DON DAE GAM: UP IN SMOKE IN K-TOWN
Visits to Korean BBQ places in K-Town have been amongst my eating highlights since I’ve been visiting Los Angeles. When Sybil told me that she was joining a couple of her girlfriends for supper at Don Dae Gam, I didn’t take a lot of persuading to join them, even though I suspected there would be far too many discussions about feelings, Colin Firth and clothing for my liking.
Fortunately, Sybil and her friends also have a capacity to eat that puts even my own to shame. I knew that, even if I did have to listen to conversations that did not once include the words “car chase” or “Seagal” I would at least be able to numb the pain by concentrating on the food.
I wasn’t wrong.
Sybil and I arrived before our two friends. It took us a little while to find the place, slightly confused by the still prominent sign of the previous incumbent, Parks BBQ (they are owned by the same people I found out later). Once inside however, it was obvious that few other people had encountered similar issues and it was packed enough to make me appreciate Sybil’s earlier insistence that we make reservations.
Don Dae Gam, specialises in Pork BBQ and, unlike the places that I had visited before, cooks the meat over charcoal rather than gas. On the one hand that adds a touch of that dreaded word “authenticity” on the other it does mean that you inevitably emerge from the restaurant smelling like the ashtray of a 1970’s Vauxhall Viva. Fortunately, as those of you who have met me will know, none of my clothes are smart enough for that to matter much, but I did fear for tables occupied by men and women in seemingly more expensive clothing.
The banchan (side dishes) were some of the best I have tried anywhere in L.A.so far. There were bowls of terrific kimchi, fiery enough to raise a few beads of sweat, potato slices, a fresh green salad placed on the table alongside rice cakes and pickles. Best of all, was a bowl of gaeran jim, steamed egg, whose smooth contents occupied our attention until it was time to watch the meat being prepared.
It appears that the Koreans love their offal almost as much as I do and I was pleased to see pork tongue, diaphragm and intestine on the menu. We plumped for the intestines and then padded out our order with more conventional plates of pork belly and short rib, sitting back as the staff took care of the cooking.
Thick slabs of pork belly were first, cooked on both sides and then snipped into inch long pieces. We tossed them around on the burner sending enough flames licking around the pieces of meat to crisp up the edges. They were soon followed by the short ribs, which had been marinated prior to cooking and we spent the next ten minutes playing “Battling chopsticks” as we fought for the prime pieces, dipping them in an assortment of soy bean paste, flavoured salt and chilli sauce.
A particular highlight were the intestines, which looked singularly unappealing in their raw state as they slimed around in a murky liquid. Once on the grill however, they began to sizzle and pop and were soon taking on a fantastic char. The end result did not appeal to my dining companions as much as to me and I was left to feast on the majority of the crisp, chewy, salty bites of pig inside, while they concentrated on the arrival of two other dishes.
Concerned that three orders might possibly not provide enough meat, my female friends had ordered a dish of Bo Ssam, cold belly pork with lettuce wraps. It looked great and I was ready to tuck in until I noticed that, in the middle of the plate, hidden amongst shreds of (I think) kimchi, were quivering raw oysters. I love oysters, but they don’t return the favour and even the sniff of them can make me throw up quicker than a supermodel who has walked past a Dunkin’ Donuts by mistake.
Instead, while the others made delicate little lettuce packages, I turned to the final dish of Naki Jeongol, a stew of octopus and wafer thin sliced pork in a sauce of space/time continuum splitting fieriness. It proved to be one dish too many and although we all thought it tasted great, we poked at it unenthusiastically, finally admitting defeat and asking for the bill and some take-away containers.
The total came to $33 person, which included a couple of beers and a well-deserved tip. Not bad value for a meal, which had us all waddling out onto Western Ave, swearing off meat for the foreseeable future. Mind you, to that price, you also have to add the cost of dry-cleaning whatever clothes you have been wearing.
Fortunately, I carry off the heady scent of charcoal and grilled pork rather well, which might also explain why Sybil has found me sniffing my jacket and sighing twice in the few days since we ate at Don Dae Gam.
Can’t wait to go back.