K-Town: Korean Soul Food

Posted on August 14, 2009 in Food

Korean BBQMy attorney had that certain panic in his voice. He advised that I drive across town immediately. I know that tone; and I know to always take it seriously. He has taken me through a series of tests—over the past year—examinations which one must pass in order to get to the next level. His approach, methodical; his patience, unparalleled.

This is Korean soul-food. My mentor, Rob-san.

My journey commenced at Ham Ji Park, on sixth, where they’re expert in pork neck soup and swine ribs to tear one’s eyes. Secret: the Oaxaqueños and Poblanos in the kitchen impart the slightest hint of home, making it more unique, still. After passing the first test, it was on to Nam Dae Moon, where fish is king; I had made the mistake of going there alone, without my guide, which resulted in missed opportunities. The third level—Soot Bull Jeep, where smoke-filled air warms your heart; cooking on wood, in a closed-room. Can’t get much better.

Enter, Gui Rim, the fourth and final level—which is not to infer the “best,” by any means. There is no hierarchal order, at all, no 100-point BBQ, or additional absurdities. When I asked my teacher what his favorite was, he looked at me repulsed and desperately alarmed, “What’s your favorite wine?” he hissed. How can a civilized person be asked to choose a favorite child?

Between Jim Harrison, the singular American writer I look to more than any other, and Rob, from whom I’ve learned more than I deserve, I have been thinking a great deal about wines, and how our moods affect our consumption. Or, as Rob puts it, what hat you’re wearing at the time—whether it’s sparkling, white, rosé, red or otherwise. In a proper night, one tastes all five. At Gui Rim, one drinks Hite beer and Soju; anything else would be perverse—though I have, on occasion, thought about Chinon, Cahors and about sixty-or-so different bottlings from Ridge.

To find these places, dripping with authenticity and goodness, one must drive—unless you’re fortunate enough to live in proximity—accept no cheap imitations. As Angelinos, we are blessed with the most genuine collection of Asian cuisine outside of Asia—take advantage of it.

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