This past Saturday night was very exciting. First off, I may or may not have been on a date. But more importantly, I was taken to two (2) places in my City of Angels that I had never been nor had any prior knowledge of. That’s pretty rare.
I was sent an email a day or two before Saturday with a link to the prodigious Mr. Gold’s review of our restaurant destination: Sun Ha Jang. So I was aware and prepared for whatever lay ahead. That would be duck. Excitement mounted.
At precisely seven o’clock (right on time!) I was picked up and off we went. To Koreatown. And just as I was noticing the façade for a spa I sent my mom to as a gift for Christmas some years ago that left her with PTSD to this day (another story), we were parked smack in front of the restaurant.
Sun Ha Jang was bright, but not too bright, tidy, small and about halfway filled up. I think this was about seven thirty. We were seemingly the only non-Koreans in the house, which was a comforting sign. We were seated immediately and handed golden menus with those hologramy-winky pictures in them. We hardly perused the menu at all before our server came over to get our order. This was fine as we didn’t really know what we were doing and we were pretty much going to go for what was suggested from the review. The Roasted Duck. I’m guessing they were used to Korean food dilettantes coming in, clutching their
reference guides Smart Phones since she
just kindly nodded, and knew exactly what to deliver.
So right after we got our bottle of soju, a bottle of cold tea, and the usual assortment of panchan, kimchi and marinated bean sprouts, came the sliced duck. Our server was kind to us and guided us through The Process wordlessly. She gingerly placed the round, thick, marbled and fatty duck slices on the griddle in the center of the table with a generous smattering of whole cloves of garlic. Then she picked up a chunklet of kimchi and used it to plug the griddle's drain. We later realized this was to preserve all that glorious duck fat.
After just a few minutes we started to pick at the duck, flipping it and whatnot as I had read that we should by no means allow them to condense into chewy nubs. This was when our server hustled back over to assist, and also where I will insert my companion’s only sound bite from the evening for this post, “Aside from the yumminess of the duck and duck fat roasted garlic and the good company, what sticks in my mind the most was the maternal weariness with which the waitress took over as she watched my relative clumsiness in flipping the duck over on the griddle.”
Did you see that? I’m good company!
When the duck was ready to come off the griddle our server even showed us how to assemble and eat everything together. She made a whole presentation on Date’s plate. The result was not unlike a duck salad: the chopped, dressed lettuce with a few slivers of marinated onion, and a little julienned pickled radish, garnished with the duck topped with a few strands of sliced Korean leek and a small dollop of chili paste. It was fresh and clean, yet rich and unctuous. Each bite was crisp, cool and bright right alongside with being warm, supple and lush.
After a little more time and a lot more bites, the cloves of garlic were all roasty, with crisp outsides and warm, oozy insides. At this point I just wanted to eat bites of the garlic rubbed over slices of the now, ever so slightly brittled duck meat that remained.
But there was more. I knew it was coming and I was aflutter. Our server then brought us a bowl of rice cooked with beans and dumped it onto the griddle, sprinkling it with herbs and sesame seeds. And there it sizzled away as it cooked in that beautiful, seasoned duck fat until it was perfectly crunchety on the bottom.
And then I was sated.
I very much enjoyed my meal and my experience at Sun Ha Jang. I do so love a process. An interactive meal, so to speak. The company was pretty great too.
And then we were off, into the night. Off to destination number two, and as mentioned above, yet another new experience for me, a bar called 1642. This place serves only wine and beer, is perfectly dark and plays almost-but-not-too-loud-and-very-good jazz. Wine and conversation ensued.