I’ve decided to start a new little section of the blog called “Restaurants Are Fun” (name subject to change) to document some of the random spots I go to with my friends (and sometimes enemies, but that is VERY rare). I wouldn’t say these are full on reviews per se, but they’re kind of a simple “I ate this, and it was good” or a “I ate that, and it was bad” kind of thing. Whatever. This is a blog, not the New York Times. Just let me DO WHAT I WANT.
Anyway, today I want to focus on two Asian restaurants I went to last month: Takara, the new ramen shop in Hollywood, and Sun Ha Jang, a Korean spot specializing in duck. Pics and thoughts after the jump…
First up is Takara. In the former home of California Vegan, this ramen shop is probably only five weeks old or so. I dropped by in the first week (BRAG) and already it felt like a cozy neighborhood standby. Friendly service and warm greetings abounded.
One side of the menu. Cheap (and cash only).
Each table had its own complimentary fan. Needless to say, I felt like I was in the HEART of SHIBUYA.
Intrigue ensued… (pic courtesy of Lisa Timmons, btw).
We both ordered the Original Tonkotsu with pork, which arrived in no time.
The inaugural taste.
So hot. It was a cold, rainy evening though, and thus this was perfect.
Both Lisa and I enjoyed our ramen quite a bit. The broth felt a bit on the fatty/greasy side, but it didn’t deter us from slurping down every last drop. We particularly enjoyed the salty pieces of nori, but if I may be food bloggery and obnoxious, we would have preferred them to have been sliced into smaller pieces. As it stands now, the chewy nori sort of has to be eaten whole, which means you burn through it all in just a few bites (as opposed to rationing it throughout the entire ramen experience). Ugh, I’m awful. I know. But we BOTH felt the same way. Of course, one can always order additional nori as a topping, and I perhaps I may do JUST THAT.
Nevertheless, I’m pretty new to the ramen game; so it’s a bit difficult for me to say with huge authority how Takara matches up to the competition (of which there is lots in Los Angeles), but as a whole, I enjoyed my experience and would certainly go back. Worth trekking across the city for? Perhaps not. But down the street: yes.
Meanwhile, in Koreatown…
Welcome to Sun Ha Jang. I recently visited this Korean duck mecca with my dear friends Sly and Abe. We were intensely craving Korean food, but also adventure. Where better to sate these needs than by exploring new places in Koreatown. Of course, by “new,” we mean “new to us,” not “new to Los Angeles.” Just wanted to clarify in case a stickler wanted to point out that Sun Ha Jang has actually been around for quite a while.
Nevertheless, Sly and I turned to the epic article, Jonathan Gold’s 60 Korean Dishes Every Angeleno Should Know and began reading through the options. Almost immediately we came across Sun Ha Jang, with this accompanying description:
Slices of unseasoned duck breast ooze and shrink and sear on a thick, cast-iron griddle at Sun Ha Jang; you snatch them off the heat and fold them into a salad of lettuce and sliced leeks. When a waitress plugs the drain with a hank of cabbage kimchi, it is time to cook the “roast duck”: the parts of the bird that don’t happen to come from the breast, which you slowly render into duck cracklings. The duck is eaten. The fat boils. A bowl of cooked rice is upended onto the griddle with herbs and your leftover kimchi; it soon will become the richest fried rice of your life.
We were sold.
With high hopes, we jetted off to the restaurant knowing that an epic duckventure would be on the horizon.
The three of us took a seat at a table directly under Jonathan Gold’s full review for the restaurant, which I read as we waited for our server (who proved to be super friendly and helpful). I was so excited I could barely contain myself.
The experience, however, wound up being one of the more disappointing ones I’ve had in Koreatown.
First, we were informed that we could only order duck, and that since there were three of us at the table, we had to place three orders, each for $30. The duck then arrived (along with a limited selection of banchan), and we were instructed to cook the poultry in its own fat, which we were then assured was actually GOOD for us. Hmmmm not sure about that:
That’s okay though — while the idea of cooking the duck in its own fat wasn’t the most appealing to us, we still did it gamely. It wasn’t any worse than what onion rings or spring rolls endure. I hope.
Anyway, as the duck grilled away, we plucked pieces off rapidly (we were told not to let them sit too long) and bundled them in rice paper along with kimchi and various bits of salad. The flavors were definitely tasty — very tasty in fact — but ultimately, the “duckiness” of it all was kind of lost in the fray. And that’s where our disappointment kicked in. For all the money and hubbub, we were eating tasty but not necessarily exciting food. I’d rather head to Honey Pig, for instance, where the pork belly is served in a very similar preparation but absolutely shines. Alternatively, I’d head to a standby like Soowon Galbi, which for the same price per person offers significantly more variety and a huge amount of delicious banchan.
Sun Ha Jang didn’t offer up a bad meal. It was actually very good. And the rice at the end (cooked in all those duck cracklings) was definitely a highlight. But due to the price, lack of variety, and hastiness of the entire experience, I can’t say that I’ll be heading back again. (We all agreed, including Abe, who’s Korean — so THERE).
Takara Ramen Bar
7300 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046
SUN HA JANG
4032 W. Olympic Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA