Octopus has never been a must try for me and in fact, it's usually a must avoid food for me. The thought of eating tentacles just was never that appetizing. So I surprised even myself when I agreed to check out My Secret Recipe, a restaurant known for its primarily octopus dishes, with friends one Friday night. I guess I was feeling adventurous. :)
When we arrived and sat down, we were served iced barley tea and a cold cucumber "soup" to start and soon after, we were given menus, I have to say that I was completely glad that the friend who offered to take us on this culinary journey, has been to this restaurant before. She knew the ropes and even if she didn't, the fact that she was Korean and could read the Korean only menu still would have been very beneficial. Our small group put our fates completely in her hands.
We didn't have a clue as to what she ordered when she spoke to the waitress, but soon after, a large pan came out filled with lots veggies, bean sprouts and hidden underneath the greens were hints of bright red which were the marinated baby octopus. Two other plates also came out with one containing noodles and chili and the other pork belly meat. Our waitress dumped both noodles and pork into the pot to let it cook for awhile.
While everything was cooking down in the pan, we were served some very flavorless panchan: beans, cabbage and noodles. Thankfully, that was the only major disappointment of the evening.
Soon, our waitress returned with tongs and a scissor and before our astonished eyes, she pulled up one of the baby octopuses from its head and while its tentacles were dangling in the air, proceeded to cut it into pieces with her scissor back into the pot. Then she did the same with the second one. We had thought the octopus was already cut up, so seeing it whole was a definite surprise and actually was quite the cause for the giggles. After the unexpected show, she started stirring everything in the pan until the food took on a bright red color.
A few minutes later, we were finally able to dig in. Although we had ordered medium hot, the octopus and veggie casserole definitely still had a punch. I'm glad we stuck with medium, because I think hot would have been way too much to handle for me.
Finally, I took my first bite of the octopus. It was a bit chewy and the texture of the tentacles was a bit strange at first, but after awhile, I started to like it and of course, the fact that it was cooked in a zing in your mouth chili sauce, made it even better.
As we were all enjoying this new treat, the octopus pancake came out. The octopus pancake had a fairly nice brown exterior and some good flavor, but my personal preference is for thinner, crisper scallion pancakes so I found this pancake a little too "eggy" for my taste.
We were all getting quite filled up with the octopus and veggie mix and soon reached a stopping point. Once that happened, my friend called out to our waitress and soon after, she came out with rice, chopped daikon and finely chopped seaweed and added it all to what was left in the pot and proceeded to make fried rice. I thought I was full, but spicy fried rice is hard to resist, so I had a small plateful and it was yummy.
That was definitely quite a meal and almost like a "dinner theater" where the play is actually the cooking of the meal in front of you and than of course, we get to dine on it when it's done. I quite enjoyed my dinner and would definitely go back again. I don't consider octopus one of my new favorite foods or anything like that, but trying it for the first time at My Secret Recipe was definitely a tasty way for a first time experience.
After dinner, my friend who taught us about tasty tentacles drove us over to Cafe Mak, a Korean coffeehouse. On our way there, she explained that for the most part, food and drinks tend to be pretty expensive at Korean coffeehouses because of a certain cultural aspect that surround them. Basically, customers will find their spot and will sit there for hours talking with friends and/or family. So the turnaround time for customers to come in and out is very minimal.
What you get for $5 coffee is time. The wait staff will leave you alone. They won't try to hurry you out and they'll only come by your table if you deliberately signal them to come over. Although I've never been to Europe, that actually seems like almost a European sensibility as well where people get together at cafes for conversation and dialog.
Anyway, I just thought I'd share that interesting tidbit. As for Cafe Mak itself, it doesn't look very big from the front, but looks are deceiving. Along the side of the building, there is outside seating and although there are no heat lamps, customers are provided with blankets.
Inside the building, there are a variety of rooms with various decorating styles all filled with people. We finally found a table and settled inside and just like my friend mentioned, we were ignored until we asked a waitress for a menu.
After our spicy meal, we were in the mood for something sweet, so we ordered a trio of small desserts: mango mousse, chocolate cake and green tea tiramisu as well as one of those large shaved ice bowls with the red beans. There was really nothing that special about the desserts. They were pretty looking, but I've had better desserts elsewhere; however, the ice dessert was really good.
Eating that ice dessert was like digging for buried treasure. Underneath the ice, you could spoon up the sweet red beans, bananas, melons and all sorts of other goodies, as long as you had the patience, but it was worth if it you did.
Between the desserts and our drink orders, we actually had a bill of around $70 for four people, which I think is quite pricey for what we ordered, but all in all, I didn't really mind that much. The ambiance of Cafe Mak was just right for that evening and sometimes that's all you can ask for.
Overall, it was a great evening in Koreatown and when you're with a friend who is Korean and knows the lay of the land, it can't get any better than that.
My Secret Recipe
4177 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90189
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612 Shatto Place
Los Angeles, CA 90005
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