i think is the best korean dishes for cold weather are the variety of stews, such as maeuntang (spicy fish stew) or gamjatang (pork neckbone and potato stew). it was a rather cold and wet friday night, so our group of 4 decided against the outdoor bbq patio at "manna" at the last minute, and instead opted for "on dal", which is a family-run korean restaurant with only about 10 tables that specializes in seafood stews. this was my third trip to this establishment.
the restaurant is located about a block west of the well-known "soot bull jeep", on the 1st floor of a building labeled the "hamilton hotel", and has a long red sign above the windows on the exterior. first thing that must be said is that the parking is a disaster, and if a street spot is available, you should take it. i expected a wait for a table on a friday night, and indeed there was - about 30 minutes.
upon seating, we ordered the large spicy crab stew ($45) known as kkotgetang and the seafood pancake ($13), which is called haemulpajun. i asked the waiter, who turned out to be the son of the owner, whether that was enough grub for 4, and he grinned widely and nodded. the 2 women at our table noticed that many of the other female patrons were wearing red aprons, so they asked for them and put them on. good thing, because eating crab can be messy.
about 15 minutes after the panchan (about 8 different side dishes) was served, out came a portable butane burner and a big pan full of red broth, bean sprouts, and 4 blue crabs. as the stew began to boil, an older gentleman then came over with a pair of scissors, and expertly cut the crabs into chunks, working around the top shell. 10 more minutes passed and the stew was ready, and we served it amongst ourselves using a ladle and small bowls.
Spicy! that broth knocked out whatever effects the cold weather was having. i thought the best part of the stew was the bean sprout - it had absorbed much of the flavor of the stew without while retaining its texture. others at the table enjoyed the crab more, especially those who proved adept at pulling the meat out around the leg joints. (i wasn't.)
when we finished the crab meat, the waiter asked us whether we wanted the remaining broth to be converted into dumpling soup or fried rice. we opted for the rice, and soon a wok was placed on the butane burner. into the wok went sesame oil, rice, dried seaweed, kimchi, herbs and seasoning, and the crab broth - a sort of a kimchi fried rice with seafood flavor, if you will. it was served along with small bowls of pickle broth that balanced out the spiciness of the rice. that rice was the best part of the meal, i thought.
the total for the crab stew and the seafood pancake, tax and tip included, was $75 without alcohol. very reasonable for a foursome, i thought. the staff was even nice enough to explain the recipe on a specific panchan that no one could figure out. (what i had assumed was slices of radish turned out to be sweet potato slices marinated overnight in water, salt, and splenda)
"on dal" certainly isn't a fancy place. it's a small local ethnic stew joint where you roll up your sleeves and dig away on seafood without shame, while sharing a brew or two. i certainly plan on going again. perhaps next time i'll order something that is easier to eat than those pesky blue crabs.
3160 w. 8th st.
la ca 90005