My parents were in town when I happened to have a cold. One of them had heard of this restaurant from a friend of a friend called Dae Bok in Koreatown. The fish soup, they heard, was phenomenal.
Fish is not something I crave when I'm sick.
I was not in the mood to go anywhere with my puffy eyes chapped nose (too much Kleenex, and yes I already know, dab don't rub--but after a week, even with Puffs plus, you're still screwed. Don't even talk about moisturizer. Moisturizer, even Vicks, + mucus = something better not discussed on a food board).
To reflect my crappy mood, I wore my crappy college-era cords (over a decade old and, crap-colored to boot). College-era pants fit my college-era waistline, i.e. I assumed sick me and fish soup would not be a good match, and I would not need to worry about volume expansion.
Could not have been more wrong.
Dae Bok fish soup (I believe #1 on the menu) at first seemed sort of expensive ($14ish) for a Korean restaurant. Not outrageous. Just a little much, especially for lunch. However, surprisingly, my parents kept insisting it was cheap. Weird, because my parents are the type who think ziploc bags should be washed and reused.
A bubbling caldron comes out with fresh watercress and bean sprouts simmering in fish stock. The waitress adds a giant (or small) dollop of chopped garlic and hot bean paste according to your taste.
Oh. My. God.
The broth was as fresh and briny and souperiffic as the best bouillabaisse I've had. At the bottom were chunks of a white fish that you lift out and dip into a soy/vinegar/hot mustard sauce that had a nice sinus-clearing kick.
I felt my bloodshot eyes clearing, my throat calming and my nasal passages opening. Hallelujah!
Among the side dishes was something I have never had in the hundreds of Korean restaurants I've visited--a watercress fish skin combo marinated in a mildly vinegary dressing. It had a slightly bitter tang that the richly fatty slivers of fish skin accented and complemented. I could not get enough. Good thing side dishes are all you can eat.
Of the other side dishes, the seaweed had a nice briny freshness, and this other thing that I normally avoid because it has mayo was surprisingly good. I think the waitress said the mayo thing was slivers of celery root, but I'm not sure I understood her correctly. Crunchy, a smidge of sweetness, like a just-made coleslaw.
After you finish almost all the soup, the waitress comes by and adds rice to your pot, turns up the flame, adds sesame oil, more chopped watercress, seasoning and fries up the stuff. The rice absorbs flavor of the broth and develops the crust of dol sot bibimbap.
The only thing that would have improved the rice is a giant helping of hot bean sauce. For more nasal clearing. It was too subtly flavored for me, so I wished it had more kick.
At the end, the waitress brings out sweet rice drink which was just right--refreshing and not cloying.
Okay, and here's the kicker. I found out the reason the prices were so high: the fish was BLOWFISH, aka fugu. (Which is not stated anywhere on the menu, just "fish" soup. It would be funny if Dae Bok translates to blowfish in Korean. Like if I couldn't read English, walked into The Pig on LaBrea and said, wow this meat is good, what kind is it?).
I'm going back, just next time, I'm wearing my big pants.
2010 James M Wood Blvd, Los Angeles, 90006
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