For most of us, Korean food means meat grilled at your table. At Dae Sung Oak, though, some of the best dishes are boiled, and even the grilled meats offer surprises.
Korean sashimi, a dish introduced by owners Hye and Chul Oh, is a big platter gorgeously lined with beef slices cooked just enough to brown the edges lightly. You spoon wasabi or "Korean-style horseradish" (which appears to be grated daikon radish and red pepper paste) on a slice of beef, add red and white onion, sliced garlic, bell pepper, daikon sprouts and shredded sesame leaf, then roll this up and dip it in citrus-flavored soy sauce laced with as much wasabi as you dare.
For an extraordinary dinner, follow this with seafood shabu shabu. Wooden boxes specially made in Korea are lined with cabbage or bean sprouts, then loaded with up to eight kinds of seafood plus beef-wrapped asparagus spears, tofu, shiitake mushrooms and yam slices. The box is steamed over the heating unit at your table. You dip everything in citrus-soy sauce.
But that's not all. The juices from steaming are boiled with kimchi and rice to make a spicy soup. This soup is so appealing you may wish you'd been hungry enough to eat a larger helping, but any Dae Sung Oak dinner is a lot of food, because it includes close to a dozen side dishes (panchan).
Though filling, the food is light. Take Genghis Khan shabu shabu: paper-thin slices of beef rib-eye poached in anchovy and seaweed broth, along with three kinds of mushroom, the Korean green sukkat, green onion tops, celery, cabbage and shredded sesame leaf. A few slices of Japanese fish cake (kamaboko) are in the mix too.
To eat, you dip the poached ingredients in citrus-soy sauce. The broth becomes the base for another thick rice soup ("Korean risotto" would be a better name). For this one, the waitress adds egg, seaweed and sesame oil.
A Dish Fit for Royalty
Yet another lavish arrangement of vegetables comes with beef casserole. Despite its mundane name, this is a luxury dish that would be served in a royal household or on special occasions. A broad pot set over the grill heating unit displays chestnuts, Asian pear slices, hard-boiled egg wedges, vegetables and mushrooms. Beef slices are hidden underneath in the boiling broth, and a soy sauce dip sits in the center of the pot.
Noodle casserole, another boiling hot pot, also involves beef and vegetables. If you want it spicy, the waitress opens a wooden condiment box and adds chopped garlic, black pepper and red chiles to taste. The spaghetti-like noodles are made at the restaurant.
People were eating these hot dishes even during the August heat waves. But there is cold food too, such as North Korean mul naengmyon: fine buckwheat noodles, sweet-sour daikon slices, cucumber and hard-boiled egg in cool broth flavored with the brine of white kimchi. You season it at the table with rice vinegar and Korean mustard.
The noodles for two cold dishes, bibim naengmyon and hwol naengmyon, are made at the restaurant from buckwheat flour and sweet potato starch. Both include Asian pear, egg and cucumber, tossed together with red pepper paste (not as spicy as you'd think), but the former dish contains beef slices, the latter skate wing.
The Best Options for Barbecue
Yes, Dae Sung Oak has barbecue. But forget the kalbi and bulgogi, and try pork belly or beef deckle. The round pork belly slices are beautifully swirled with pink meat edged with white fat. (The fat crackles away as the meat cooks on the domed grill.) You dip it in sesame oil mixed with salt and pepper.
Roast beef deckle (the word refers to the outermost layer of meat and fat on a steak) is thin slices of brisket. Stir enough wasabi into the house blend of soy sauce and citrus juices, and you'll think you're eating roast beef with horseradish sauce.
Along with panchan, meals include barley tea (served over ice in hot weather) and end with fruit. The side dishes include red lettuce salad and an unusual, slightly sweet potato salad topped with finely chopped red bell pepper, green onions and hard-boiled egg--one more example of how well Asian cooks can prepare this American dish.
Dae Sung Oak Korean Restaurant, 2585 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 386-1600. Open 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily. Full bar. Valet parking. Major credit cards. Dinner for two, food only, $27 to $50.
What to Get: Special sliced beef roll with vegetable (Korean sashimi), seafood steam shabu shabu, special Genghis Khan shabu shabu, beef casserole, roast pork belly, roast beef deckle.