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Counter Intelligence By LINDA BURUM SPECIAL TO THE
TIMES

Things Are Sizzling at ChoSun Galbi Barbecue

January 17, 2002|LINDA BURUM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You'd never believe we're supposed to be in a recession from the buzz and bustle at ChoSun Galbi Korean barbecue. At 7:30 on a Tuesday evening, diners waiting for tables pack the palatial reception area. Cell phones chirp, private rooms bulge with parties, and in the garden-like, open-air dining area beyond the heavy glass doors, dozens of parties hover over the table-top grills, attending to expanses of sizzling meat.

This huge, new restaurant, the second ChoSun Galbi in Koreatown, opened early last October and is already a major player in a neighborhood where more than 450 Korean eateries are located. What's the secret of its success? "Location, location, location" comes to mind. ChoSun sits right across from the new, three-story Koreatown Galleria, an extravaganza of boutiques in the heart of Koreatown's swankiest district.

Of course, there's also the lure of the restaurant's dramatic decor. Jutting beams, thick glass panes and curving, sliced-bamboo walls generate a mood that's as much an attraction as the food.

ChoSun may bill itself as a barbecue, but really it's an all-purpose place with a comfort-food menu that's not particularly ambitious. Shrimp and croaker fish join the usual meats for grilling; the rest of the menu recites familiar stews, casseroles and noodle dishes. Even the most conservative diners will find little that's unfamiliar (except, perhaps, grilled beef intestines or raw chile-marinated crab). The truly adventurous won't encounter eel gonads or other such rarities that they can boast to their foodie friends that they've eaten.

My party of five assembled at a large table just off the reception area. Almost immediately, the waitress began to dole out an imposing assortment of small dishes--so many that they obscured the entire tabletop, apart from the grill. Each of us got several styles of kimchi and a salad, followed by an assortment of panchan, the dainty accompaniments to almost every Korean meal. There were seaweeds in multiple hues, assorted vegetable dishes and a bowl of long, green chile peppers coated in a scalding-looking red chile sauce that was as dazzling to look at as it was to bite into. Vivid shades of green, flame-red and chile-tinged white spread over the table, creating a nearly psychedelic effect.

Knowing we would eat family style, we chose three different items to grill. It soon became clear that on ChoSun's menu, "specially formulated soy sauce" describes a wide variety of marinades. On sliced pork (twaeji--here spelled daeji--bulgogi), it meant a peppery-sweet marinade; on the ribs (kalbi), it was garlic-laden soy sauce. Pulled from the grill still sizzling, both meats drew the most enthusiasm. Samgyop sal, an uncured pork bacon, was less impressive, even when sprinkled with its accompanying sauce, flavored with tiny, fresh chiles, and wrapped in swatches of lettuce.

Dol sot bibim bap, crusty-bottomed rice served in a heavy, iron casserole and topped with shredded beef, a rainbow of vegetables and a fried egg, was best when revved up with a large dose of sweetish-hot chile sauce, kochujang. Chogae-tang (here spelled jokae-tang), a brisk, clean-tasting broth filled with just-steamed clams, made an ideal contrast to our rich meats and all their garlic.

High turnover means ChoSun's foods are always exceptionally fresh, but also means regular lapses. One time, the tender rice pancake studded with seafood (hae mul pa jeon), a wonderful dish that's often an appetizer, didn't come till we'd eaten everything else. Still, the ke jang, a sort of crab ceviche, is spectacular here--if you love chiles and don't mind sucking meaty blue crab from its sauce-coated shell.

Some K-town regulars may know restaurants with more varied meats, more inspired marinades or more opulent side dishes, or where the grilling is done over real charcoal. They may favor some specialty house for hot tofu soup, pig's knuckle or blood sausage casserole.ChoSun's clientele probably knows of those places too. But here they are, across from the Koreatown Galleria, eating ChoSun's comforting foods.

ChoSun Galbi #2, 3330 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A. (323) 734-3330. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Full bar. Complimentary valet parking behind restaurant. All major cards. Dinner for two, food only $25 to $43.

What to Get: twaeji bulgogi, kalbi, dol sot bibim bap, hae mul pa jeon, ke jang.

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