966 South Vermont Avenue (just north of Olympic)
Los Angeles, CA 90006
It’s not that the Westside can’t play (do VIP Harbor and Royal Star really count?), but for true, good Chinese food, you have to go east to Chinatown or Monterey Park or one of the other neighborhoods in the San Gabriel Valley. If you’re further east, you might hit up Rowland Heights. But you can also get Chinese food in Koreatown. I know. Crazy. :)
There are probably some straight up Chinese restaurants in Koreatown, but the only ones I’ve ever gone to are the k-brand – Shin Peking, China Gate, and the Dragon. The last one on the list, also called Yong-Goong in Korean, was the neutral setting for last weekend's highly anticipated, very important summit. *raises eyebrows* For this kind of meeting, no photos please.
The Dragon is located in the heart of Koreatown on the east side of Vermont Avenue, just north of Olympic Boulevard. It’s a plain, square building that has only a huge red Chinese mask on the front. It’s not easy to miss, but it’s not easy to figure out where to park. There’s a tiny entrance off Vermont, just past the restaurant’s building that appears to go into a garage, but simply loops around to the back. I’m sweating a little because I’m already 10 minutes late, and who knows how slowly the valets can process the long line of minivans and giant Benzes in front of me. Who the heck eats dinner as early as 6 o’clock pm? On a Saturday, no less? A whole bunch of Koreans, that’s who.
Two families were facing off in a small, private banquet room, one of few inside the restaurant. Thankfully, I wasn’t the last one to show up. *phew* There were some uncomfortable silences that felt like eternity, several moments of polite laughter, and of course, a few mini-lectures from the Captain. I don’t remember what they were, but I am pretty sure I heard him brag about training his daughters well. LOL!
When the server asked us if we were ready to start dinner, we all jumped and nodded enthusiastically. Something, anything, so we wouldn’t have to figure out what to talk about with each other. The small plates of kimchee and raw white onions with vinegar and black bean sauce weren’t enough to occupy our attention. Jess had ordered the night before, so the servers just started bringing the platters out – a very heavily seafood-influenced menu. Not very strangely, dinner at the Dragon sounds very familiar to a family dinner at China Gate back in February. My family is so lovably predictable.
As always, soup is first, which is brought to the table in a huge serving bowl, and ladled out by the staff. Lucky me, I was sitting in the spot that the staff decided to use as their entry position. I leaned all the way over to the left, practically in my sister’s lap as the lavender-vested server ladled the soup into tiny bowls, sloshing the cornstarch-laden broth all over the lazy susan. Can you believe that server? A lavender vest. LOL! The soup was a light-colored with the standard ingredients of snow peas, straw mushrooms, tiny scallops, shrimp, and enoki mushrooms for an interesting change of pace. Somehow, the surreal-time susupension of decapitated shrimp and mushrooms-imitating-sperm didn’t quite do it for me so I nibbled, er gobbled, up the kimchee.
Yahng-jahng-pee is sort of a Chinese version of an Italian antipasti platter, with cold meats, seafood and vegetables arranged on a large platter. Unlike the Italian antipasti vegetables which are marinated in olive oil and vinegar, the yahng-jahng-pee gets drizzled with a Chinese mustard. My chopsticks sail past the duck, jellyfish, roast pork and hundred year old eggs, and grab some of the shredded cucumbers before any of the mustard gets added. I can take Japanese green wasabi, but the Chinese yellow mustard sends flames through my nostrils clear to the top of my head. I don’t know how she does it, but my sister asks the lavender vest for an extra side of the mustard.
The rest of the dishes were uninteresting, and pretty much all tasted like they had they same sauce. A saute of shrimp, scallops and vegetables was basically the same as the soup, but served as an entree. There was a dish with all sorts of shellfish which actually looked like it could have violated the health code – the mussels were still furry. Baby bok choy is always a winner with me, even if they are simply steamed and salted, but these were bitter. Either the Dragon had overcooked them, or they had bad bok choy to begin with. Bad bok choy! Bad!
There was something like sahm-gyup-sahl, a cut of pork that is as fatty as bacon, but neither smoked nor salted. Sliced thin, it’s popular for Korean barbecue. The Dragon served a dish with fairly thick chunks of sahm-gyup-sahl braised in a sauce that turned the pork a deep dark almost beef-like color. Fibers of meat were few and far between soft expanses of flavorful fat. I could see the carnivorous gleam in my sister’s eye.
Beef with yellow chives is a recent family favorite, thanks to James. I think that’s the way he won the Captain over.
Had it been a group of friends grabbing a Chinese dinner together, or even my own little family getting together to celebrate a Holiday, I probably would have been far less interested in trying to keep myself busy with food. But it was, well, what it was, so I just kept my face buried in my plate, with an occasional soft *ha ha ha* for the Captain. So even despite all my *wah wah* about most of the dishes, I ate quite a bit.
Everyone else ate to a level 2 food coma as well, but somehow, we still had leftovers that no one wanted to take home. Mom held out the plastic bag with styrofoam boxes, urging me to take it. Me, her poor single daughter who probably either starves to death or eats cold cereal every night by herself in her huge, lonely apartment.