Saturday, March 21, 2009

Khaaaaan! - Seoul Garden Restaurant

Seoul Garden Restaurant
1833 W Olympic Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 386-8477
MC, Visa
Valet Parking in rear. Closed Sunday.
Yelp Info

The hostess slaps a menu on your table, but everything you need to know about Seoul Garden is prominently displayed on a backlit plexiglass menuboard on a wall in the main room. Note the first three dishes: Beef Jingee-skan, Chicken Jingee-skan, Pork Jingee-skan. It took me a bit of Googling, after my first visit there, to figure out that it's Genghis Khan... which is Korean not (curiously) for what the Mongolians call BBQ, but for what the Japanese call shabu-shabu. Go figure.

And by go, I mean go to Seoul Garden to enjoy this utterly pleasurable style of dining. There's other stuff on the menu but (and I always tell you exactly what to order, that's part of the value-added service you get at LA Food Crazy) you're here for the Genghis Khan. Get two orders for 2-3 people, three orders for three hungrier or four people. Beef (a must), chicken or pork according to your pleasure. Order soju. Here's what ensues.

It's a five course meal. The waitress fires up a hotpot filled with water on your table. While it comes to a boil, you are brought the small, refillable dishes of bonchon; Korean appetizers that here include a delicious, tangy pickled turnip and a delicately cooked egg cake.

You nibble on them with you soju. You remembered to order soju, right? Your waitress will also bring small bowls of cabbage soup.

Then comes your Khan. Raw flesh, sliced paper-thin, arranged flat on a giant wheel of a plate. Here's one order of beef and one of chicken:

A giant bowl of shredded cabbage, mushrooms, tofu and fish cake accompanies your Khan.

Your waitress gets you started, scooping a bunch of vegetables and meat into the boiling water.

Quick, take out the beef, it's already medium-rare. Two more seconds, it's well-done. You scoop some veggies and beef into your bowl. It's tender, mild, flavorful; an absurdly simple and unadorned iteration of the meat.

Of course you can adorn it. People ask, "can I add some of the bonchon?" That's like asking whether you should put some of the guacamole or the salsa on your taco. It's a free world, dude. And the best news is, the bonchon are bottomless. Run out of one, they'll bring you more.

You begin to think you'll never get through that giant wheel of meat, you're boiling it and eating it and boiling and eating it, but trust me, it eventually it does all go away. And just when it's almost gone, the last few bits still boiling in the broth, the waitress swings by. She portions the remaining Jingees-kan into your bowls, and drops some udon noodles into your broth, letting them cook for a bit before scooping them in front of you.

Not a lot, mind you... you're full from all the meat... but it's so clean and tasty, cooked in that broth that has been gathering yummy beef chicken and pork flavors, that you can't resist.

And just when you think, no, there couldn't possibly be more, there is. The waitress will have let the water boil down pretty well by now. She arrives with a bowl of rice, an egg, some seaweed, and sesame oil. She adds them expertly to the broth, and whips up a quick a delicious jjuk (porridge) for you. It's delicious as is, but also a perfect base for disposing of any remaining bonchon on the table.

You've drained that last bit of soju, and now comes a metal cup of the refreshingly sweet tea which I believe is called chik cha.

The meal has probably set you back $25 or so. But if you're like me (or my wife Sa, who wants to go here, like, ALL the time) you'll be back soon.

A couple of notes. It can be crowded, take-a-number crowded, at peak hours. And as with most Korean restaurants in Koreatown, you'll have a more pleasant experience if you're not high-maintenance. Pointing at things and asking for more is fine and appreciated. Asking about serving sizes or ingredients explaining your special dietary needs, asking for rice before the porridge section of the meal, etc., will not enhance anyone's evening. And saying kam sa na hamida (Korean for thank you) is always nice.

Besides, any questions that can be answered are right there in backlit plexiglass, down to the instructions for cooking your veggies. So just say "beef jingee-skan and soju," sit back, and let the evening roll.