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Rolling Out the Dough

Dumplings come in many inviting varieties at All Family Restaurant

July 18, 2002|BARBARA HANSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The greatest challenge in eating at All Family Restaurant may be finding it. If you can read Korean, no problem. You go to a mall on Crenshaw Boulevard just south of Olympic Boulevard and look for the shop with a red sign. The name does appear in English on the door, but it's too small to be seen from the parking lot.

Then you can relax, because there's no language problem inside this plain little restaurant. The menu is written in Korean, but the waitress quickly brings a table card with clear-cut English translations like "steamed dumplings" or "fried dumplings." This is important, because dumplings (mandu) are the lead dish here. There are miniature dumplings, giant dumplings and in-between-sized dumplings; dumplings in soup and dumplings in stew; even sacks of dumplings to take out.

The steamed dumplings, brought to the table on a steamer inset lined with white cloth, are tender. The fried dumplings are light, crisp and not a bit greasy. Both are filled with pork, beef, garlic and green onion and accompanied by a soy dipping sauce. Hat-shaped steamed dumplings that contain kimchi as well as meat (kimchi mandu) don't appear on the English menu but are worth asking for. They come in shi nu nim soup or on a platter with slivered daikon in the center.

All Family Restaurant deals in dough, you could say. In addition to dumplings, it has noodles and flat oval rice cakes. You can even have dumplings and rice cakes together, in a hearty bowl of broth with scrambled egg, spinach and green onions. This dish is lighter than you might expect. It isn't spicy either, though Koreans have a reputation for lacing food with hot pepper. (A pot of kimchi on the table serves that purpose here.)

In South Korea, college kids snack on a chewy rice cake called unbi. Women taking a break from shopping also eat unbi (spelled "eun bees" on the English menu). This extraordinary dish is a gaudy red (the color of the sauce) and a little spicy, as well as sweet. These rice cakes are tubular, and they're combined with triangles of delicately flavored fish cake.

Most of the noodles are hand-cut, with a good, chewy bite to them. Slim potato starch noodles are also chewy. To put it in Italian terms, all the noodles are al dente.

A friend who doesn't eat meat ordered hand-cut noodles in anchovy broth. Surprise: The broth was subtle, not based on strong-tasting Caesar salad-type anchovies. Other noodle soups include beef, chicken or kimchi.

Cold bean soup noodles are as plain as can be, spruced up only with a pinch of sesame seeds. The creamy broth is based on soy milk, not dairy cream. This old-time dish is so bland you may want to add salt or soy sauce.

Sobang nim (hand-cut noodles in hot anchovy broth with seafood) has shrimp, crab, clams, mussels and fish cake as well as strips of zucchini, potatoes and eggs. The pretty slice of fish cake is notched at the edges. A pink line swirls through the center.

Tchol myon is a beautiful cold dish combining firm, narrow potato starch noodles with a sweet, spicy red sauce, like the one on the rice cakes. At first you don't see the noodles, because they're at the bottom of a bowl, covered with a mound of finely shredded green and red cabbage. A few strands of cucumber and carrot add color, and a hard-boiled egg half sits on top. To make it easier to eat, the waitress clips through the cabbage with scissors. The English menu doesn't mention this dish, but many Koreans order it.

All Family serves a few dishes apart from noodles and dumplings. The spicy red sauce for stir-fried squid with vegetables has a subtle grilled flavor. On one side is cabbage topped with sweet, pale pink, creamy dressing, like a Korean Thousand Island. A small bowl of white rice also accompanies this dish. The menu lists pork cutlet, and a Korean friend who could read the names of dishes posted on the wall, says there is bulgogi (barbecued beef) too.

A frosty pitcher of cold barley tea comes with whatever you order. Pale gold and almost as light in flavor as water, it's a nice alternative to regular iced tea and pairs well with these assertive dishes.

All Family Restaurant, #B, 1032 Crenshaw Blvd., L.A. (323) 935-2724. Lunch and dinner from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. No alcohol. Parking lot. Visa and MasterCard. Dinner for two, $12 to $20.

* What to get: steamed or fried dumplings, kimchi dumplings, rice cake dumpling soup, hand-cut noodles in broth, sobang nim, unbi (eun bees), tchol myon.

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