(Formatted with All Pictures here:
The sizzle of searing meat. The fragrant waft of deliciousness as slabs of various cuts of Beef and Pork start to cook through. Enter any Korean (or Japanese) BBQ restaurant and you'll most likely be treated to a full-frontal wave of mouth-watering aroma as various cuts of meat are quickly cooking at each table's grill. And while Beef tends to be the most popular and prominently found star at most of these establishments, places like Don Dae Gam are seeking to celebrate The Other White Meat: Pork, in all its fatty, succulent glory. (^_^)
You can tell what Don Dae Gam specializes in, the moment you pull into the parking lot: You're greeted by a sign with a cute Pig mascot. I first heard about Don Dae Gam thanks to the intrepid research from some dedicated Hounds (including ipse :), but it was the fact that it was related to arguably the best Korean BBQ house in town - Park's BBQ - that really piqued my interest. Indeed, Don Dae Gam and Park's BBQ share the same owner, and the manager confirmed that they share the same meat supplier as well.
Stepping inside, and you can see a spaciously laid-out, airy environment. The owner completely renovated the space formerly occupied by a good Jajangmyeon specialist. And like Park's BBQ, Don Dae Gam prominently features its best items on page 1, with a similar layout, but more playful font, featuring 10 Pork specialty dishes and 6 Beef dishes. Be sure to consider one of their "Combo" deals, which is essentially the same price as ordering 2, 3, etc. of the same dishes individually, except that they throw in a free item from their Specialty Side Dishes menu, and a bottle of Soju.
If you're new to Korean BBQ, every table features their own personal grill, and you order a variety of meats to grill at the table yourself (although at nicer establishments, the servers will usually grill it for you as you watch).
A great perk is the inclusion of free Panchan (Small Side Dishes) that rotate daily, which can range from Stewed Potatoes, Fish Cakes, Marinated Seaweed, to the classic Kimchi.
During my 1st visit, my guest and I decide to start with their most popular and (according to our server) best dish on the menu: #1. Special Pork Neck Meat (pictured here with their Black Pork Belly).
There's some good marbling in the Pork Neck Meat, but the majority is still meat (compared to the Pork Belly, which has far more fat). The smell of the Pork Neck Meat as it sizzles is incredibly hunger-inducing. (^_~) And I take a bite...
There's this juicy, slightly fatty, insane unctuousness. :)
It's outstanding, and tastes great lightly dabbed in the Sesame Oil and Salt Dipping Sauce (along with some of their fresh Lettuce mix). Thankfully it's been consistently good, each time I've ordered it.
As we're finishing up the first item, our Mung Bean Pancake arrives.
Ostensibly, it looks just like its more popular cousin, Pajeon (a Flour-based Batter Korean Pancake), but this one is made with Mung Beans. There's a beautiful crisped edge (the bites closer to the crispy side are absolutely delicious), but it's a tad too thick, which means a slightly undercooked, liquidy, doughy center.
Their #5. Black Pork Belly cooks up next, after the grill frees up.
While they get their meat from the same supplier, I prefer Don Dae Gam's Black Pork Belly, over Park's current "Pork Belly" (what used to be their "Tokyo X Style Pork Belly"). It seems richer and brighter here. Either way, this Black Pork Belly is definitely the fattiest, most filling cut of Pork on the menu. It's good, but make sure you bring enough people to take down this giant slab of meat. :)
During a more recent visit, we're treated with more interesting Panchan dishes than my previous visits combined.
We start with their #2. Seasoned Pork Short Rib (shown with their Seasoned Black Pork Belly).
The Seasoned Pork Short Ribs, presented in a similar style to the classic Beef Short Ribs, are the leanest item on the menu, well marinated with a slightly sweet, Soy-infusion, and quite clean-tasting. It's not my favorite item on the menu, but it's fine for those looking for something less fatty. :)
Their #6. Seasoned Black Pork Belly, is similar to their #5. Black Pork Belly, except it's been marinated in their same house creation. This results in an excessive fatty, delicious and sweet-savory combination punch to the mouth. It's quite good, but I prefer most of my Korean BBQ meats without marinade, so I enjoy their regular Black Pork Belly more.
In the midst of all this meat madness comes the most pleasant surprise of the menu, and it's not even from their BBQ menu: Spicy Pork Ddeokboki (with Rice Cake and Kimchi), a giant pot of spicy deliciousness. :)
While the intense, retina-searing red color may send off massive warning signs, fear not, this is nowhere close to any of the massive burn found at Jitlada, as an example. :) A sip of this crimson concoction reveals a perfect balance of sweet and spicy, a touch of tang, and a completely addictive quality. Every guest at the table gets seconds and it's the first dish we finish that night. :)
We finish up with my two favorite items on the menu, starting with their #1. Ggot Sal (off the Beef Menu).
Similar to its sister restaurant's "Kobe Style Beef", there's an impressive amount of marbling in this American Kobe cut. The result is a good, satisfying meaty chew with good tenderness, and a genuine beefiness exuding from every bite. Delicious. (^_^)
And we finish up with the utterly satisfying specialty of the house, #1. Special Pork Neck Meat, again. :)
It's just as succulent and brilliant as before. This turns out to be everyone's favorite meat dish of the night, and with good reason, too. :)
Service is as expected in a Korean BBQ restaurant. Like Park's, Don Dae Gam's staff will rotate in and try to help watch over your grill, and cook the meat for you, but sometimes it gets too busy, so be ready to man the grill yourself to prevent anything from overcooking. Prices range from $18 - $30 per meat dish (a very healthy portion :), and their Specials Menu ranges from $3 - $25.
It's always nice finding a specialist that does something well, and for a Pork-centric Korean BBQ experience, Don Dae Gam carries on the focus in quality from its sister, Park's BBQ. While I prefer the Beef offerings at Park's more (it focuses on Beef, after all), when I'm in the mood for Pork, Don Dae Gam is a worthwhile consideration. It's less crowded than Park's BBQ, and features similar prices, while offering some great cuts like their Special Pork Neck Meat and Ggot Sal (with American Kobe Beef). Throw in their spicy, soul-warming stew, Spicy Pork Ddeokboki, and you've got a perfect way to warm up the evenings. :)
*** Rating: 7.9 (out of 10.0) ***
Don Dae Gam Pork BBQ
1145 S. Western Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Tel: (323) 373-0700
Hours: Open 7 Days A Week, 5:00 p.m. - 2:00 a.m.(!)