Promises of breathtakingly fresh sushi of the Korean variety brought my friends [Ravenous Couple, Kung Food Panda, Two Hungry Pandas, Stellar Recipes] and me to Rowland Heights. We almost always travel west in search of pristine raw fishes, but an enticing lead on a Chowhound thread led us down Rosemead Boulevard and further east on the 60.
Our destination was Dongbu Live Fish, a restaurant specializing in thinly sliced raw seafood known as hwal uh. Dongbu sits in the far corner of strip mall in the same complex as a veterinarian practice and a DIY barbecue joint. It is one of a handful of Korean businesses dotting the city’s mostly Taiwanese landscape.
The restaurant is run by a family of four. Dad is the chief fisherman and chef, mom serves as his sous, and their son and daughter manage the cash register and serve customers. Together they delivered excellent service and made us feel like we’d been eating Korean sushi our whole lives.
Our party of seven was seated immediately in the center of the cramped, but homey dining room. The soothing sounds of bubbling and gurgling tanks stocked with all manner of “live fish” provided a fitting soundtrack to our meal.
In addition to the house special hwal uh, Dongbu also serves funky sushi rolls, udon noodles, and rice bowls [see full menu here]. While the offerings sounded tempting, we had our heart and stomachs set on the hwal uh experience. After a short discussion with the restaurant’s owner, we chose the medium-sized serving ($85).
The centerpiece of the hwal uh experience was a gorgeous serving of freshly caught and filleted halibut. Displayed attractively on a platter (filled with ice and covered with plastic wrap), the thin slices of sashimi shimmered with freshness. I have never encountered fish this fresh before.
All of us ate a few pieces straight up to get a pure sense of the halibut’s glorious taste and texture. We also wrapped the delicate morsels ssam-style with lettuce leaves, chogochujang, ssamjang, garlic, and jalapenos. Traditional Japanese accouterments including wasabi, ginger, and soy sauce were on hand as well. The edamame and quail eggs were present for our snacking pleasure.
Accompanying the halibut platter were eight additional dishes. One of our favorites was a lettuce and cabbage slaw topped with roe and halibut and tossed with a soy sesame vinaigrette.
We were divided on the sea squirt. Some of us thought that it tasted like a mouth full of seawater, while others embraced its oceanic funk. I was with the former group even though I was informed by our waitress that it was “good for woman.”
The abalone was neutral in flavor and chewy in texture, which made it more or less uninteresting to me.
Another winner with our group was the cold noodle (naengmyeon) platter with shredded cabbage, cubes of salmon and halibut, apple slices, and a red pepper sauce dressing.
Next, we moved on to a series of warm dishes. First up were baked mussels topped with imitation crab. After eating such clean and pristine flavors, these tasted a bit cloying to me.
I felt mostly the same about the sweetly sauced baked mussels topped with salmon. While both preparations had their merits, they seemed out of place considering the rest of the spread.
The broiled mackerel pike, on the other hand, was simply delightful with its crisply charred skin and sweet flaky flesh.
The final course was a bubbling pot of hot and spicy fish soup (maeuntang) packed with tofu, herbs, and vegetables. We poured the soup over steamed white rice and filled up whatever room was left in our bellies.
Two special thanks are in order. The first one goes to Chowhounder “degustateur” for his informative and inspiring write up. And the second goes to Hong for dragging our asses to Rowland Heights. My stomach salutes you both.
Dongbu Live Fish
18785 Colima Road
Rowland Heights, CA 91748