There are dozens of options in Koreatown if you want to cook raw beef on a tabletop grill. It’s hardly an original concept, but not many restaurants restrict themselves to Choice and Prime cuts. That’s what separates Dae Sung Oak from the pack. Well, one of the things.
Dae Sung Oak has been around for over a decade, and Jenny Lee purchased the restaurant in 2006. In speaking with Jenny’s son Jason, the operation’s personable, English-speaking manager, I learned about the current incarnation.
The popular Korean restaurant is named for an old house in the Korean countryside. Downstairs, the Lees showcase soups and seafood dishes in a traditional wood-lined dining room. Upstairs, it’s all about grilled meats, with each table wearing a hood to vacuum the smoke. The second floor also gets more raucous, with nearly every table hosting beer or fruit wine, and flat screen TVs playing Lakers games, or the seasonal equivalent. Chef Lee (no relation) oversees all the food, with a background that includes a stint at the respected Sheraton restaurant in Seoul.
To kickstart our taste buds, we each received a bowl of cold kimchi soup, featuring fermented cabbage and radish.
Our banchan blizzard included crunchy white burdock root, aka gobo; chap chae – springy sweet potato noodles tossed with scallions, white and purple onions; sheets of kimchi –fermented cabbage in chile sauce; marinated cucumbers and radish squares ; and chunky whipped sweet potatoes, studded with peas.
The remaining banchan consisted of a tender chile-soaked radish with a cross section of bony fish; chile-dressed strands of radish; pleasantly chewy silverfish with peanuts and roasted green peppers that still sported their spicy seeds; raw marinated crab doused in, what else, chile; and seaweed with bits of green pepper and sesame seeds.
After devouring our spicy banchan spread, we downed refreshing bowls of lightly dressed salad. Partitioned dishes contained two dips for the meats: sesame oil with salt and pepper; and soy sauce floating with sliced jalapeños.
We’d all cooked Korean barbecue dozens of times. Strangely, our waitress wouldn’t allow us to grill our own meats.
We also ordered Bulgogi – BBQ Sliced Beef ($17.99) – fattier strips of beef that were similarly marinated, but not quite as flavorful.
In addition to stand-bys like kalbi and bulgogi, Dae Sung Oak also offers tenderloin, beef tongue, spicy marinated pork, and three kinds of intestine: tripe, entrails, and the vaguely named Mountain Chain.
With our meat, we were given a stack of slick rice paper pancakes known as dduk bo sam. Our waitress instructed us to tuck meat and greens into the dduk bo sam and dip the Korean tacos in fermented bean paste.
Dae Sung Oak isn’t exactly re-inventing Korean cuisine, but the Lees in and out of the kitchen offer a traditional Korean experience and food on a higher level than most neighborhood restaurants.