Monday, December 20, 2010

Dong Il Jang - Full Service DIY BBQ / Taste of Nostalgia in Koreatown

There's nothing like a hot grill with sizzling cuts of meats - served indoors on a cold, rainy day like we've been having with freakish frequency lately.  In particular, I love a great Korean BBQ - and of the tens of dozens of BBQ restaurants in Koreatown, Dong Il Jang is possibly the best of them - for the uber traditional dining experience as well as the specialty dishes (like kimchi fried rice cooked on the grill at your table).

Though the outside of the restaurant is non-descript, from the moment you step into the place, you feel transported into another time and space.  The decor is an amalgamation of traditional Korean and traditional Japanese mixed with a 70s feel- with an eclectic mix of faux leather diner style booths and waitress uniforms, antiques from both cultures on display, and a tatami room complete with shoji doors for private dining towards the back.

For the most part, dishes at Dong Il Jang are pretty much served family style - unless you get the rice (e.g. bibimbap) or noodle bowls, or the slightly out of context Japanese offerings.

After kicking off our meal with complementary bowls of delicious broth, we started in on our order of Pa Jun - seafood pancake made with egg, dough, green onions, calamari and jalapenos adding a nice kick.  Delish, though it contained just a little too much dough.


For our meats, we ordered Dong Il Jang's signature Roast Gui - gorgeously marbled slices of prime rib (minimum two orders per table) - which is the only dish on the menu that includes Kimchi Fried Rice, to be prepared at your table after you are done with grilling the meats (more on the rice dish shortly!).  We also ordered pre-marinated Kalbi (beef short ribs). 
Of course, the meats came with an array of side dishes.  Side dishes are a critical part of any Korean bbq meal - there to add flavor and texture variety to complement the carnage.  At Dong Il Jang, the selection of 'banchan' (side dishes) included:  kimchi, potato salad, glass noodle salad, marinated broccoli, radish/carrot salad, and lettuce leaves with kimchi vinaigrette.  We were not overly impressed by DIJ's banchan offerings - other places would offer more variety including rice wrapper sheets 'dduk bo ssam' (for rolling up pieces of meat), 'mook' (a semi-transparent jello-like cubes that are subtle in taste on their own, but topped by a spicy-salty mix of kimchee, soy sauce and sesame), and dried anchovies.  My fav out of those on offer was the lettuce with kimchi vinaigrette - for the combo of fresh / crunchy with slightly spicy / tart.  But the meat - the meat was amazing, simple, clean and perfectly sliced for even grilling.

As I mentioned earlier, the waitresses were all in old school uniforms, and offered incredibly attentive service.  Although part of the fun of Korean BBQ is the DIY aspect, and bonding with your fellow diners through working together to manage the cooking of the food - I enjoyed the full service treatment at Dong ll Jang as well.  Once the grill was heated up to the right temperature, it was buttered down in preparation for the meats.  Our waitress expertly placed the first batch with impressive speed and precision, along with a cross section of onion that Foodie Mentor referred to as a 'landing pad' for your meats - so that if any look to be overcooking, but none in your party are ready to consume the pieces, you can give it reprieve from the grill (but maintaining its temperature) by 'resting' it on the onion for a while.  Simple but clever device!  In between service, you can of course turn over the meats yourself (or if you wish, even decline service and just let them know you want to just cook all the meats for yourself) - though if you seem to be struggling, the waitress will immediately come by to help out to ensure your meal is perfectly cooked.  The meats were beautiful to see and eat - and we were provided with a simple dipping sauce made of oil, salt and pepper, as well as a mountain of shredded green onions that are perfectly designed to complement the meats - providing a nice contrast of fresh, crisp/crunchy, airy and light flavor with the heavy, slightly greasy and more filling meats.

And for the grand finale - after all the awesome meat flavors have spread over the grilling pan, rice, kimchi, chili-garlic paste, scallions, cucumbers and additional pieces of beef are added to the pan and pretty much stir-fried by our waitress right in front of us at our table to make the irresistibly fragrant Kimchi Fried Rice.   This was possibly the best Kimchi Fried Rice I have had all year!

For a party of 4, our total came out to about $35 each with tax and tip included, which is fantastic given the quality and quantity of food served.  There are of course places that are much cheaper, as well as AYCE Korean BBQ places like Manna - but Dong Il Jang really stands apart from the crowd in terms of quality of its food and dining experience.  You won't find the latest Korean pop / dance music being pumped through here - Dong Il Jang is all about serving quality food in a comfortable setting.

All in all, I would recommend Dong Il Jang as a foodie friendly place, or for anyone looking to have an authentic, nostalgic and relatively upscale night of korean bbq in K-town.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%

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Dong Il Jang
3455 West 8th Street Los Angeles, CA 90005
Ph: 213.383.5757
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Dong Il Jang on Urbanspoon

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