It turns out, this location used to be known as Chapman Market. It was built in 1929 in a Spanish revival style and was the first in the West to be designed with the automobile in mind.
Fast forward 85 years and Chapman Market is called Chapman Plaza and the 28 little marts are replaced by a booming restaurant and bar scene, including Kang Hodong Baekjeong. (Pronounced kahng hoh dahng beck jyuhng)
Kang Hodong is a former wrestler turned emcee turned comedian. He has a chain of restaurants in Korea and two in California. Baekjeong, I learned, means butcher. It makes sense because the restaurant cuts the prime beef and pork by hand for each order. This is meat that looks as pretty raw as it is tasty after its cooked.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Regulars at Baekjeong say they return and endure long waits because of the service. When you're lead to your table, you'll find a stove top grill in the center of the table. There's a partitioned well that encircles the charcoal grill. The server fills the wells with kimchi, raw egg, and an odd, unique to the US dish known as cheesy corn which is in fact just cheese and corn. The heat of the grill eventually warms the kimchi, steams the egg and melts the cheese.
Also on the table, the rest of the banchan or side dishes that traditionally accompany BBQ. Baekjoung serves fresh prepared salads, including one with bean sprouts and long slivers of green onions, dressed with a red chile paste. There's also a kimchi pancake, a sour but refreshing cold radish soup and a surprising wedge of squash, sweetened with syrup and dotted with nuts and raisins. Feel free to eat all you want, the server will check on your regularly and refill the bowls if desired.
Another popular accompaniment is the stews. There's a red, spicy kimchi stew with tofu, meat and clams. The bean stew is less vinegary than the kimchi stew but also rich with meat, tofu and spices. And, if you're wondering what the server is doing shaking a small box and pounding it against his hand. That's the dosirak or old style lunchbox. Apparently, this is what the kids get for lunch in Korea. The server will show you a beautifully arranged combination with rice, nori, fried egg, beans, kimchi and anchovies. The magic happens when he covers the box and shakes and pounds it until all those ingredients merge and mix into one tasty dish. Comfort food in a box.
Aaaah… but all these dishes are meant to compliment the main event. Time now to talk meat; gorgeously marbled prime short rib or a thick slice of rib eye, dotted with just a little sea salt. There's also pork but perhaps cuts you're not familiar. Jowls, collars and bellies, oh my!
Once you decide what you want, the server brings the plates over to the table and cooks the meat for you. If you've ever had the kind of BBQ where you cook you're own meat, this is far better. The server knows precisely how long to cook the meat, and then once the sizzling, gorgeous-ness is ready to eat, they'll cut bite sized pieces, then push them to the outer part of the grill to keep them warm but slow the cooking.
E*Star LA showed me the best way to eat this feast. http://www.estarla.com Take some of the greens and place on the bottom of the little silver bowl. Add a heaping, helping of the bean sprout salad. Take the meat off the grill and dip into one or both seasonings. There's salt in one bowl and a mixture of soy sauce, raw onion, jalapeño peppers, maybe mirin with just a schmear of wasabi. Then, try to get the perfect bite. First it might be meat, lettuce and bean sprouts. The next bite could be kimchi and meat with a slurp of the radish soup as a palate cleanser. Umai, umai.
OMT Be prepared to walk out of Baekjeong full and happy, but your clothes and hair will smell of smoke and grilled meat. But, really, that's a small price to pay, isn't it for that primal experience of enjoying lots of fire and meat!
3465 W. 6th St
Los Angeles 90020
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