July 23, 2009—that’s the exact date when I fell in love with Korean rice cakes (duk). Since that deliciously chewy day at Cham Korean Bistro in Pasadena, I’ve eaten pounds upon pounds of the stuff and even successfully prepared an authentic version at home. Recently, an unofficial duk truck rolled into town. Chef Debbie Lee’s Ahn-Joo brings modern Korean pub grub to the streets of Los Angeles, including some bold renditions of my favorite rice cylinders.
The Astronomer and I chased down the truck yesterday afternoon at the CNN building on Sunset. Chef Lee was on the scene to greet us with a smile and to tell us more about why she decided to take her culinary act on the road.
Following an appearance on season five of The Next Food Network Star, Chef Lee consulted at Culver City’s Gyenari and served “SeoulTown Tapas” at Breadbar. Although both engagements allowed her to introduce her unique style of fusion cooking to the public, the price point was ultimately too high to reach the masses. With Ahn Joo, Chef Lee hopes to spread her “Seoul-to-soul” dishes across the city and to provide an alternative to fast food.
The menu is divided into four parts: Small Grub ($3), Medium Grub ($5), Large Grub ($7), and Sweet Grub ($5). We began with an order of bacon-wrapped duk with jalapeño ponzu ($3). Bacon has a way of making just about everything better, and this was no exception. The smoky bacon and the citrus-laced ponzu provided the oomph that the simple rice cakes needed to shine.
Continue reading ‘Ahn Joo – Los Angeles’
Dwit Gol Mok,* better known as DGM, is literally and figuratively a hidden gem. While its address reads Wilshire Boulevard, the entrance is actually tucked far behind the main drag. The Astronomer and I probably would’ve never found it had our friend Danny not provided us with detailed instructions. “Try to locate parking near Vermont,” he advised. “Then head down Berendo and through the parking lot.” We did what we were told and found ourselves in a dark and unassuming alleyway. There wasn’t an English sign in sight, but we followed the wondrous smells of smoky barbecue and pungent gochujang and made our way through the old wooden building blaring K-pop.
Once inside, we headed up to the second floor to locate Danny and the rest of our party, including the Two Hungry Pandas and the Starry Kitchen duo. Walking through the restaurant, I couldn’t help but notice the artful doodles covering every surface. I was kicking myself for not bringing along my collection of Sharpies to the restaurant. Next time around, I’m totally scribbling ‘Cathy+Vernon 4-Eva’ on the wall, surrounded by lots of little hearts.
The specialties at this two-story graffiti palace are a killer combination of Korean bar food and potent soju. The crowd is young, mostly Korean-speaking, and always seem to be having a rowdy time.
Continue reading ‘Dwit Gol Mok (DGM) – Los Angeles (Koreatown)’
Ever since my first taste of Korean fried chicken (yangnyeom dak) a year ago at KyoChon, I’ve been seeking out these snappy-skinned specimens whenever I’m in the vicinity of Koreatown. While chicken normally doesn’t excite me, the Korean treatment—double frying and potent marinades—seems to bring out the very best in these fine feathered friends.
After previously sampling the wares at three of Koreatown’s most popular yangnyeom dak shops—KyoChon, BonChon, and Chicken Day—The Astronomer and I dined at Hite Kwang-Jang. We had heard through the blogger grapevine that it produced a standout version worthy of the title of K-Town’s top spot.
The sports bar-like space was outfitted with big screen televisions and an interesting collection of nutcrackers. Korean is the primary language spoken at this locals-only joint. Fortunately, there was an English menu for chicks who kind of look Korean but can’t speak a lick of it and their Caucasian male friends.
Whereas KyoChon, BonChon, and Chicken Day specialize solely in yangnyeom dak, Hite Kwang-Jang serves a plethora of Korean pub grub. We started off with a complimentary panjeon (vegetable pancake). Served with a scallion and soy dipping sauce, the pancake tasted simple and had crisped and golden edges. A free starter is a cheap and easy way to get in very good with yours truly.
Continue reading ‘Hite Kwang-Jang – Los Angeles (Koreatown)’
While I’m pretty familiar with Saigon’s dining scene—street and luxe—when it comes to nightlife, I haven’t the foggiest. In fact, I can count the number of times I frequented a club or bar during my year in Vietnam on one hand. Okay, maybe two. Even though I only go out once every blue moon, I always seem to end up at the same shady, yet strangely fun joint—Apocalypse Now. Unlike the wannabe hipster scenes at clubs Lush and Bounce, Apocalypse Now is refreshingly unpretentious. The crowd here is diverse—we’re talking dirty old men accompanied by transvestites (I told you it was wiener time), ladies of the night and regular folks having a good time. While I wouldn’t say the music selection is rockin’, I would say that the wieners are!
The wiener stand, which is located in the courtyard near the back of the club, is almost always busy because the griller takes his sweet sweet time making sure the skin on each dog is nice and crispy and the buns are perfectly toasted. On a Saturday night, expect to wait upwards of 20 minutes for a wiener. To pass the time, I highly recommend people watching.
Hawkins is muy excited for wiener time to arrive. Truly, who wouldn’t be?
The wieners are served with ketchup and mustard inside a classic Vietnamese banh mi, which is worlds superior to ordinary hot dog buns. While I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way for one of these babies, there’s definitely a time and a place for wieners. Say, after midnight when you’ve had one Tiger too many? This greasy, salty and satisfying creation will soak up the booze nicely. R. Kelly was right, “after the party IS the after party.”
2D Thi Sach Street
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City