bottle of soda. As the owner brought it out, he drank the liquid straight from the bottle, clearing his mouth and esophagus almost immediately. Then, without hesitation, he reached for yet another slice of sashimi, and before long the sashimi started to run out. At that moment, the owner came back with yet another dish. It was the fish stew, the dish Min Sung had long been waiting for.

His timing couldn’t have been better.

‘How did he know?’ Min Sung wondered, impressed.