I love Koreatown in the springtime…

Wherein I blog about all things Korean in Los Angeles

Grilled Toads July 30, 2007

Filed under: restaurants — Raven @ 1:47 pm
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Okay, I admit toads are probably not on everybody’s culinary must-try list. And no, Toad House does not actually serve toads, grilled or otherwise. It does serve KBBQ. It also apparently specializes in pork, particularly trotters (not barbecued).

We tried out Toad House on one of the hottest days of this summer so far, and apparently we were the only people foolish enough to go sit over a hot grill on such a hot day, because we were the only people there besides the owner/server. I have to say, though, the outdoor patio with a breeze and fans wasn’t so bad. I wasn’t uncomfortably hot during the meal. The only problem was the attack by a gang of flies after we had finished our meal and were chatting over the leftovers.

The main items that stand out in my mind from our visit to Toad House were the unmarinated kalbi, the LA-style kalbi, and of course the trotters. The unmarinated kalbi was very tender and tasty. The LA-style kalbi was new to me in the sense that I didn’t know what that meant when I ordered it, but it turned out to mean thick strips of marinated meat which were then cut up into bite-sized portions after they were grilled. It was quite tasty as well. And now we get to the trotters (pig’s feet). I’m not sure exactly how they were prepared, but they were served cold with a shrimp dipping sauce, and the texture was similar to that of roast heart. The fat was all on the outside, and there was a fair bit of it; I was of two minds about whether to eat it or stick to the trotter meat itself, but in the end I ate most of it. My waistline will probably be sorry later. The trotters were quite good.

We ordered two combos of about $60 and $45-50 dollars respectively (there were six of us). These included a bottle of beer or soju each, so we got one of each. I have to say, if getting drunk is your aim soju is a great choice, at about 20% alcohol. Since most of us were driving, we were careful.

After we finished the combos, I was still hungry,  so I persuaded the others to go for the LA-style kalbi, and I’m glad we had the chance to try it. As for being still hungry, hey, what can I say, I hadn’t eaten much all day.

Someone else had claimed Toad House offers service with a frown, but I thought the service was fine. Sure, the owner/server wasn’t a wreath of unnatural smiles, but she wasn’t mean and she took good care of us.

Toad House has a small lot (it was empty when we got there), and there’s also street parking. I think there’s an English sign, but I didn’t see it; I found the place based on the word 집 on the sign (naturally I didn’t know the word for toad) and the address.

Toad House
4503 Beverly Blvd
(two blocks east of Western, north side of street)
Los Angeles, CA 90004


Radio Star July 26, 2007

Filed under: movies & film — Raven @ 8:51 pm
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I really enjoyed this film, which I caught tonight at KCC. The basic setup is that in order to earn his bail money, a has-been rock star has to go DJ in a small town. The film is subtle and poignant, but also packs a lot of laughs. Seriously, I haven’t laughed out loud at a film that many times in a long while.

Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks this film is pretty decent, since it was featured at the 10th Shanghai International Film Festival (I don’t know if it won anything and I can’t seem to find out) and was one of Korea’s four entries at the 21st Fukuoka Asian Film Festival.

At the very beginning I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but of course you never know at the beginning of a film. Few films get a 100% endorsement from me, but this one is close. So if you have a chance to catch it, do so!

Note to the ajooma in the back row: Please do not answer your cell phone during the movie. But if you absolutely must answer it, please don’t ask the caller to call you right back so you have to disturb us by answering it again! Thanks.

Also, someone (presumably someone from KCC) was taking pictures of the audience during the movie. I’m very curious to know what these are going to be used for (and also curious to know if they came out in the dark theater), so if anyone from KCC happens to drop by here, please let me know.


Putting the Soot back in KBBQ July 24, 2007

Here’s the caveat: It’s been a while since my visit to Soot Bul Gui Rim. In fact, I went there for Easter this year. Seems appropriate, right? After Lent, which is supposed to be meatless, you go out and gorge on KBBQ? I can’t think of anything better.

Oh, here’s the second caveat: I stole the pic from Bon V. at My Culinary Adventures, who was one of the people with me for this Easter meal. Check out her blog entry on Soot Bul Gui Rim here.

Soot Bul Gui Rim uses a charcoal grill (actually it’s been hinted to me that it might be a hybrid charcoal/gas, but it looked and smelled like charcoal to me, and my clothes and hair certainly smelled like charcoal after we were done eating). My previous experience with a charcoal grill had been at Cham Sut Gol, where the grill sits down in an indentation in the table, has a semi-closed rack, and there’s less smoke. This grill was on the tabletop and had an open rack and there was plenty of smoke. In fact, the grill didn’t seem too eager to cooperate with us at first, so our first course got a bit charred. But eventually the grill realized we were in it to win it, so it settled down and we ended up with some nicely grilled meat.

Soot Bul Gui Rim has a varied selection of meats, including beef heart and beef tongue (which we ordered) as well as chicken (which we didn’t order). Yes, we ordered the heart and tongue and skipped the chicken; we’re no lightweights here. I grew up eating heart and tongue as often as my Pennsylvania German dad could persuade my mom to cook them, and now I tend to order them whenever they’re on the menu. The heart here was probably my fave of the meats we ordered, very tender. But the tongue was good, too. Oh, we ordered the usual kalbi and bulgogi as well, at least I think we did; I was concentrating more on the unusual.

The ambiance is okay. You’re there for the all-you-can-eat BBQ, which weighs in at about $15 per person. I found parking in the lot right outside, where every space was marked “45 minute parking” and everybody (including me) was parking for longer than 45 minutes. I was pleased because I located the place from the Korean sign, which I’ve been doing more often. Our waiter, who appeared to be Hispanic but wrote down our order in Korean (interesting detail there), was a little tough to flag down, but we managed. You don’t get the pricey experience we got at Cham Sut Gol, but you don’t pay the price either, and I liked the selection of meat better. Given a choice of the two, I’d pick Soot Bul Gui Rim.

Soot Bul Gui Rim
233 S. Vermont Ave.
(just north of Third)
Los Angeles, CA 90020


Spotlight on K-town July 22, 2007

Filed under: Koreatown & K-town events and shopping — Raven @ 11:28 pm
Tags: ,

Check out a very interesting and detailed article on Koreatown here.

A couple of notes: the author’s fave restaurant is called Cham Sut Gol, and I blogged about it earlier (link). And I’m amused by the idea (mentioned in a comment on the article) that you can get “California-style” KBBQ in Seoul and it’s based on the KBBQ found in our very own K-town. Is that true?

Here’s a pic to whet your appetite (for the article, not for KBBQ). This pic shows why letting me drive in K-town is a bad idea: There are too many Korean signs to read, and I still read Korean slowly, so I tend to be staring at the signs when I should be staring at the road.


A Love to Kill: The Verdict

a-love-to-kill-2.jpgA Love to Kill is one of those kdramas where you get caught up in the story and while you’re watching it it works, but after it’s over and you’ve had time to think about it you realize that, um, it shouldn’t have worked.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still one of the few kdramas I’d consider buying instead of renting… And yeah, for some reason the huge long post I wrote got cut off here when I tried to post it, don’t ask me why. Thanks, WordPress. Maybe I’ll come back and try to recreate it later. Meanwhile here’s the short version: Rain did a great job, the love story needed a believability boost in the final 6 eps or so, and I loved the soundtrack. Click here for my fave song, 이 죽일 놈의 사랑 by Lee Soo Young.

Oh, and Shin Min Ah, the female lead, also stars in The Devil, a kdrama from this spring that I’m eagerly awaiting on DVD. Also in The Devil we’ve got the hot Uhm Tae Woong (in my age range, always a plus) and Joo Ji Hoon, the male lead from Goong. If they’re as good as they’ve been in the past, it should be worth the wait.

I guess I don’t need to come back and try to recreate this post after all. The short version works.

P.S. My post about Rain’s concert in LA is still generating hits, presumably for the hot pic. I still can’t get over the fact that they wouldn’t let him go onstage and say hi to his fans even if he wasn’t going to be allowed to sing.


The “Not Pinkberry” Phenomenon July 19, 2007

I don’t like fads. I never have, to the point where I refused to see Titanic because EVERYBODY was seeing it (I still haven’t seen it). But I admit I’m a little bit curious about Pinkberry, “the name that launched a thousand parking tickets,” as they say in their ads (or at least in the ads they show at the Grove before the movie starts). I can live without the parking tickets, though.

I did walk into a Pinkberry once with the intention of trying it. But I looked at the line and the price and left again. However, I’m told Pinkberry offers the same delicious vaguely sour Korean-style frozen yogurt I’m familiar with. Except that, since it’s a fad, it’s more expensive and there’s less variety than you’d find in, say, your average frozen yogurt shop in Koreatown.

Because there are a lot of those shops. And they don’t all have knock-off names like Roseberry, either. I went to a good one, the name of which I do not know, located at Vermont & 7th (northeast corner, in the strip mall). There’s another one on the southwest corner (also in a strip mall). In fact, they’re everywhere. I don’t know if it’s because they’re all cashing in on the Pinkberry phenomenon or whether they all existed before Pinkberry came along, but I guess my point is you can get the same stuff (or better) for cheaper, with more variety and a shorter line, all over K-town.

And, fads being evil by their very nature, why wouldn’t we all go for that?


J’Aimerais y aller Tous les Jours July 17, 2007

Filed under: bakeries, cafes, & fro-yo — Raven @ 1:34 pm
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I have a thing for bakeries. Maybe part of the problem is I just love carbs too much (noodles, anyone? how about rice?). But I also love the smell of baking pies, cakes, all those delicious things that are baked at bakeries. So even though I might walk into a bakery with the best of intentions, I rarely walk out empty-handed.

When I paid a visit to the Korean French bakery Tous Les Jours (뚜레쥬르) I honestly tried. I exerted all my willpower, but I just didn’t have quite enough. I still found myself walking out with two pastries. One was a tart type thing filled with jam and heavy cream (yum) and the other was a twist pastry with some kind of banana cream crumbs on the outside (it works, trust me on this). The fact that I paid a total of $2.50 for both of them might have something to do with my deciding it was okay to indulge. I don’t know what the fat content was, and I probably don’t want to know.

I was initially expecting the filled pastry to be cake-like, which I think it would have been if it were produced by an American bakery. But we’re talking Korean French here, so it was more bread-like. After the initial surprise, I actually preferred the bread-like consistency because it meant the pastry wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet. Some baked goods can be so sweet they become cloying after the first few bites. I don’t recall the consistency of the twist pastry (I devoured them both shortly after I got home since, you know, they might not be as good the second day), but the crumbs on the outside were delicious. And again, not overpoweringly sweet.

Tous Les Jours also offers beautifully decorated cakes and has just added frozen yogurt to their repertoire.

Now, how does Tous Les Jours stack up against my other fave Korean French bakery, Paris Baguette? The answer is that it’s hard to answer that. You can’t really compare unless you sample the same items both places, and I didn’t. Tous Les Jours wasn’t as crowded, but they both offer beautiful cakes and a variety of pastries. Price-wise they were about comparable, I think: both very reasonable. Tous Les Jours offers frozen yogurt and frozen pops, which Paris Baguette doesn’t, but on the other hand at Tous Les Jours I didn’t spot the hot sandwiches and other hot savory pastries that Paris Baguette sells. I think Paris Baguette has a more streamlined sales procedure (you grab a box, fill it with the pastries you want, and at the register they just put the top on, whereas at Tous Les Jours you use a basket and at the register they wrap each pastry individually for you, which takes longer). But it’s possible that Tous Les Jours’ method will keep the pastries fresh longer, since each pastry ends up in its own plastic packet.

Tous Les Jours
2736 W. Olympic Blvd
(about 1 block west of Vermont)
Los Angeles, CA 90006


Move over, Gamja Bawi July 16, 2007

I’ll be the first to admit that bibimbap without hot sauce can potentially be kind of bland. However, since I don’t eat spicy food (yes, yes, and I’m a kblogger, what can I say?), I always eat my bibimbap without hot sauce. The advantage to doing this is that you get a better chance to taste the various flavors of the vegetables and meat and that delicious crispy rice from the bottom of the stone pot (I have yet to try non-dolsot bibimbap, the kind out of a stone pot).

So yesterday we moseyed (well, okay, we drove) over to Jeon Ju, which is located on Olympic near Vermont. I initially drove into the wrong parking lot, where I chatted up a security guard (or tried to, although his English was about as good as my Korean, i.e. rudimentary) who tried to point me toward Hodori. But I finally gave up and found Jeon Ju on my own (it was in the next shopping center over). It’s a moderate-sized restaurant, nothing fancy, but you don’t go there for the ambiance. You go for the bibimbap!

Both of us ordered the kalbi dolsot bibimbap, and we also ordered a smoked fish of some sort, I forget what it was exactly. We had a hard time getting across to the server that we wanted two orders of the bibimbap in addition to the fish. I totally could’ve explained it in broken Korean, but I chickened out. Why am I so shy about this language stuff? Maybe I need to have a couple drinks to loosen up my tongue before I walk into a Korean locale. That might take care of the problem.

Anyway, back to the bibimbap. It was huge and had the works: bean sprouts, kimchee, egg on top, mushrooms, I think some other veggies, and of course the kalbi (beef), which had a delicious kind of smoky, meaty flavor (don’t anyone dare say, “duh, it’s meat”) but didn’t overpower the rest of the dish at all. I was initially a little wary of the kimchee since, as mentioned above, I don’t do spicy, but it had been cooked, so it was mild. I thought there was more meat than we got at Gamja Bawi (that’s the bibimbap place in the Koreatown Plaza food court), plus nobody tried to make us order what they thought non-Koreans should order! Always a plus! (I blogged about my Gamja Bawi experience here.)

The panchan were okay. There was some delicious silky tofu and some yummy kimchee pancakes (slightly spicy, but tolerable). Pretty much everything else was so red with spices that I figured I’d better avoid it. We also got radish soup and kelp soup. I had been craving kelp soup, so I was happy. The reason I was craving it is because it was mentioned in A Love to Kill, and that put the thought of it in my mind. It seems to come up fairly often in kdramas, maybe because it’s traditional for birthdays and birthdays come up fairly often in kdramas. So they talked about it, and I thought, Hmm, it would be nice to have some.

I didn’t try the fish that we ordered, for two reasons: (1) There was too much bibimbap (I was actually full for the rest of the day) and (2) I didn’t feel like wrestling with the bones. But I’m told it was tasty. However, if you object to having your fish arrive at your table with the head still attached, you probably don’t want to order this.

I would go back to Jeon Ju for their bibimbap and maybe to try some of the many chigae listed on their menu.

P.S. In terms of variety Gamja Bawi still comes out ahead.

Jeon Ju
2716 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles , CA 90006
(213) 383-4133


Rainy weekend in LA July 14, 2007

Filed under: kdramas — Raven @ 10:46 pm
Tags: ,

Okay, I’ve figured out why Jeong Ji Hoon calls himself Rain. Because it’s just so much fun to make puns on the name! I mean, why else could it be? Now my alias, Raven, doesn’t lend itself to puns so well. The only thing I’ve been able to come up with so far, raven lunatic, is neither flattering nor spelled correctly. But I digress.

This weekend we (and by we I mean I) are watching A Love to Kill, which stars Bi/Rain. This is the first time I’ve seen him in anything. There are some minor difficulties with the DVD version I’m watching, namely that the subs are REALLY bad (Tiger Cinema said they were average quality, but I’d say they’re poor quality) and in some of the eps the picture is on a two- or three-second delay, so you get the sound before you see the actors’ lips move, or whatever. But neither of those problems are the fault of the series.

This series is darker and also more mixed up chronologically than some I’ve watched. Granted, kdramas do tend to go dark at times, but so far I haven’t come across any other protagonists as dark as this one. Maybe that’s because I’ve mostly watched relatively lighthearted romantic dramas. In terms of chronology, I’m used to flashbacks, but this drama does some weird things with time, especially at the end of the first few episodes, and the flashbacks it uses are extensive. I think it’s working, though. I’m kind of enjoying the weird chronology and the darkness of it all. What can I say, the protag is a tortured soul. Those are the best kind.

Maybe I’m also enjoying taking a break from being lighthearted. And it helps that the protag has a strong external goal that drives the story. That’s a refreshing departure from some of the kdramas I’ve seen where there’s not really anything propelling the story.

I haven’t finished it yet, so we’ll see what I think after I find out how it ends.


Coming home July 12, 2007

Filed under: movies & film — Raven @ 4:59 pm
Tags: ,

One of the fun things about living in relatively close proximity to the Korean Cultural Center of Los Angeles (see link to the right) is that I can skip over there for their free movies on occasion.

Today’s movie, shown for some odd reason at 3pm, was The Way Home (집으로*). If you’re looking for something blatant where evil characters learn the error of their ways and make amends in very obvious ways, this isn’t it. It was all very understated and sweet. Since the grandmother (the second most important character in the story) is mute, a lot of the film takes place without dialogue**, which I think makes it a more powerful film. I’ve noticed before that Korean filmmakers in general seem to be better at pure cinema than American filmmakers. Film being a visual medium, I say more power to the folks who can give us in a facial expression what others would take a whole conversation to express.

Anyway, The Way Home gets a recommend from me. My only complaint, which has nothing to do with the film, is that the audience at KCC always seems to leave their cell phones on, and naturally these cell phones ring throughout the film. Turn ’em off, folks. It ain’t that difficult. Maybe it’s a Korean cultural thing?

*Someday I will learn to type Korean at a reasonable speed.

**Why on earth is the spell checker trying to tell me I spelled “dialogue” wrong? Hello, that’s how it’s spelled. I’ll have none of these “dialog” innovations.