It was New Year's Day night, and as most normal people would be at home enjoying the day with their families or in bed recouping from the previous night's festivities, we were out looking for food. Hours spent at home either due to personal choice or to nasty weather were starting to give us a little cabin fever, so rather than cooking dinner, we decided to venture outside in search of some good eats.
What better comfort food than some hearty, warm & spicy Korean food, we thought. Oooh, and duk bo sam, or rice paper wrappers, wrapped around some barbequed meat would hit the spot just right. One place came to mind, a place called Shik Do Rak that's well known for their duk bo sam, but as I'm a girl who never likes to go unprepared, I gave them a call just in case there was the slightest possibility that they were closed. On New Year's Day??? Yeah right.
Wrong. They were closed. The wheels started to turn faster now. OK, if not Shik Do Rak and duk bo sam, then where else? Allright, how about Kobawoo for their daeji bosam and hae mul pa jeon? I picked up the phone, dialed and the other side kept ringing and ringing with no answer. As with Shik Do Rak, desperation set in: hmm, the phone rang twenty times, maybe if I call again, somebody will pick up. Did I tell you that I can be too much of a dreamer-in-denial at times?
I remember a time when I was one of those people that actually had to work on holidays. Back in college, I took up retail management to earn my clothes and party money, and was one of those suckers that had to fake a smile to all those lucky non-service industry people who had the day off. I hated those people. With a passion. "You have the day off, what the hell are you doing shopping??? Why do I have to work to cater to your ass? Go home already, fuckers," I'd mumble under my breath.
Karma's a bitch isn't it? Because years later, I am one of those fuckers, and I too, am expecting someone to be there to cater to me because I happen to have the day off and feel like going out to eat. And ya know what? Two of those places said fuck you, no way. Hey, good for them.
Still, we had to find a place to eat, and instead of driving around in the rain, I decided to call a friend who's a little more savvy on the Korean restaurant tip than I am. "How about Ham Hung?" she suggested, saying the name in a Korean accent. "Huh?" I asked. "Ham Hung. H-A-M as in the meat. And H-U-N-G as in hung." Now you know how immature I can be. Beavis and Butthead, a.k.a. Pam and Isaac, were soon out the door to Hung Ham, or Ham Hung, or heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh, that hung meat place.
We picked up a friend, and found the place located on Ardmore off of 8th street in Koreatown. We parked the car in their lot, which was across the street, not directly across the street but a few-doors-down-across-the-street, facing some sketchy apartment building. Even sketchier looking guys were hanging out on the stairwells and balconies of the said apartment building, making me a little paranoid about leaving the car there. But the guy at the restaurant assured us he kept watch outside, putting me at a little more ease to enjoy our meal.
The restaurant was practically empty, and I wondered if the folks that worked here, like the retail store employee Pam of yesteryear, were also cussing us out under their breaths for having to work and cater to us on a holiday. We plopped ourselves down in one of the many empty large booths that seemed almost guarded by the large metal hoods that loomed from the ceiling. Oooh! Menus with pictures! That should help. But then again maybe not, because there was so much to choose from. Apparently, Ham Hung is well known for their naeng-myun, or cold buckwheat noodles, and there was no shortage of those to choose from. There were also a variety of stews, pancakes, bibim bap, meats to BBQ, as well as plenty of other delicious looking eats. Fortunately for us, Ham Hung has prix-fixe combo dinners, and we chose the Three Person Combo Dinner A for $52, which came with three of the $14.99 price-point meats and three naeng-myun.
Where are all the people? Where we should be...at home, relaxing.
They brought some cups out containing what I thought was tea, and we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the cups actually contained a warm, refreshing broth. A good variety of panchan arrived almost immediately. My only gripe was that the baechu (napa cabbage) kimchi was a little too much on the ripe side, but it didn't bother me too much. All of the other little dishes--ggak-dugi (radish kimchi), pickled shredded daikon, seasoned bean sprouts, seasoned sliced pickles, garlic and sesame flavored spinach, seasoned fried tofu, a lettuce and scallion salad tossed with a sweet sesame dressing, and some addictively good stewed potato chunks--were just fine.
A cup of broth, disguised as tea
This well help towards my five servings a day quota
The service, though a bit abrupt, was nevertheless very attentive. Perhaps it was because we looked like we didn't know what we were doing and our server felt sorry for us, but either way, our waitress was always checking up on us and for that, we loved her! She brought out our first two meats--a dak (chicken) bulgogi, which sounds more boring than it actually tasted, and strips of fat laden pork belly...yum! Firing up the grill for us, she put the chicken down first, and checked on our grill everytime she whizzed by our table--cutting the meat into smaller pieces so that it wouldn't burn, turning the meat, strategically piling up the cooked pieces on one side, adding more meat to the grill, changing the grill plate when it got too hot and crusty. She even refilled our panchan without us asking. Now that I think about it, I guess we really did look pathetic. Oh well, she was awesome.
Like I said, our dak bulgogi tasted alot more interesting than it sounds, 'cause who orders chicken at a Korean restaurant??? We do, that's who...if we're with people who are trying to cut down red meat consumption, that is. Still, the pieces of tender dark meat chicken were seasoned nicely with flavors of sesame, garlic and chili. The pork belly was probably my favorite--I loved how the pork fat crisped around the meat part making for a yummy, smoky, crispy treat. We cooked the bulgogi, marinated rib eye, last, its juices caramelizing into a goodness that was a little sweet, a little salty, garlicky and beefy all at the same time. Perfect with our panchan and steamed rice!
The boring but not so boring dak bulgogi
Last but not least...bulgogi!
As stuffed as we were, we had almost forgotten about the naeng-myun, or cold buckwheat noodles, that came with our meal until our waitress came by and asked us which ones we'd like to choose. A few minutes later and three big metal bowls came out--two with bibim naeng-myun, spicy buckwheat noodles, and one with mul naeng-myun, buckwheat noodle in cold beef broth. Both dishes were cool and refreshing, a perfect way to end a warm and toasty meal, but maybe a little too chilly on a cold and rainy night like that night. My favorite was the bibim naeng-myun, with its thin, chewy buckwheat noodles sitting atop a spicy red chili paste and sesame oil concoction, and topped with half a boiled egg, crisp cucumber and a slice of beef. I think I would have liked the mul naeng-myun, its same noodles and toppings sitting in an ice cold bath of beefy, gingery broth more had it been a hot August day.
Cool as a cucumber, but hot & spicy bibim naeng-myun
Please don't make me take a cold bath--it's wintertime!
All that great food and great service for just a little over sixty bucks after tax and tip for three people. That's one helluva well-endowed dinner if you ask me. Thanks Ham Hung!
809 S. Ardmore St.
Los Angeles, CA 90005