A fish on the sign hardly hints at Wassada's seafood assault.
“Alive” is the stomach-churning story of the Uruguayan rugby team, whose plane crashed in the Andes in 1972. To say they went to extremes to survive is an understatement. At certain restaurants in Koreatown, the word “alive” takes on very different meaning, with “live” octopi squirming on plates as some people attempt to snatch and chomp tentacles while others look on in horror. We finally built up the fortitude to face live octopus in one of the creature’s unnatural habitats, Wassada, and didn’t stop with one sea beast.
The name, which loosely translates from Korean as “Wow, it’s cheap,” may not inspire confidence, but Ki Tae Kim and Team Wassada have been featuring high value combination platters with plentiful fixings for the past five years. Six of us ordered a Sashimi Combination Special ($179.99), which may sound expensive, until the seafood starts arriving in waves.
Up front, we saw tanks of halibut, spot prawns, lobster, abalone, sea squirts, and a bag of sea slugs. They also carry sculpin, a gruesome looking fish that inspired a standout IPA.
In a back room, Wassada staffers brought plates of food in quick succession.
A crunchy cabbage salad sported spicy pepper dressing, julienne cucumber, carrot and nori.
Bowls of soothing porridge arrived flecked with abalone and topped with black sesame seeds.
Banchan consisted of mayo-folded macaroni and peas, firm boiled peanuts, edamame, fibrous thin-shaved pear, and periwinkles with meat that proved tough to spear with toothpicks.
Wassada has a halibut on the sign and touts “sushi sashimi,” but the specialty is undoubtedly the notorious “live” octopus. The thin tentacles arrived still squirming, clinging to the plate and lettuce, served with salted sesame dipping sauce. The octopus wasn’t actually alive, but the nerves were still reacting. Thus the residual kick. Our server warned us to chew thoroughly, as the suction cups can hold tight to the mouth and throat. We made sure to take our time on the silky-outside, crunchy-inside tentacles, and even enjoyed the experience.
After the octopus hoopla, the rest of the meal could have easily become a letdown, but Wassada continued an oceanic barrage, including large oysters with creamy texture and briny flavor.
Our server plucked spot prawns from the tank. Some people in the group twisted off heads and ate the’ silky bodies, which didn’t have time to enter rigor mortis. We had to hold tight for our first bites of prawn while they took the heads for frying.
We all really enjoyed the white rice topped with crunchy multi-colored tobiko (flying fish) roe, bonito shavings that look like they came from a pencil sharpener, but tasted better, and both white and black sesame seeds.
Tender, scissor-cut clam was a nice foil to gochujang-dabbed ankimo (monkfish liver).
Our server presented fresh-sliced lobster on fibrous jicama strands. This was another two-part dish, placing the raw tail meat back where it began. Our server took the remains to boil.
The big disappointment was Wassada’s gigantic sashimi platter, which included white tuna, yellowtail, halibut, salmon, abalone, uni, tamago and more. The plate looked spectacular, but most fish was way too cold to be enjoyable, and that also blurred what made each fish unique.
So many plates came our way that some condiments got lost in the mix. It took us awhile to became aware of the sizzling plate of garlic cloves, onion and sesame seeds, white and black. The garlic wasn’t very pungent, and the onion took awhile to caramelize.
Shrimp heads returned to us, deep-fried, and the skeleton and antenna were nice and crunchy, with some sweet white meat left attached for us to enjoy. Antenna apparently help shrimp to find food underwater. If we were wearing antennae at Wassada, we would have been getting five bars of reception.
As our meal finally started to wind down, we received a terrific carrot, sweet potato and potato fritter, which was fairly sweet and paired well with soy sauce.
They returned the boiled lobster carcass to us, claws cracked, which we picked clean.
Plenty of welcome Korean touches reverberated throughout our meal, including a nori-wrapped hand roll with white rice and a thatch of spicy, pungent kimchi.
The mackerel duo was another fun riff on Japanese restaurants. The naturally oily, fairly pungent fish, which is shaped like a kayak, appeared broiled and bony, and in bits as mayo-rich dynamite.
The barrage concluded with spicy halibut stew sporting slabs of daikon, kimchi, tofu and more.
Our final bites were of roasted rice “soup” which helped cleanse our palates.
Wassada delivered a memorable meal that left mouths agape at more than one point. With so many different plates, it was hard to keep pace or to even process all we saw and tasted. The restaurant has apparently gained a following with chefs, and it makes sense considering the depth and range of the experience. Yes, some dishes would be higher quality at other sushi or sashimi specialists around Los Angeles, but then you’d be sacrificing the fun Korean influences, and the value, which was readily apparent.