It's hard to believe that there was food out there that Angela had never tried before. Since we first met, she's exposed me to countless new cuisines - I'd run out of fingers were I to try and count. Yet with Korean food, Angela tried it for the first time last year (having living in Korean-food-barren D.C. for so long) and, until moving to Los Angeles, had never once experienced Korean BBQ.
Flash forward to present, and Angela works in Koreatown, practically eating Korean food every day. Last week we made an after-work trip down to one of K-Town's more notable establishments: Park's BBQ. While Korean BBQ may be as common as Chinese take-out to most Angelenos, it can be a rarity in other parts of the country. I like to describe it to newbies as the Asian equivalent of fondue. Half the fun of the meal is the experience as your food is cooked right in front of you. The main difference is that you're less likely to burn yourself on scalding hot oil, or spend ten minutes fishing around the bottom of a pot for that missing broccoli floret.
Despite warnings from other reviewers of long wait times, we were immediately seated in the restaurant, filled with modern decor and a buzzing energy. An army of servers shouted out Korean welcomes to entering customers as we were shown to our table, which was equipped with our very own grill. We made a couple of quick decisions and within moments all sorts of food was making its way over to us.
And the food - jap chae (Korean glass noodles), kim chi, green garlic, broccoli and soft shell crab (to name a few that we actually recognized) - just kept coming, nearly filling up our entire table (below). There were different sauces, sliced peppers, rice noodles and lettuce wraps for making out own concoctions once our selections of meat arrived. We tried each little dish, and though not all were winners, we were amazed by the sheer variety.
We barely had room on the table when the seasoned boneless beef short rib (below) arrived, in all their well-marbled glory.
The short ribs quickly wound up on our grill (below), as the well-oiled rotating machine of staffers continued to pop over to tend to it. Bacteria be damned, it looked so good, I just wanted to start eating it before it was even cooked.
We also got the pork belly (below), which we magically found room for at the table's end.
Once the short ribs were cooked, the pork belly took a turn on the grill (below) and got the same flip and chop treatment from the ever-attentive crew.
With the cooked short ribs (below, left) and pork belly (below, right) we were finally able to go to town, mixing and matching the mystery ingredients on the table. But the wait was worth it. Both of the meats had been bathed in the same delicious, slightly sweet marinade. And the servers at Park's have grilling down to a science, as the meat was nicely cooked, with a nice char on the outside.
One enthusiastic server was eager to make suggestions as to what went best with what. At about several points in the meal she'd come over with a big smile and ask 'do you like <blank>?' and when we nodded, she'd run off and return with a bowl of something else. She even brought out garlic and oil wrapped in tinfoil to heat up on the grill so we could pour it over our meats. Yum.
I think it's safe to say that Angela's first Korean BBQ experience went very well. Solid food flavored by excellent service. It was like a first kiss - a clumsy experience that we both hope to get better at with time. We may have started at the top, but we're both eager to dig deeper into Koreatown's BBQ offerings. Perhaps Park's relatively new sister restaurant Don Dae Gam would be a good place to continue our journey.