I knew that at some point – despite my broad, flat mongoloid forehead, cosmetically enhanced features and pale, pasty yellow-tinged complexion, despite my perfectly practiced pronunciation when I recite from memory the few phrases I know in the language, despite gross accessorization of nearly every meal with some condiment form of firrhea-inducing heat, despite every supercutaneous thing about me that gives off the impression that I might be Korean – at some point, it would be revealed that I am indeed, not really Korean.
Because no person worth half her weight in galbee could rightfully claim to be Korean and go to Shik Do Rak for dduk bo ssam for the first time at the ripe old age of noneofyourbusiness.
I didn’t know what dduk bo ssam was until we headed toward the restaurant and my brother-in-law gushed about the paper-thin slices of dduk used to wrap grilled meat and vegetables. The concept of wrapping is not foreign to me. I have been grilling galbee, bulgogi, and other Korean marinated meats and naturally wrapping them with an obscene smear of red pepper sauce in leaves of lettuce since forever ago. I even have vague memories of reading about dduk bo ssam in reviews from, not surprisingly, J Gold, but I had never eaten it.
Shameful. I should be spanked with metal studded chopsticks dipped in fermented soybean paste.
Shik Do Rak is not a new restaurant, but because it sits on the eastern edge of Koreatown, it’s pretty obvious why I’ve never been there. I can hardly bring myself to do the dirty crawl up Western Avenue, let alone thrash my way through a traffic jungle to what may as well be downtown LA. Luckily, my brother-in-law was driving.
The only real sign that you've walked in the front door of Shik Do Rak and not mistakenly slinked through the cluttered back alley entrance is the surly host who snaps greasy menus from the counter and motions to you to follow after you've indicated how many people in your party. The interior is a typically atypical Korean interpretation of a restaurant with faux natural accents on the walls, I swear there was a waterfall, and oddly bright halogen-like lighting that gives every table a surreal stage effect. We go to what feels like an outdoor patio except that it's almost completely enclosed and looks down into a second dining room. We distribute ourselves around a round table in the corner. I get to face a table that runs almost the entire length of the room down the center with a motley group of diners. With couples, hipsters, babies, and at least four different ethnicities, I am guessing it was a grad school graduation dinner. They were really loud.
With two very pregnant women in our party, my sister and our friend Kathy, I didn't even bother to look at the menu. Jimmy did the ordering for the table. Sarah, did you want dae-jee bulgogi (spicy pork bbq)? That's nice. *smile* We're getting cha-dol-bae-gi and galbee!
Before the BBQ orders come to the table, everyone gets the usual bahn-chan (small side dishes) to share and individuals salads, which is a more recent development in Korean cuisine. I don't ever remember Korean restaurants serving the shredded greens and julienned green onions tossed with a spicy Korean-ized vinaigrette when I was younger, but I do recall some early semi-homemade version that Mom made - regular "American" salad greens tossed with her dressing made from bottled Italian dressing mixed with soy sauce and goh-choo-gah-roo (red pepper flakes). Apparently, Mom was genius ahead of her time.
Servers bring a platter to the table, piled high with an assortment of vegetables -- sliced white onion and mushrooms -- and frozen raw meat that is curled into rolls presumably from being freshly shaved into thin slices. We started with thinly sliced beef, cha-dol-bae-gi. Using the familiar stainless steel industrial tongs, the server tosses the meat onto the heated grill in the center of the table in one graceful motion, never blinking or hesitating because he's done this a thousand times, probably in one night.
Quite honestly, I have never, in my life, understood the appeal of cooking at the table. I was never impressed with chefs of suspicious Asian ethnicity in tall French chefs' hats histrionically banging salt shakers, juggling sharp objects, and catching shrimp tails, what normal people would toss into the garbage bowl (oh god, someone kill me for that RachaelRayism), in their breast pockets. Neither am I affected by the novelty of grilling food at the table in a Korean restaurant. Do we grill it ourselves? If we do, then why the hell did we go out to eat in a restaurant if we have to cook it?!?! For me, service is the point of eating out. However, the server looks mildly irritated by our novice grilling when she sternly snatches up the tongs and absent-mindedly flips a few pieces of meat before running off at the behest of the next table full of red-faced old men in golf gear. It's annoying and mildly confusing. Of course, I never use this argument when enjoying shabu shabu.
Cha-dol-bae-gi is thinly sliced beef like bulgogi, but without the marinade. Each person can season it to his or her own taste at the table with "condiments" that come to the table. Each person's tiny tray bears the sign of kBBQ, burn marks from being shoved too close to the grill on a table crowded with other small plastic dishes. There are two: salt and pepper in sesame oil or a Korean version of salsa that is a spicy concoction of sambal and other ingredients that's popular nowadays but not in the days of my yute (wow, that makes me sound so old). Only rookies, like myself eat the meat straight off the grill. Professionals, like Jimmy "I Can Do This With One Hand" Jun, :) do what gives Shik Do Rak its very existence - wrap a piece of grilled meat in a single thin, square dduk wrappers along with whatever else you think your mouth can politely manage, including, but not limited to, steamed rice ("bahp"), any of still remaining bahnchan, sahm-jjang (spicy fermented soy bean paste that smells as good as you think fermented soybeans would smell, but tastes infinitely better), salad, grilled vegetables, and if you're a real man, raw garlic and sliced jalapenos.
Wrapping with the dduk is a bit of an art, and a little different from wrapping with the lettuce leaf, which absolutely requires some actual hand touchage. If you're an expert, you can wrap with dduk bo ssam by collecting everything into a neat little pile on your plate, then enveloping everything with the wrapper with your chopsticks. I can do it. For though this was my virgin voyage on the dduk bo ssam cruise around the grill, that's just how superexpertastic I am with chopsticks. I did it only once though, because I don't really like eating everything wrapped up in the dduk.
*dduks for cover** (Oh god, did I? Did I just blog that? I did. Gross.)
Yes, I know. First, I've never eaten dduk bo ssam, and now I don't even like it? What the hell kind of Korean am I?
I'll tell you what kind.
The nastiest, trashiest, dirtiest, filthiest spicewhore of delicious Korean possible.
I passed on most of the cha-dol-bae-gi and instead snapped as many pieces of the thicker, fattier galbee meat from the grill as I could with my lightning, Karate Kid dexterity on chopsticks. I topped each piece with a clove of raw garlic and sliced jalapeno, smothered it in the "ksalsa" before wrapping it up, not in the dduk, but in a slice of kimchee. Like the girly man that I am, I swallowed the entire filthy, fiery fermented thing, as obscenely dripacious with glistening grill grease and faintly bloody meat juices, whole. I had to ask for refills on the ksalsa at least three times, and that was only after I had shot my way through everyone else's condiment trays at the table.
Boneless and bite-sized galbee grilled at the table is great for the unholy condiment crimes I committed on it, but it seems to miss the point. Galbee is shortribs, and the only real reason I ever order it is to hold it in my bare hands and tear the flesh away from the bones with my teeth like a savage. We made an order of the regular galbee cooked in the kitchen, but even still, it irritates me when galbee is made "convenient" w
ith the cross-cut shortribs - pieces that have two or three tiny bone cross-sections across the "top." I love, and miss, the old school galbee that's prepared from the bones that are left intact. The meat is always slightly more raw closer to the bone, and I love ripping the bloody, fibrous mess away along with the chewy periosteum. Yes, you heard me. Periosteum. I'm not the Captain's daughter for nothing.
My sister and brother-in-law love sam-gyup-sal, thinly sliced meat that is so extremely fatty that it's basically a microscopic shard of actual protein between wide ribbons of translucence. It curls up on the grill like bacon does, and as much as I love fat and bacon, I get mildly grossed out by sam-gyup sal. I'm sure the industrial amount of acid detox kimchee I eat with any BBQ meal more than compensates for the fat in sam-gyup-sal, but still. I'm just weird that way.
For some reason, Korean people get their chopsticks all tangled up over noo-roong-jee. I suspect that normal people would chisel the burnt, crusted residue away from the bottom of the rice pot and toss it into the garbage bowl (oh God! there she is again!) as the last step before letting the pot soak in nuclear solvent to clean it. Korean people pour boiling water into the rice pot, let it steep, and then eat the "soup" as one of the final courses in a meal. It's almost like shik-hae, the sweet, lightly spiced rice punch served as dessert. Both are a dingy gray colored liquid with pieces of cooked rice floating in it that looks like nothing but the dirty dishwater that remains after cleaning a rice cooker. It makes me shudder.
But hey, if you like the stuff, more power to you!
I prefer ending my meal with a few brothy sips of jjigae that comes to the table still boiling in its tiny cauldron. Shik Do Rak serves daen-jahng jji-gae, a spicy fermented soybean paste-based broth that is slightly less viscous than lava, but no less volcanically hot. Every sip melts a hole straight through to the base of your nasal cavity through the roof of your mouth, and subsequently sends your chest into a series of intermittent implosions as the molten magma makes it peristaltic way down your esophagus.
Sure beats apple pie a la mode for dessert, doesn't it?
Shik Do Rak
2501 W Olympic Blvd (@Hoover)
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Who Else Perpetrated Korean at Shik Do Rak?
~ Video of an ah-juh-shee fight breaking out at Shik Do Rak
~ 18 ratings on Citysearch average to 4½ stars
~ 46 Yelpers give Shik Do Rak 4 stars
~ Rice Wraparoni, the Shik Do Rak Treat, LA Ritz (May 2006)
~ Show Me Some Skin: Shik Do Rak, Daily Gluttony (May 2007)
~ Shik Do Rak, Koreatown LA, EatDrinkNBMerry (May 2007)
~ Grill You Know it's True, Passionate Eater (May 2007)
~ Shik Do Rak Korean BBQ #267, Low End Theory (Oct 2004)
~ Shik Do Rak, Grub Club (Jul 2004)
** a year ago today, coldstone vs. diddy riese was mortal (frozen) kombat **
** two years ago today, i got all paula deen on southern fried eggs benny and ate korean food after doing a dr. 90210 to my face **