Jonathan Gold's 60 Korean Dishes Every Angeleno Should Know
|Hwe dup bap, a complicated raw-fish salad, at A-Won.|
Hwe dup bap
The great Korean contribution to the world's sushi kitchen may well be hwe dup bap, an elaborate, raw-fish salad leavened with dried seaweed and hot rice and flavored with chile paste. And at A-Won, a Koreatown institution devoted to the cult of hwe dup bap, the display is formidable: bowls as big as Valkyrie helmets, mounds of diced halibut, tuna and salmon sashimi, a quart of chopped greens, enough crunchy fish eggs to populate the Pacific Ocean with smelt. Hwe dup bap is an interactive creature that doesn't really come into existence until you mix it together, tossing and stirring, sluicing the salad with as much sweet, hot chile paste as you care to squeeze out of a squirt bottle, tossing in a bowl of hot rice at the last second and tossing some more. Hwe dup bap is one of those dishes where each bite is subtly varied in spice, marine savor and green crunch, with the smelt roe crackling under your teeth, the raw fish melting into the hot rice. Does the chef fight for the best-quality fish with Nobu Matsuhisa each dawn? No, but that's not the point. Good hwe dup bap -- and A-Won's is very good -- is as alive and vivid and evanescent as a wildflower. 913 ½ S. Vermont Ave.; (213) 389-6764.
Anne Fishbein Need abalone porridge at 5 a.m.? Go to Mountain.
Korean cuisine is nothing if not rich in its variety of hangover chasers, the dishes you want to have between you and the roiling chasm of your melting insides. First among these may be jeonbokjuk, Korean abalone porridge, a simple, fortifying gruel of rice, water and as much abalone as you can afford. Mountain is open 24 hours, and whatever time of day you end up there, squeezed between teetering stacks of takeout containers, almost everybody in the restaurant is eating that abalone porridge, a little runny, decorated with a raw egg yolk that shines like the sun of a new day. If you were uncharitable, you could say that the pricey abalone features almost homeopathically, in concentrations low enough to send the sympathetic circuits of your body vibrating in an abalone-like frequency. Still, the porridge seems to work. As at all porridge restaurants, the banchan, small dishes that accompany the meal, include jangjorim, a bowl of butter-soft beef simmered with soy and sliced chiles. 3064 Eighth St.; (213) 487-7615.
When I want to demonstrate the breadth of the Koreatown restaurant scene to visitors, I often take them to Dae Bok. Because while the great European capitals may have culinary marvels of their own, what they don't have is a serene restaurant devoted to the glories of Korean blowfish stew. So after you persuade the waitress that what you really want is blowfish instead of monkfish, pronounce the words bok jiri a half-dozen times and point to the line drawing of the blowfish printed on the chopstick wrapper, if you promise not to die, you may be rewarded with the delicious mild fish: chunks of tail simmered with bean sprouts and bitter Korean greens on a tabletop burner. You can enhance the soup halfway through with spoonfuls of minced garlic and brick-red gochujang, at which time it technically becomes bok mauentang, but whatever. When you're almost finished, the waitress reappears to mix the dregs with rice, chopped vegetables and a little oil. The porridge fries into a crisp-bottomed porridge of joy. 2010 James M. Wood Blvd.; (213) 386-6660.
Is this preparation from, or even directly inspired by, the cooking of Jeju-do, the island home of Korea's famous black pigs? Likely not. Jeju-do doesn't seem to be much of a burger-and-fries kind of place. But Kalbi Burger's densely packed, ground-pork patty, tinted vivid orange with chiles, grilled, plastered with kimchi and plenty of the chile sauce gochujang, is formidable. Sweet, spicy and dripping juice, the Jeju-do burger packs all the sensations of great pork barbecue between the freshly baked buns. 4001 Wilshire Blvd.; (213) 738-7898.
You find your way into a dark parking lot off Berendo, walk up a wheelchair ramp that seems to lead to a dance studio, and walk through a deserted courtyard, down a hall past a dishwashing station and up a small flight of stairs into DGM (short for Dwight Gol Mok), a movie director's fantasy of a smoke-filled Korean student tavern. Every square inch of the walls is marked with graffiti; vintage K-pop blares and hanging TV screens show the Lakers. The groups of women in the low booths tend to be impossibly great-looking, possibly drawn by the waiters in tight, black T-shirts, who are even cuter. The menus are those untranslated block-of-wood things you have seen in other K-town bars, with tiny, scratchy print that would be impossible to decipher even if you did read hangul. But you will be drinking soju, and you will be eating the same kinds of things you find at every other K-town bar: the spicy beef-leek soup yukgaejang, fried chicken gizzards, or nakji boekkum, tiny octopus stir-fried with sweetish chile sauce. By the time you finish the first bottle of soju, you're going to forget all that. So just get the kimchi pancakes. They're crisp and oily, and exactly what you want. 3275 Wilshire Blvd. (enter off Berendo); (213) 382-8432.
In the years since we first encountered this dessert, we have learned to appreciate the traditional teahouse pat-bingsu, a taut, balanced, barely sweet construction of shaved ice, green tea ice cream, soaked beans and jellies, a quiet bit of Korean Zen. But splashy, trashy bingsu is really more fun, a hot mess of sweet beans, canned fruit cocktail, ice cream, whipped cream and crushed ice, larger than a small child's head. When I first wrote about the bingsu served at Ice Kiss, a bingsu specialist not far from the Chapman Market, I noted that it was sprinkled with bright, crunchy bits that looked and tasted an awful lot like Fruity Pebbles. I have since been informed that they were, in fact, Fruity Pebbles. If you're going to eat like a 6-year-old, you might as well go all the way. 3407 W. Sixth St.; (213) 382-4776.