Jonathan Gold's 60 Korean Dishes Every Angeleno Should Know
|Roast goat at Blurocho.|
"How did you know we serve goat?" the waitress asked. "The big picture on the sign outside?" I said. "Oh -- that's right. Goat is our specialty." And so it is: At Bulrocho an arrangement of sliced goat meat is served in a puddle of broth, like a Korean goat pot-au-feu. You pick out a piece of goat, keeping or discarding its rubbery yet delicious skin, and season it to your liking -- smearing it with yellow bean paste, perhaps, spooning on a little of the house condiment made with chopped herbs and chiles, and wrapping it in a pungent leaf of gaenip with a sliver of sliced jalapeno and a clove of raw garlic, making yourself a perfect if diabolical ssam. Bulrocho is open 24/7 -- some rituals feel even more ritualistic at 3 a.m. 955 S. Vermont Ave.; (213) 383-0080.
Of all the soothing tonics in a cuisine rich in them, samgyetang, chicken-ginseng soup, may be No. 1: a crock filled with mild, fragrant broth and a tiny game hen stuffed with glutinous rice, Jujubes, garlic and a boatload of life-giving ginseng. Samgyetang has the place in Korean cooking that chicken-in-a-pot does at a good Jewish deli, except that you have to oversalt it all on your own. Think of the warm, salubrious vapors as nature's own answer to Vick's VapoRub. You'll find samgyetang at almost every traditional restaurant in Koreatown, but the current standard-bearer is probably Buil Sam Gye Tang, where you can get it stuffed with an encyclopedia's worth of medicinal herbs. I've never ventured past the traditional version, but if you get the one with wolfberries and shaved deer antler, let me know how it is. 4204 W. Third St.; (213) 739-0001.
The Yanbian Autonomous Korean Prefecture -- who hasn't dreamed of visiting the Yanbian Autonomous Korean Prefecture? It's an odd bit of China jammed between North Korea and Vladivostok, apparently as Korean as it is Chinese, and well known for its beautiful lakes and for its restaurants serving bosintang, dog-meat soup. Yanbian Restaurant, in the usual Koreatown mini-mall, specializes in the dishes of the region, including delicate Yanbian dumplings stuffed with greens, and grilled mountain vegetables of every description. There is an odd emphasis on seafood -- Yanbian is landlocked -- including great platters of grilled fish and exotica like braised sea hare, a giant sea slug more familiar from Discovery Channel videos than from menus. And here, without any fanfare, is your chance to eat bosintang, made with lamb instead of dog, of course, but presumably as close as you can get outside Asia, a superheated pot flavored with cumin, garlic and lots of chile, almost vibrating with the fragrance of bitter herbs. 4251 W. Third St.; (213) 383-5959.
Anne Fishbein Wrapped pork belly marinated in garlic and toasting with soju at Palsaik Samgyeopsal.
There's a lot of pork belly in Koreatown these days -- man, is there a lot of pork belly. Even if you've never tasted barbecued Korean pork belly, samgyeopsal, you've seen the happy pigs dancing around restaurant signs, the special domed grills in barbecue joints, and the woozy enthusiasts, lips shining with grease, celebrating pork belly's symbiosis with strong drink. Palsaik Samgyeopsal goes places like Toad House and Honey Pig one better by positioning pork belly as health food, which is a comforting thought as you watch strips of meat sizzle and dance on slanted metal griddles. The basic order features eight thick slices of belly, each saturated with a different marinade, presented in strict order of pungency. But even if you doubt the health benefits of the flavonoids in the miso pork belly or the carotene in the gochujang pork belly, so what? You're eating spicy pork belly with raw garlic and fresh herbs. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, happiness is an end in itself. 863 S. Western Ave.; (213) 365-1750.
Dongchimi gook soo
If you were going to compile a roster of Koreatown's greatest hits, it would be unthinkable to leave out the dongchimi gook soo at the barbecue-intensive Corner Place, a dish of chilled noodles in a sweet, cold and mysteriously refreshing broth, made with lightly pickled radish but long-rumored to include a healthy slug of 7Up. Will you be able to take it home and reverse-engineer the recipe? You will not. The restaurant's reluctance to allow takeout of the noodles is as famous as Nozawa's refusal to serve California rolls. As long as you're here, try the brisket. It goes nicely with the soup. 2819 James M. Wood Blvd.; (213) 487-0968.
We'd been to anju bars before, even some with better food, but Dan Sung Sa was our first real introduction to the Korean pub, a peek into an alternate universe of makkeoli, chain-smoking and open kitchens where aunties preside over rattling old cookpots. More than any restaurant in Los Angeles, it felt like someplace else. So we had mixed feelings when Dan Sung Sa modernized -- not the dark, graffiti-scarred interior, which was unchanged, or the teapots, which still looked as if they had been used for batting practice by Chan Ho Park. It may have been the website, which put the restaurant in the context of pojangmacha, Korean street pubs, usually crammed into orange tents. It may have been the newly translated menu -- we had spent many cheerful hours trying to figure out how to order the grilled pork ribs, the baby octopus, the seafood pancakes and the skewered dough-seaweed-rice noodle things that every Korean friend called dumbbells. Is this a pathetic attempt to assert that we were there before it was cool? Probably so. But we can still salvage what is left of our crumbling foodist cred by telling you that you should really try the spicy silkworm pupae in broth. Or actually, don't. Get the barbecued squid. 3317 W. Sixth St.; (213) 487-9100.
Sullongtang at Han Bat is a righteous soup; broth boiled for hours, days, until the liquid becomes pearlescent white. There is no fat. There is no funk. There is only the pure, mineral flavor of bones, ox reduced to essence. You add salt -- not too much! -- and a gentle quantity of green onion tops. You can get brisket or various cattle organs added to the soup, if that's your thing. I sometimes add a bit of chile paste to the soup, which tints it bright pink, but the act always feels like a felony. 4163 W. Fifth St.; (213) 383-9499.