The past week has been blazing hot in Los Angeles. When the temps are fired up, so too should be the grill. Apartment dwellers like me don't have to fret when we don't get an invitation to a house BBQ. Instead, I can mosey over to Koreatown to chow down at any one of the hopping BBQ joints. Though I'm incredibly difficult when it comes to Southern BBQ (childhood memories of yummy BBQ lunches in South Carolina never fade) I'm not a snob when it comes to Korean BBQ. The only requirement I have is that there must be a strong ventilation system. This is the underside of the bell-shaped vent hovering over the grill at Tahoe Galbi on Wilshire Boulevard, where Miguelito and I dropped by for the $16.99 all-you-can-eat deal.
The side dishes were such a treat. The big bowl of lettuce and slivered scallions was an effort to convince you that eating an endless stream of red meat wasn't all that bad for you. My favorite sides are the mung beans marinated in soy sauce and the daikon kimchee.
There was such a plethora of sides that the waitress had to place them on both sides of the grill. I never understood why Korean restaurants like to serve sweet, chunky potato salad. I suppose the mayonnaise helps to cool the tongue after a kimchee heat wave.
This is a savory egg custard. It tasted like a warm cloud.
The seafood and tofu soup arrived still boiling. I had to take at least three different shots because the steam kept fogging up my camera's lens.
Look at the crunchy little shrimp! A moment like this makes me glad to sit at the top of the food chain.
I like BBQs that allow you to chow down like a civilized carnivore in a little black dress and gold jewelry.
Miguelito calmly waited for the bulgogi, kalbi, chicken, pork strips and bacon to finish cooking. The only meat that we didn't choose from the all-you-can-eat menu was the beef tongue. The next time we go to Tahoe Galbi with a bigger crew, we'll be more adventurous and order it.
Some nights later, on a Saturday, I was rolling solo because Miguelito was watching his Minneapolis homeboy Prince rock the crowd at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Thanks to Jesse and Grace, who introduced me to Soot Bull Jeep on Eighth Street, I didn't have to dine alone. Unlike Tahoe Galbi and many other Korean BBQ restaurants that use natural gas-fueled grills, Soot Bull Jeep sticks to the old school technique of cooking with actual charcoal. And their grills are more powerful than the compact robatas that are usually offered at the cook-it-yourself Japanese eateries. This is a composite of what to eat in the middle of a heat wave: from left to right, cold sake, salad, sweet dipping sauce for the meat and a clear soup made of daikon and green onions.
I don't think the first word in the restaurant's name was referring to the residue left by the hot embers on the grill. Because the owners continuously pack people into the place, they keep refreshing the ashy rocks with new charcoal. They also placed a glass of ice on the table. I was about to ask for two more glasses for each of us in our three-person party to drink at the table, but Jesse said you toss the ice on the grill to cool down the fire.
This is where the restaurant stores its stash of kimchee.
I liked that Soot Bull Jeep offered whole squid, tentacles and all, to splay atop the grill. Though tentacles are one of those culinary appendages that not everybody can stomach, I like them more than chicken feet. It's not the texture or the graphic appearance of chicken feet that I oppose. Rather, it's the poor return on investment, or ROI in bankers' parlance. You gnaw on the chicken feet for so long to get very little sustenance in return. Chicken wings and drumsticks have a better ROI when it comes to the meat on the bone. But with squid tentacles, you can slurp the entire thing in your mouth as if it’s a long strand of spaghetti. I'm not sure how many hours the squid and chicken were marinated, but they cooked to juicy perfection.
Though Jesse flipped the squid, chicken and garlic masterfully as our grillmaster, the waitress took charge in snipping the bounty into bite-size portions with scissors.
This is a piece of squid swimming in the sweet dipping sauce. It must be what whales dream of.