I’m glad that the first post to this blog is something that I believe to be this city’s Korean BBQ gem. When my Korean friend told me that Kang Hodong Baekjeong was the only establishment to which his first-generation parents would offer their patronage when they made the trip to LA, I knew I had to make the trip over to K-town.
The first thing you notice when placing your name at the bottom of the no-reservation guest list is the pervasive smoke that hangs around the restaurant like a London Fog. Smoke levels never seem to quite reach red-eye irritation levels while giving a fragrant touch to the eating experience while adding ambience. If the wait is long, grab a drink at a neighboring bar in Chapman Plaza. Just stay sober enough to enjoy the Soju at Kang Hodong. The host/hostess will give you a call at the number you gave them.
Once the host/hostess has seated your party at the table, the spread can be daunting for those who don’t know Korean cuisine. Luckily, you’ve got ya boy Mr. Denver Omelet, so don’t be scurred. The scary shit in front of you is what the Koreans call banchan. It includes a kimchi pancake and kimchi straight up, pickled radish broth (give it a chance you goons), bean sprout and pickled onion salad, the house sauce, and a slice of squash topped with syrup and roasted nuts. Don’t call me an expert, but I personally enjoy everything but the squash as appetizers and sides for the meal to come. The squash has nutty, soft flavor with just a touch of sweetness that I think finishes the meal perfectly. Oh and the pink liquid in the cute Psy jugs? yeah thats just a lightly brewed barley tea. Super dank. Order a Soju as well if you’re over 21 and like to live dangerously. Twenty percent alcohol content for a tangy, sweet beverage.
At the center “O” shaped table covered with sides is the gas/charcoal grill, which is the also the central reason the experience is so lively and interactive. For the newbie, the best idea would be to order one of the two combos: beef or pork. Simple and elegant. Once you have some experience at the restaurant (believe me, one visit will not be enough), you can pick and choose which distinguished cuts particularly tickle your fancy as single entrees. Once the waiter/waitresss starts to cook the food, the real magic begins to occur.
Pan-Asian restaurants have implemented psychological techniques with great success. Sushi is prepared right in front of patrons at your local sushi bar, and who doesn’t love the onion towers at Benihana? Something about watching meat, within reach, pop and sizzle on a grill makes my mouth water and stomach ache with desire. Once the meat has been deemed ok to eat by the waiter, your options are as endless as they are satisfying. Want to go straight up with a dash of sea salt? Throw that on there Emeril style, Boom! All of the previously mentioned sides are viable toppings or palate cleansers between dishes. My favorite preparation is dunking the meat in the previously mentioned house sauce (I’m thinking soy sauce base, onion, jalapeño, and wasabi), nestling it over some lettuce and bean sprouts, and topping the miniature lettuce wrap with a dusting of sea salt. As you will find out, the experience can transform into a state of pure imagination.
Initially, the amount and diversity of sides can daunting. Following a few visits, I’ve found that each side brings out different qualities of the charred, succulent beef or pork. The butcher-like menu and plethora of sides lets us know they’re serious about their meat while we are allowed to find our favorite way to enjoy it. Kang Hodong Baekjeong delivers a meaty experience lacking only a divine spotlight and choir of angels.
Happily Grubbed by Mr. Denver Omelet