Check this out. A good friend of mine was lucky enough to get a six week PAID sabbatical from her company. "What did she do with her spare time?" you ask. Take a couple guesses. Did she go to Peru to climb Macchu Picchu? No, wrong. Did she go backpacking through Europe? No, wrong again. Take another guess. Can't think of anything? Allright I'll tell you.
She spent a week hanging out in Torrance.
You heard me. A week in Torrance. At the place of a mutual friend who wasn't in town for the week. Without transportation. Lounging around in our friend's apartment. To "get away." Get away???
OK, so in her defense, she did take a couple of other short trips here and there. But on a six week PAID vacation??? I'm sorry, I'd do way more than a couple of short trips and a week in Torrance.
But whatever, to each her own, right? Because I'm a nice friend and because I've never really taken the opportunity to explore the Asian food goldmine of Torrance and Gardena, I agreed to play Food Cabbie to my friend for a couple days.
The first night I took her to Shilla Korean Restaurant in Gardena. Maybe it would at least make her feel like she took a trip to Korea. Ha ha...NOT! Anyways, the first night that I drove out to the South Bay, I was dead tired so although I'd just had Korean food for lunch at Seoul Cafe in Glendale, I didn't feel like exploring or experimenting with anything new, and went for something I knew, something convenient and reliable.
And that's exactly what Shilla is. I can say with absolute confidence that there's nothing wrong with this place. Parking's easy. The service is a little abrupt, yet still very friendly. The place is spacious, well lit and clean. There's hardly ever a wait (at least not when I've been there). The food is good. Perfect for my first night of Foodie Cabbie duty.
Shilla specializes in Korean BBQ, so we couldn't do without an order of meat, and as the weather is getting chilly, maybe an order of kimchee jiigae would do us good? We placed our order--one plate of rib eye for BBQ and a kimchi jiigae--with our waitress (who looked like every one of my Korean friends' moms BTW) who proceeded to tell us that since we're only ordering one meat, they cook it in the back. Maybe OK at any other place, but at Shilla, there's an after meal treat that you only get on the table grill. So we traded the kimchi jiigae in for an order of daeji bulgogi (spicy marinated pork). A guy came by an two seconds to turn our brass plated grill over and start the fire. Cool.
Oftentimes I like the panchan part of a Korean meal more than I like the main dishes, and since Shilla doesn't skimp on theirs, they earn brownie points in my book. A couple quick minutes after ordering and our table's surface was nearly filled to capacity with panchan, and the meat hadn't even arrived yet! On the inventory: Spicy, crunchy baechu (napa cabbage) and oi (cucumber) kimchi, seasoned ovals of fish cake, seaweed salad, pickled daikon and carrots, seasoned beansprouts, garlic and sesame seasoned broccoli, mayonaissey Korean style potato salad, a plate of pa jeon (scallion pancakes), a big bowl of green salad with Shilla's signature tangy & spicy sesame dressing, and bowls of comforting bean sprout and daikon soup.
When it comes to panchan, these people don't play
More panchan...this time pa jeon
Maybe it's because I look utterly clueless, but I usually end up getting "help" at Korean BBQ restaurants when it comes to grilling. Not that I ask for it. I'd like to think that as someone who's better than average at cooking, that I can certainly handle turning some meat, but the servers I've run into don't seem to think so. And those at Shilla are no exception. Our waitress dropped off a plate of well-marbled rib eye and well seasoned daeji bulgogi, poured a brothy liquid into our grill gutter and walked away for a second, but did a double take and came back. Grabbing the tongs from the table before my friend and I even had a chance to organize ourselves, she placed the rib eye on the grill for us. We kept a close eye on our meat while it seared and browned, and obviously, they were too because a couple short minutes later another server came and checked on us, refilling the grill gutter with the brothy liquid that had evaporated since the last pour. Surprisingly enough, my friend and I managed to take the cooked rib eye off the grill and replace the empty grill with the remaining meat ourselves, but don't trip, our servers had our backs the entire time, pouring and checking, pouring and checking. At one point, our waitress came by to pick up the empty dishes on the table, noticed a small sliver of rib eye still stuck to the plate, and consequetly pointed it out and had me pick it up and put it on the grill. Shame on us for wasting (even a little piece of) food!
Rib eye with a brothy "moat"
Expectedly, our rib eye wasn't marinated much to begin with which was fine with us as it cooked up juicy and tender, letting the smoky flavor of the beef come through. Our thin yet substantial slices of daeji bulgogi were also extremely tender, each bite having the kick of red pepper, ginger and garlic. I never knew exactly what the "gutter liquid" was used for but I suspect that it had something to do with the meat cooking up more juicy. The gutter liquid refills tapered off as we continued to grill, probably to allow the meat to char more rather than steam, but as we neared the end of our meal, our waitress came by and refilled the gutter once more and this time, she had a small bowl of noodles, onions and carrots in hand which she proceeded to mix into the gutter liquid. Yes, my friends, this is the reason we traded our kimchi jiigae in for daeji bulgogi. Two orders of meat gets you table grilling and the after meal bonus of gutter noodles. OK, so they're not a phenomenal noodle dish; in fact if someone just brought this out of their kitchen and gave it to me, I'd think the noodles were a little too salty and soupy. But just knowing that Shilla allows no wasting at their restaurant--we saw it with our waitress making me pick the last tiny sliver of meat off the plate and now we see it with cooking gutter noodles to soak up every last bit of grease and flavor--is cool in my book.
Daeji bulgogi with "gutter" noodles
Damage was about forty bucks for two of us which seems like alot but really isn't considering how much food we got. We filled two boxes up with leftovers, most of which I gave to my friend to take back so that she could have something to eat other than what's in our other friend's cabinets. What a good friend I am, huh?
Shilla Korean Restaurant
16944 Western Blvd.
Gardena, CA 90247