California

Sun Ha Jang: Swimming in Rivers of Duck Fat

By Joshua Lurie | February 2, 2011 14 comments
Sun Ha Jang: Swimming in Rivers of Duck Fat
Sun Ha Jang
4032 West Olympic Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90006
323 634 9292

Date of Visit: December 21, 2010

Korean Restaurant Los Angeles
December’s late night stop to help Matthew “Mattatouille” Kang celebrate his birthday led to a discussion about Koreatown. Recommendations from Kang and Biergarten owner Neil Kwon resulted in a very good bowl of gam ja tang – potato soup – at Mapo Jip, but by far the bigger payoff was at Sun Ha Jang. This is the rare barbecue venue that features duck instead of beef or pork, which led to a highly flavorful, and highly devastating, dining experience.

Owner Sun Yu’s restaurant has actually been in the neighborhood for more than two decades, but further east. Her third location has been open for about a year, featuring tabletop grills, cartoon duck and cow signage and not much else in the way of decor.

Korean Food Los Angeles
Gird your system with an endless parade of panchan, including chile-soaked daikon radish strands, marinated onion strands, crunchy bean sprouts, slabs of soy-soaked potato, crisp iceberg lettuce with bean paste dressing, raw scallions and crunchy chile-doused cucumber wedges, and properly pungent sheets of chile-slathered cabbage kimchi.

Sun Ha Jang’s platters of boneless beef rib, brisket, black pork belly and small intestine all looked tempting, but we were all about the quack. They feature three different options, including roasted duck and seasoned duck, which is available either “fresh” or “spicy.”

Korean Food Los Angeles
We started with Roasted Duck ($23.99), which arrived in rosy, fat-rimmed sheets. Ms. Yu loaded the slices on to our tabletop grill, which is kind of shaped like a bulbous hubcap, along with enough garlic cloves to make Bill Compton recoil.

Korean Food Los Angeles
The slices of roasted duck become browned on the griddle as the result of caramelization (or Maillard reaction, to be technical). The fat renders into the grill, which features a drain that’s blocked by a clump of kimchi. The more duck you cook, the more fat enters the pan, which basically deep-fries the meat and seeps into the garlic cloves.

Korean Food Los Angeles
The proper way to eat the duck is to pile it on lettuce with pickled onions, radish and scallions.

Korean Food Los Angeles
The main event was undoubtedly the Spicy Seasoned Duck ($23.99), which cooks in a lake of bubbling duck fat. Thick layers of white skin become crispy, complementing the somewhat gamy fowl.

Korean Food Los Angeles
At the end of the meal, Ms. Yu tossed in steamed white rice, kimchi, scallions and radish, plus sesame seeds (black and tan) and poppy seeds. This forms the basis of an ultra-flavorful fried rice that was absolutely infused with duck fat. She removed the kimchi and let the molten fat drain into a tray below. Even with the drainage, the experience is intense.

The meal also concludes with a bowl of scallion-showered bean sprout soup that is supposedly designed to settle the stomach. No sprout is powerful enough to tame the tidal wave of duck fat.

Considering the sheer volume of duck fat, the meal was packed with flavor, but this is heavy food that even a lumberjack would have a hard time handling. Sun Ha Jang is well worth a visit, just know there will be an aftermath.

Comments

  1. I live and work close by this place and had no idea a Korean BBQ place specializing in duck existed. I look forward to checking it out. Thanks for opening my eyes to the secrets of K-town.

    • Campus Circle,

      There’s another duck specialist in Koreatown, Dha Rae Oak, which features charcoal grilled skewers and stuffed duck that requires advanced notice. Another destination spot.

      • Thanks Josh. On a side note, I had dinner last night at The Water Grill and noticed a restaurant across the street called Industriel. Any feedback on that place would be much appreciated?

        • Sean,

          I’ve never eaten at Industriel. The space is pretty provocative, and they’ve got some ambitious dishes on the menu, but haven’t heard many raves. If you go, let me know how you like it.

  2. glad to see someone got around to finally writing about this place. This place made my top 10 dishes of 2010 when Neil first brought me here earlier in the year.

    It is indeed quite awesome, hopefully their business picks up after this so they can survive. Its been empty the last couple of times I’ve been there :(

  3. Wow! Korean Duck BBQ? Where have you been all my life? This is definitely jumped up to one of my top places to visit in the next month. :)

  4. samk says:

    I think my parents mentioned it once but I never thought of going. I’ve been meaning to check out more korean restaurants in the hood, if you ever need someone to eat with

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jo and foodgps, Jimmy H.. Jimmy H. said: Fattyquackquack! RT @foodgps: Sun Ha Jang, home to devastating Korean duck, a rec from @mattatouille and @biergartenla http://su.pr/8Pc1Oj […]

  6. HELLZ YEAH!! Thanks for the write up, Josh! I will definitely be dining here. Love me some duck!

    • Gastronomer,

      Enjoy if you go. I can’t believe more people aren’t talking about this place. It’s been around for years (in one form or another) and it’s located right near other restaurants that people eat at on the regular: Feng Mao and Olympic Noodle. Hopefully more people write about Sun Ha Jang so it doesn’t have to move again.

  7. Andi says:

    New reader here…that looks fantastic. I love duck almost as much as I love pork.

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