For a few years now, I’ve been hearing about the Hwe Dub Bap at A-Won Japanese Restaurant here in Los Angeles. This Korean dish, which is basically sashimi piled on top of lettuce and other veggies, has been thoroughly documented by the local media, blogs, and various Yelpers over the years. However, I’d never actually tried it before. I certainly had come close — going so far as to actually sitting down at the restaurant with every intention to order the dish. The thing is that A-Won also specializes in albap, a rich rice bowl topped with a beautiful assortment of caviar, and try as I may, I simply am not one who can ever resist a giant bowl of fish roe.
This weekend, however, I finally decided to MAN UP and go for the much-heralded Hwe Dub Bap. I had spent much of Saturday afternoon ambling about Disneyland (as one does), and while there had been a midday corn dog to stave off a wave of violent hunger pangs, the shocking truth is that it simply was not enough to sustain me. By the time dinner at A-Won rolled around, I knew a meager bowl of fish roe simply would not due. Delicious, yes. But enough to counter a ravenous post-Disneyland appetite? Hardly. And thus, the landmark decision by me to eschew my beloved albap for hwe dub bap was made.
This was a good thing.
The bowl of hwe dub that arrived in front of me was so large that I momentarily wondered if it were on loan from Shamu’s permanent residence at Sea World. I’m not sure if the photo above truly conveys the size of this thing (I placed my hand in the shot for scale; however, my hands are somewhat large so that really doesn’t help), but it was probably the size of a small hubcap. At least it felt like it.
Inside the bowl was a beautiful array of vegetables — lettuce, shredded carrots, onion, microgreens, seaweed — and of course, fish. Lots and lots of fish. Now let’s make something clear: this was not the most tender, luscious, sublimely dreamy haul of sashimi in Los Angeles. But it was perfectly fine, especially given the context of the dish. Had I wanted to savor each morsel of albacore and yellowtail, chances are I would have opted for a traditional Japanese sushi restaurant where the fish truly is presented as the star (although, A-Won does offer more conventional sashimi plates too).
Nevertheless, the presentation of the colorful sashimi sitting on a perky nest of greens was almost too pretty to disturb. But I was a hungry man with needs, and so after snapping a photo of the bowl, I quickly got to work mixing up the hwe dub bap like a pro. The process was a rigorous one, and it involved incorporating a bowl of rice as well as the aforementioned gochujang sauce and sesame oil. It was all very tactile and exciting, and I know my dining companions, Sly and Abe, were equally enthralled by the process.
Eventually, my bowl looked like this:
Note the banchan and miso soup that comes with this already significant serving of food.
Anyway, once everything was mixed, I ate. And ate. And ate. The sheer volume of food was astounding. Every mouthful was bursting with sashimi — no skimping on the fish here. The flavors were bright and fresh with just a tinge of heat from the gochujang sauce and a lovely nuttiness from the sesame oil. About midway through her bowl, Sly threw in the towel and began her traditional post-meal process of sighing and moaning in pleasure. As for me, I somehow managed to eat everything in my bowl, at which point I was so full I could hardly believe there was a time when I wasn’t stuffed. Oh, and did I mention the whole thing cost only $15.95?
I was happy.
I didn’t think it was possible to eat again. But then there was talk of dessert, and suddenly, we found ourselves at Café Mak, a neat little Korean gem tucked away on Shatto Place in Koreatown. With cozy chairs, Ikea bookcases full of random manuscripts and Library Fair rejects, the place was cutely inviting and served as the perfect coda to our sashimi gorging. As I was about 93% yellowtail at that point, I opted not to indulge in dessert but instead a simple mochaccino, which clocked in at a relatively steep $5.95.
Despite the high price tag (perhaps thanks to the LAMill coffee used), I greatly enjoyed this mochaccino. It was kind of the perfect post-sashimi treat — chocolatey but light, and with enough caffeine to combat the food coma without keeping you up all night.
Abe and Sly, however, opted for shaved ice, which arrived looking like an alabaster breast:
The pile of virtual snow was topped with a single, perfectly scooped melon ball that managed to at first enchant Sly and then later disgust her when she actually ate it (the melon ball was NOT well received). Under the ice was a variety of fruity things: fruit, custard, mochi, red bean. It wasn’t really my thing, but they enjoyed it the experience quite a bit. Abe, however, noted that there should have been more fresh fruit involved.
In the end, we were all quite happy. Well, perhaps not Sly who ordered a lemon tea at Café Mak that was purportedly so sweet she had to ask for two cups of water just to dilute it to palatable levels. Stick to the mochaccino, people.
A-Won Japanese Restaurant
913 S Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA
612 Shatto Pl
Los Angeles, CA