Mirak Serves Up Really Good Korean Goat Stew

Goat Stew at Mirak

I’ve never pegged myself as the most adventurous rib on the rack of food bloggers. So for those of us to whom the dish is new (including myself until a few weeks ago), it is necessary to resist that initial reaction we get upon hearing “goat stew” referred to in an appetizing way.

Fried Rice Finale

It is imperative, because in this case and as with many, the fact that it’s not just goat but “stew” is probably even more important than the actual meat in question. In fact, it’s evidence that as long as you make something into a stew with just the right herbs and seasonings, practically anything becomes delicious. Then again, I’ve always been a broth lover, putting more emphasis on the soup than the contents that sit submerged in it. To me, broth is the foundation.

Yumso tang, as it’s called in Korean, is best appreciated by those who have a certain spice for life – so be prepared to order the heat level keen to your tolerance. And save for my love of broth, the meat was actually delicious. Tasty. And tender.

This tabletop, gas-fired brew begs the question, “When was there ever a Korean flavor I didn’t end up loving?” The stew is vibrant, even, thanks to the spice and plenitude of onions. Each person gets a condiment dish with chili, mustard, onions and perilla seeds for ultimate customization. And as should be the case with Korean comfort food, expect to spend not a whole lot of money for a whole lot of food. Fiona and I shared a hot, steaming $30 pot that came with a good number and variety of banchan (appetizers) as well as its own Korean hostess to serve the stew out. We even had leftovers to take home.

Just don’t forget to make the most of your stew and request that your remains be supplanted with rice and the provided extra seasoning for the ultimate fried rice finale. Make sure that your rice develops that delicious, crispy crust before devouring. In some time, you’ll find yourself thinking or even saying, “I am really craving goat right now.”

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Mirak
1134 S. Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006
323.732.7577

Los Angeles Bars That Don’t Belong

R Bar - Photographed by: Alen Lin (www.alenlin.com)

We all love Los Angeles for the diversity it affords in all cross-sections of life. (Or, at least I hope you do.) But let’s be honest. When it comes to food, fashion and yes, even drinking, sometimes we’ve come to expect a certain type of scene based upon the neighborhood that we’re in.

You’ll find flip-flops accepted and even expected near the beach while they’ll likely be shunned as you head eastbound. Moustaches and more indie music? East. Button-downs over straight-cut slacks? West. Dress code? All over (unfortunately).

But recently I found myself in a few bars where the interior and auras had me confused – as if I really were in a different neighborhood. Here’s the rundown on my impressions – along with my favorite cocktail at each bar:

Del Monte Speakeasy: Located in Venice, but feels like you’re in Silver Lake

The PSA

Recently outfitted with Brandon Ristaino’s elaborate cocktail menu, Del Monte has upped their game with some pretty fancy – and complicated – recipes. With a new focus on housemade ingredients, the speakeasy menu has some wacky combinations in their drinks. It’s brave and takes risks, which I admire, but unfortunately I didn’t like the majority of the cocktails. While reading the ingredients of a drink off the menu would usually provide enlightenment in my enjoyment of the cocktail, the explanation of each drink was simply confusing as many of the components seemed to clash.

The speakeasy area downstairs, however, has a ton of charm – and has only very recently legally reopened. There’s a filled-in tunnel from the Prohibition days in their stock room and the stairs are so old that you best be looking down as you descend – lest you trip down the rabbit hole into this bar that doubles as a music venue! Recommended cocktail: The PSA, made with Pisco, Aperol, citrus, house prepared demerara syrup, egg white & Peruvian bitters (Caroline on Crack explains why).

Naya Sunset: Located in Silver Lake, but feels like you’re in Hollywood

Naya Sunset Interior

Granted, I was at the media opening, but I’m thinking from the dim lighting, loungey seating and 4-on-the-floor house music, Naya Sunset’s intent was to bring the club to Sunset Junction. With a side of Indian food and a little Southeast Asian flavor mixed in, that is. Thing is, Joel Black’s cocktails are better than most others’ available in the vicinity, so if you’re craving one of the aforementioned – or both – it’d be a mistake to pass Naya up should you happen to be in the neighborhood.

My favorite cocktail: The Rocky Patel is a down-and-dirty mix of Chivas 12 Year blended Scotch whisky, Laphroaig 10 Year Islay Scotch whisky and espresso bean infused Zaya 12 Year old rum with espresso bean garnish. The smokey flavor of the Laphroaig blended beautifully with the subtle coffee flavors of the rum. Delicious. Also don’t forget to try the others on for size, such as the Spa in Goa – a refreshing cocktail utilizing Aviation Gin, fresh lime juice, Persian cucumbers, fresh thyme and agave nectar. It tastes just like it sounds, except even better (gin always has a benefit over vodka, no?).

R Bar: Located in Koreatown, but feels like you’re in Eagle Rock

Don’t look for signage, because it doesn’t exist. And…you need a password to get through the door. Yes, it initially feels a little off-putting, like a douchey dance club, but the password can be found out either on their Facebook or Twitter. And once you’re in, you’re pretty much in dive bar paradise. Heavy-hitting jukebox, check. Stiff pours, check. Old, wooden booths and furnishings with sweet nothings and loud somethings etched into said wood, check. Other than the name, it’s not a pirate bar by the strictest standards, but sometimes I just want a no-nonsense bar with a campy, divey feel.

Play Action Trivia on Tuesdays, or if you really were jonesin’ for that part of K-town, you can also karaoke on Mondays (albeit on-stage, rowdy style and without the private rooms). As far as drinks, stick to the 1:2 pours or just go with whiskey neat. I’d be wrong to recommend it, but they do offer a “mystery shot” to bravely hapless drinkers.

***

I love unpredictibility. And I’ve always had a soft spot for outcasts. These little gems spread across the city offer scenes that are totally unexpected given the neighborhoods they occupy. Stop by one and prepare to be at least a little bit surprised.

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Townhouse/Del Monte Speakeasy
52 Windward Ave.
Venice, 90291
310.392.4040

Naya Sunset
3705 W. Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
323.663.8268

R Bar
3331 W. 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
213.387.7227

Palsaik Samgyupsal Korean BBQ: The Belly of Koreatown

Pork Belly on the Grill

If you’re not into pork belly, there are a few other things on the table that you could savor at Palsaik Samgyupsal. I’m just not convinced that this restaurant is exactly your calling.

You have to pretty much love pork belly to sustain a dinner with 8 flavors of it at its centerpiece - agree? Fortunately, none of my fellow diners were ill-informed, but equipped with nil-to-small lunches eaten that day.

Banchan

The number of marinades is a novelty for, yes, the sheer number. The garlic, miso and red pepper were the favorites in the group. The herb was unintelligible; the wine and curry flavors, fortgettable. But if you learn one thing from this post, remember that when you go back in and order the pork belly in the marinades you like the most, there are 4 strips that come with each individually-ordered flavor. Whereby the 8-marinade sampler comes with 1 strip each, we ended up essentially doubling our dinner when we went with seconds on 2 of our favorite flavors.

The secret’s in the sauce, or marinade, if you will. When Krista asked about Palsaik’s smoker when they brought out a complimentary sampling if their “smoked” flavor, our server clarified that it was a sauce. I wasn’t too surprised.

But the sides are nothing to gloss over. The banchan, while basic and few in variety, were just enough. Much like AYCE in my Korean dining experiences, gone are the superfluous small dishes earmarking quantity over quality. The pink, pickled daikon wraps; shiso leaves; and romaine leaves were really the most important accompaniments (allowing for the construction of real Korean tacos, as I say). The green onion salad, too - as if they were all a reminder to leave room for the pork belly.

Pork Bellys, Vegetables, Kimchi and Bean Sprouts

aThe hot seafood soup simmering over the table’s burner was a delicious one, leaving me craving for more. We also ordered a bowl of cold, springy buckwheat noodles that I supplied with as much mustard as my sinuses desired. I always love a good bowl of cold noodle soup to lighten up the meat load – and the chili soybean paste I put on practically every bite of pork. So much for those marinades. Habits are just so hard to break.

And so. We pressed on through 16 strips of pork belly, all 5 of us. The service was team-oriented and pretty capable, with someone coming by periodically to magically scrape the carbon traces off our draining grill with a daikon-cube-on-a-stick, curate our bellys on the grill and even cut them up into bite-sized pieces with scissors. The place is new and modern, even by outside-of-Koreatown standards, which means new fans in addition to black and white, minimalist furnishings. I surprisingly wasn’t as compelled to relegate my clothes to the hamper as urgently as I was used to. And the damage despite inadvertantly overordering food and including 2 bottles of Hite? Just $25 per person including 20% gratuity.

Oh, beautiful Koreatown.

Protip: Ladies, your seats (tree stump-like stools) open up so you can keep your purse safely inside.

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Mon – Sat

11 AM – 12 AM

Sun

11 AM – 11 PM

Palsaik Samgyupsal
863 S. Western Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90005
213.365.1750

FOH/BOH³: The Fixers (Zadi, Haskell & Park) Debuts at LaOn in Koreatown

LaOn Dining Room

A couple days ago, there was an announcement of an alliance formed by Farid Zadi, David Haskell & Susan Park called FOH/BOH³. Derived from Front of the House and Back of the House acronyms (“to the third power” is of no detail), the name is meant to capture the essence of their partnership – the pursuit of proper, hands-on restaurant training from the ground up.

Pyeon Chae

The trio wasted no time getting down to business as it has just been announced that they will be debuting at Jenee Park’s (also of Park’s BBQ and Don Dae Gam) LaOn (previous review) on Western this weekend. The location of their first project was secured at this newish restaurant just 3 hours after their interview with LA Weekly Squid Ink’s Amy Scattergood was finished. It’s a perfect setting for their launch, as Zadi has worked in Seoul for three years as a chef and managing partner at a restaurant. It also is expressive of David Haskell’s intense passion for Korean food.

Open Flame Abalone

Park and Zadi created a special menu of 8 dishes, dubbed “Lucky Cat”, to complement LaOn’s traditional menu. One thing’s for sure: The menu of this “limited engagement” is not to be underestimated. Nothing on the menu will be watered down, but instead will showcase the fabric of what Korean food is all about. 

“I have a lot of respect for Korean cooking. My mother in law is from Jeon-Ju, the culinary capital of South Korea,” Farid says. “This isn’t fusion or even modern Korean. We’re taking Korean ingredients, flavors and techniques and recontextualizing them while retaining the soul of Korean cuisine: the bold, stick to your guts flavors that make it so satisfying.”

Haskell will be pairing each menu item with a wine or beer, the pairing pours of which will be available for $6 each – or glass pours for $12 each. Expect this pairing experience to evolve your perceptions of and experiences in Korean food, as I can’t recall a single time I’ve had traditional Korean food with proper wine pairing. FOH/BOH³’s “front of the house” team will be on-hand to ensure top-notch service throughout both nights.

Check out the menu below:

LAON MENU (traditional tapas)

  • 편채 PYEON CHAE Beef carpaccio with onions,sesame leaf,radish sprout – 10
  • 칠절판 SEVEN WRAP Cucumber,carrot,beef,shiitake mushroom,egg with radish wrap – 7
  • ì–´ì„  FISH WRAP Steamed fish and assorted vegetables in an egg wrap – 10
  • 궁중떡볶이 TEOKBOKKI Rice cake in soy based sauce – 10
  • 갈비찜 GALBI JJIM Braised short rib – 15
  • 오징어순대 STUFFED SQUID Stuffed with tofu,beef,squid & vegetables – 10
  • 전복요리 OPEN FLAME ABALONE Lightly seasoned fresh abalone – MP
  • 잡채 JAPCHAE Clear noodle with mixed vegetables – 7

FOH/BOH³: Lucky Cat LaOn

  • Spicy chicken kochi/foie gras fat fingerlings/ garlic chips – 12
  • Crab and kimchi brik/orange and onion salad – 8
  • Thai cobb ssam – 10
  • Thai curry bacon, avocado, duck rillettes, quail egg, tomato, fried shallot, lettuce
  • Grilled oysters – 3 each
    Dashima, ponzu, serrano mignonette and gochujang vinaigrette
  • Uni and scallop chawanmushi – MP
  • ½ dozen peel ‘n’ eat grilled prawns/shiso chimichurri – MP
    Laotian curry marinated whole prawns
  • Braised beef cheeks/ slow roasted corn cheese/baby carrot/arugula quick-chi – 14
    Riff on braised kalbi

So be sure to secure your table now. This limited engagement will sell out fast! Call 323.798.4648 or email David Haskell at [email protected] (Also note that reservations go til 1 AM – perfect for you nightowls.) Reservation lines are open now.

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Sat – Sun: August 27 – 28, 2011

5 PM – 1 AM

To reserve: Call 323.798.4648 or email [email protected]

LaOn
1145 S. Western Ave
Los Angeles CA 90006

Great Tapas (and BBQ) in Koreatown: LaOn

Abalone

I arrived to our 7-top reservation on account of an invitation from Josh of Food GPS, but only after first following the noise and crowd into the very popular Don Dae Gam, which was located in the same plaza. I turned to each occupied table (they all were), and when I didn’t recognize one face I went back out the door.

Sliced Daikon "Taco"

At LaOn, we were one of two parties total that dined there in the duration of our feast. As the only non-Caucasian in the party, I had also learned that before I arrived, the servers verified repeatedly that indeed, this was the restaurant at which they wanted to be, and not next door.

Don’t judge a palate by its cover…

As each cooked or uncooked dish arrived in the practically empty restaurant, it became apparent that we were one of the first to discover this little gem. The best thing about our big party was that we were able to order a lot to ensure getting a bite of everything while not leaving a scrap by the time we were finished.

Steak Tartar

With the same people behind Park’s BBQ masterminding LaOn, this surprisingly pleasant dining space – though furnished with the obligatory fans above each table – isn’t the spot to court your singularly focused meat-minded friends (often the stigma I’ve found associated with Korean food). Sure, you’ll get an on-table iron charcoal grill on which to cook your skirt steak, beef tongue and skewers (the bacon-wrapped duk, or tubular rice cakes, are a must), but you’d really be missing out if you overlooked the peewee fingerling potatoes in green pepper & green chile sauce to start, the pork/egg/shiitake/cucumber/carrot wrapped in daikon “tacos,” the rice paper-wrapped steak tartar topped with quail egg, the garlic abalone dish, the roe-uni stone pot rice … I think you get the point.

Bacon-wrapped Duk, Sausage and Onion on the Grill

With the only included banchan being pickled, thinly sliced cucumbers and more-than-decent kimchi, it’s clear that this isn’t a Korean restaurant that rests its laurels on filler. But the servers and chef/owner were more than courteous – even friendly. Now gone are the days where I had to “corner a Korean” (UCLA proved useful for this) just so I could have a go-to guy that could order for me without the awkwardness of the language barrier and risk of being taken a less-than-courageous customer. A nice surprise was a dish that we hadn’t ordered but was gratefully sent out: A kind of chapchae, but made with rice cakes, instead. I would definitely classify this as a staple and would order this next time.

The best part about it? The raw cuts are of quality while LaOn’s location and audience in Koreatown prevents the BBQ as well as the small plates from being too precious. Just make sure that in a party this big, you order 2 of most things. Proof: By the end, we were stuffed, and had only spent $34 per person including tax, just one bottle of wine and 20%+ tip (no dessert).

So go forth and visit LaOn. “Small plates” is the arguably hackneyed phenomenon these days, but this little Don Dae Gam-adjacent place in Koreatown is a stand-out gem that does it all so well. And for those cravings of the Americanized Korean tradition of BBQ – there’s more than enough to go around.

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Mon – Sat: 5 PM – 1 AM
Sun: 5 PM – 11 PM

LaOn
1145 S. Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006
323.373.0700

La Descarga: The Underground Rum Revival

Main bar at La Descarga

The speakeasy isn’t dead.

Due to fatigue induced by Mark Gold’s wonderful fried chicken over at Eva, I had missed a late reservation on opening night at La Descarga. Luckily, thanks to Mattatouille and the company of H.C. of LA-OC-Foodie and Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, I was able to avoid the rush and visit the new, under-cover, reservation-only rum bar the very next night.

Struggling under the weight of a wine-paired meal at The Raymond in Pasadena, I was determined to see what all the fuss was about. Back in a part of Hollywood that actually borders on Koreatown, comes experience from other parts of town like the membership-only Doheny.  With additional cocktail friend in tow, we admired the neighboring taco stand (complete with lucious spit of meat in the window) while being cleared by the well-dressed, courteous doorman with a clipboard. And up we ascended, up narrow stairs and through jaggedly winding hallways and into an … office with a beautiful lady behind the desk.

At La Descarga, she let us know, there are two bars and one smoking room. The bar in the back smoking room is reserved for rum only while the main, front bar will serve us their cocktail menu. Cigars are available (10 hand-rolled and aged varieties, that is, for your pleasure). From what I heard about Bill and H.C.’s opening escapades the night before, I had already known this – as H.C. had been lamenting about his dry cleaning bill earlier.

The hostess walked around the desk and toward us. Naturally, we backed up. And it was then we noticed that to our right there was a wardrobe, which she opened. We saw white linen Havana shirts hanging with a passageway behind them.

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