Reviewing Restaurant Yeejoh has been a challenge. Why? Because I've developed a fixation on one dish, and that makes it difficult to move on through the absorbing menu of this Korean restaurant.
The dish in question is dae ji bul ko ki-- barbecued pork. It is different in flavor from Korean barbecued beef--more spicy, redder in color and less strong on soy sauce. If you've got the nerve, you can eat it the way Koreans do, rolled in cabbage leaves with cloves of raw garlic.
For a perfect meal, I'd have this with bin dae duk, pancakes that are soft inside, golden brown on the outside and as tempting as an American flapjack. The difference is, they're made from ground beans and contain bean sprouts and green onions.
Such a meal would take in a lot of food because it comes with rice, tea, soup, dessert and an assortment of relishes. These vary from day to day but usually include at least two forms of kimchi. There also might be fried tiny fish, marinated spinach, marinated bean sprouts, sliced fish cake, hotly seasoned carrots, chewy, syrup-coated beans or other tidbits.
Because it is summer, the restaurant has switched to cold soup and iced corn tea rather than hot. The soup the other day was mi yuk kook, a combination of clear broth and mi yuk, which is a leafy seaweed. Employed as a restorative for women who have given birth, this soup may follow the infants through life because it is also served on birthdays, a Korean told me.
Yeejoh is owned by Bo Ae Kim, a leading Korean film actress, and her husband, Jong Ho Kim. Although rather obscurely located in a shopping center at the far eastern fringe of Koreatown, it does not lack for customers. The room itself is rather plain, but gleaming wooden furniture from Korea, silken pillows in splashy colors and waitresses garbed in the hanbok, the traditional Korean dress, lift it from the ordinary. It is definitely not a smoke-filled room because the barbecuing is done in the kitchen, not at the table.
Once I asked a Korean friend to order lunch and gave up the barbecued pork to try a parade of sumptuous dishes. Oxtail stew-- kori kim-- was an enticing blend of meat with Asian red dates, pine nuts, white radish and carrots, all of this crowned with green onion tops and omelet shreds. Then came a platter of oysters, shrimp, fish and vegetables, each piece coated with egg and fried. The charm of this dish lies in its
simplicity and delicacy, but cooking it properly is not as easy as one might think, my friend observed.
Then we went to the other extreme with a gutsy kimchi casserole, using its fiery orange broth to season our rice. We also had cho gae tang, which, for my taste, is one of the world's great soups. The menu describes it as oyster broth, but what we had was wonderful peppery broth crammed with clams in the shell, soy bean sprouts and a leafy green named sukat. Then we munched on crisp, oiled, salted sheets of nori, wrapping these around rice or eating them plain.
Lunch ended with fruit and bowls of sweet rice punch. Pine nuts and a few rice grains floated in the sweet, ginger-flavored punch, which was cool and light after our strongly seasoned meal.
Returning another day, I automatically chose barbecued pork but added something new, kongae bokom. The menu's translation is crab with sauce and seasoning. This is accurate but hardly describes what came--a bowl piled high with crab legs drenched with thick and spicy sauce. The procedure is to extract the crab meat with chopsticks. If this is too difficult, one can pick up the legs and chew them. A third option is to place the body shells on a plate, spoon on rice, mix it with the sauce and enjoy the flavor without a struggle.
Yeejoh's prices are reasonable. Barbecued pork and barbecued beef are $11.50 each, which includes the accompaniments. The oyster broth-clam soup is $11.50; kongae bokom, the crab dish, is $15.50, and kori jim, the oxtail stew, is $13.95.
Restaurant Yeejoh, 2500 W . 8th St . , No. 108, Los Angeles; call (213) 380-3346 for reservations. Open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight. Closed Sunday. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Park in shopping center where restaurant is located or on the street.