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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.