Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Frog and the Pig - Toad House

Toad House
4503 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(323) 460-7037
Open Daily 7:30am-1am
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I thought I'd follow up my last post about Noshi Sushi with a breakdown of a spot less than two blocks away, and yet a world apart. Where Noshi is all about slabs of delicately flavored cool fresh, Toad House is all about...


Psych! It's not about frogs. It's about meat. And particularly, pork.

Just another bunker on Beverly Boulevard from the outside, Toad House greets you with happy cartoons of pudgy yellow pigs on the front door. There are a couple of tables inside, but most of the dining area is outside on the covered patio. And with good reason. There's going to be a lot of smoke, and not just from the surly Korean youths puffing away in the corner over big bottles of OB or Hite beer.

Take a seat outside under one of the five or so TV sets suspended over the tables (there's almost one monitor per table). But trust me, you won't be watching TV. The food show is much better.

The waitress sets down menus. No one speaks much English here, so make it easy on yourself. Take a date, and point to the #3 combination, $39.95 for pork belly and beef brisket for two people. All the combinations include beer, wine, or soju. Have you been paying attention to my past posts? If so, you know want the soju.

Then sit back and watch what happens. Nice but harried waitress fires up the convex grill; a smaller version of what you might see at a Mongolian BBQ. She brings out the metal bowls filled with the small side-dishes known as panchan. Be sure to impress your date that you know the word for these dishes. Say it with me: panchan. They're actually not that remarkable here, but the chili sauce bean sprouts are good, and the potato salad is tangy -- why do these Korean places make potato salad, anyway?

Next comes the leek and scallion "pancake." You won't recognize it as a pancake, because it's more like a quiche or a soufflé. It arrives at your table with the eggy concoction still roiling and boiling to a finish. Let it simmer and solidify a little before you dig in. It's sooo light and fluffy; somewhere between meringue, mousse and the fluffiest omelette you've ever had. I'm craving it as I write about it.

Next come the piles of raw pork and beef. The waitress lays it out on the grill for you. It cooks. You watch, waiting. The brisket is the classic Korean bulgogi, thin-sliced and tender. It cooks fast. Start eating it when it looks good. The pork -- if you ordered the #3 -- is pork belly, huge slabs of marbled meat that look like bacon on crack. Let the waitress cook this for you. You'll know when it's done: she comes by with some bad-ass scissors and (this momma's boy loves this part) cuts it into bite-sized chunks for you.

But there's one more trick to Toad House. It's dduk bo sam style. That means that while the meat is cooking, you'll be brought a big pile of shredded lettuce and scallion, a couple of dipping sauces, and a plate filled with something so unfamilar that -- I guarantee -- even after having enlighened yourself by reading this post -- you'll ask, What's that? They're small, square rice-flour cakes, paper thin and slightly stretchy; not unlike the rice paper wrappings on Vietnamese summer rolls.

Just take a piece of this dduk wrapper in one hand, grab a bit of caramelized, grilled meat, dip it in some sauce, and put it in the wrapper. Add a chopstickload of the lettuce and scallion. Wrap it up loosely, and eat in one bite, dim sum style. This, you will discover, is a little big of hog heaven. Don't worry about doing it "wrong." A glance around the table reveals as many techniques for devouring this stuff as there are for eating rice, beans, and guacamole with tortillas.

Just be sure to wash it back with soju. And don't forget to toast the five happily trotting pigs in the poster on the dining room wall.

They gave their bellies for yours.