The 10-year-old restaurant features an extremely limited menu, offering just seven items, including tempting “slices of tender pork on a unique pan.” Still, the house specialty is undoubtedly Dak Gal Bi, spicy pan-fried chicken with vegetables. The cost is $17.99 per order, with a minimum of two orders, and it’s pretty much a given that this will end up on just about every table in the restaurant. To the right thing and surrender to Dak.
The start of the meal was far from inspiring, featuring lackluster panchan: slippery seaweed, thin-shaved radish discs, soggy fish cakes, cold cucumber slices in sesame oil, crunchy bean sprouts and (no joke, best of all) iceberg lettuce doused in ranch dressing. There wasn’t a single standout, and, oddly, they didn’t even offer kimchi.
Next came metal bowls filled with onion, cabbage and aromatic perilla leaves. Our waitress also sported a squeeze bottle of gritty chile sauce. This components dictates how spicy you’d like the food. The more chile sauce, the spicier it gets.
Heat drew moisture from the onions and cabbage into the pan, and the other ingredients cooked down. Eventually, the flavors coalesced, and the chile sauce pervaded every granule of food, which became crusty on the pan. As the rice cakes heated, they developed a fluffy, gnocchi-like consistency. The perilla leaves added spicy pungent notes. It was a very good dish.
After we cleared enough surface area in the pan, our waitress brought out a new tray of ingredients: dried seaweed strips, sesame oil and tangy kimchi made from diced carrot, onion and cabbage. She added the ingredients to the pan and created a compelling fried rice.
Even though the panchan was weak, Ma Po Dak Gal Bi has to be judged on its dak galbi, and that cleared the hurdle. This meal was further proof that Koreatown has near limitless possibilities when it comes to specialty restaurants.