Quality Korean Barbecue in Los Angeles

I’m about to wax poetic about Korean barbecue, but first, I need to clear up a misconception. There is much, much more to Korean food than barbecue. The reason there are so many Korean barbecue restaurants in this country is that Americans, not Koreans, are obsessed with meat.    (IS0)

Those of you who have read my previous entries about food may be surprised to hear me complain about this, because I clearly love meat. True enough. But I love food in general, and I find this narrow view of this widely varied cuisine annoying. That said, I also know that Korean food is an acquired taste for most Americans — we eat lots of spicy, salty, fermented, fishy foods — and that when folks ask for restaurant recommendations, they usually want barbecue.    (IS1)

For the most part, I’m ambivalent about recommending Korean barbecue places. The meat quality at most places is about the same, so I tend to differentiate them by the marinade (which I find too sweet at most restaurants), the quality of the banchan (the small appetizer plates that come with the meal) and other items on the menu, and the service. I, like many others, enjoy Brother’s in San Francisco for its wood-fired grills and friendly service, but I’m not blown away by the food there.    (IS2)

When folks ask me to recommend good Korean restaurants in Los Angeles, my hometown, I’m usually stumped. Unlike the Bay Area, Korean restaurants abound down south. Nevertheless, the same thing holds true: The quality at most of these places is about the same.    (IS3)

Thankfully, I’m stumped no more. Last night, my parents took me to ChoSun Galbee, located in the heart of Korea Town in Los Angeles. The food there is good. Damn good.    (IS4)

I knew my experience there would be different as soon as they brought out the raw meat, which looked amazingly fresh and beautifully marbled. Most restaurants marinate their meat overnight, which is actually overkill, because the meat is sliced very thin. The chef at ChoSun Galbee marinates the meat immediately, which has the added benefit of showcasing the quality of the meat. This is only a good thing, of course, if the quality of the meat is worth showcasing, which is probably why most restaurants don’t do it.    (IS5)

The shorter marination time did nothing to decrease the melding of the flavors, which was less sweet and slightly more complex than most restaurants. I was especially impressed by the daeji bulgogi — spicy pork — where I detected strong hints of ginger and cinnamon, in addition to the usual garlic, soy sauce, and gochoo chang (hot pepper paste).    (IS6)

In addition to the daeji bulgogi, we had bulgogi (thinly sliced beef) and galbee (shortribs), both of which were excellent. I thought they skimped on the galbee portions, but “skimping” is relative. I was so full, I could barely walk out of the place.    (IS7)

We also had the mul naengmyun — chewy noodles in a cold broth — which was okay, but not overwhelmingly good. As with the meat, the quality of the ingredients tasted high, which is usually as much as I can ask for when ordering naengmyun. (I’m a naengmyun snob, so take my review with a grain of salt. If anyone knows of a good place to get bibim naengmyun in the Bay Area, let me know.) Same went for the banchan — good, obviously made with decent ingredients, but not extraordinary.    (IS8)

(One reason naengmyun tends to be mediocre at most places is that it’s actually a North Korean specialty. As you can imagine, the recipes and techniques for making it well have not been widely disseminated. That said, it’s not impossible to find a decent bowl in Los Angeles, which is more than I can say for the Bay Area. It’s an absolute travesty.)    (IS9)

Apparently, I’m not the first to sing ChoSun Galbee’s praises. It’s a big restaurant with a beautiful patio area, and the place was packed. If you find yourself in Los Angeles, and you’re looking for good Korean barbecue, ChoSun Galbee is the place to be. It’s slightly more expensive than your average Korean restaurant, but the quality makes it well worth it.    (ISA)

Leave a Reply