Mi Song – When Cultures and Cuisines and Collide

mi song, hacienda heights, ca
I interlaced my fingers over my keyboard and bent them backward slowly, cracking my knuckle one by one. Pop. *pause* Pop. *pause* Pop. My pinkie and thumb never crack. I lifted my interlocked hands over my head into a long, lean tigress-like stretch backward in my chair and simultaneously released a sigh so melodramatically audible I could have been on stage.

Just as I snapped back into blogging position, hovering over the keyboard with a brand new resolve to write less about my wahwah pathetic personal life and more about holyfuckin’hellisn’tthisafuckingfoodblog food

mi song japanese restaurant, rowland heights, los angeles, ca
korean and japanese in harmony

I saw Mi Song.

The next restaurant in what Strategic Operations Theory would call a “queue,” was Mi Song.


I wanted to bang my forehead against my stillnew laptop’s cinematic widescreen display. Mi Song. The memory was vague at first; perhaps I had tried to repress the flavor memory somewhere in my subconscious, only to have it haunt in me later in some surreal sushi nightmare involving angry kimchee and a pair of chopsticks. I flipped the pages on my yellow legal pad down one by one, scanning backward through my recent history. Mi Song.

The photos were on my laptop. Matching each scrawled line to a corresponding IMG_000, my head snapped back and forth between the legal pad on my left and the screen right in front of me with increasing velocity until, no, no, no…I found myself violently shaking my head “No!” The memory of Mi Song’s food attacked my head like a screaming, swirling, pod-laying alien.

Why? Why, right after I make an unspoken promise to the world that I would focus on food, does Mi Song rear its ugly, discombobulated Korean/Japanese head? Why, Blogging Gods, why?!?!

I would so much rather write about how our entire family descended upon Rowland Heights from all parts of LA at least 10 minutes early so that Dad wouldn’t have fodder, invaded the restaurant, then proceeded to commandeer no less than five tables, noisily shoving them together into one long banquet table, snatching chairs left and right, sitting down, scooting tables back apart into two tables at the behest of the servers for convenience, then back into one long table, every person offering unsolicited opinions about who should sit where, sitting down again, chaotically repositioning ourselves at least two more times until finally, we were in a strategic configuration that was exactly like…the first time we sat down.

I would much rather write about how there was a moment of calm while we collectively gazed in quiet admiration of our family’s seating chart prowess. Rather, it was a mere nanosecond, before the table erupted into what can only be described as an Ordering Auction. Menu pages flapped back and forth. “What are you having?” “I don’t know what are you having?” “Oh, tempura sounds good.” “No, honey, your cholesterol.” The sushi menu and a small golf pencil makes its way along one side of the table, each person taking a turn at Auctioneer. “I’m getting hamachi.” “Oh, I want hamachi, too!” “Anyone else for hamachi?” “Put me down for an albacore!” “Make that two albacore!” “Two albacore, do I hear three?” Quiet side negotiations about sharing. Shouted cross-table deliberations about which bento box to order. Dad proclaims spicy tuna handrolls. I can only imagine that the servers were cowering in the corner, observing us in silent fear.

God, I love my family.

But as much as I love them, I shouldn’t write about them. I am writing about food, which at Mi Song, is barely passable. Now, I don’t want to get into a race/ethnicity/nationalistic issue here, but I sincerely believe the quality has something to do with the fact that Mi Song is a Japanese restaurant owned by Korean people.

mi song japanese retsaurant, rowland heights, los angeles, ca - kimchee
aggressive, almost violent

Now when it comes to Korean food, Koreans know what the hell they’re doing. No one can wield a pair of silver tongs, wrangle a piece of raw marinated meat, hack it, while it’s hanging midair, with a pair of regular Fiskars, into identically shaped bite-sized pieces of galbi that land in a perfect pattern on the table-top grill like a middle-aged Korean woman. No one can attack a bowl of bibimbahp with nothing but a thin-handled metal spoon and render rice and vegetables, into a perfectly uniform distribution, like nobles gases under the second law of thermodynamics, every individual bite an exact microcosmic representation of the entire bowl, like a Korean mom doing it for her daughter. No one does the extreme flavors and aggressive, almost violent, technique of Korean food like a Korean.

mi song japanese retsaurant, rowland heights, los angeles, ca - mook
mook (acorn jelly)
mi song japanese retsaurant, rowland heights, los angeles, ca - oi kimchee
add spice to oshinko and it’s oi kimchee

Which is probably why it is difficult to find a Korean who can present the perfect, subtle, balanced, teeny tiny delicate precision of Japanese food, particularly sushi. Mi Song did fine with the few bahn chan that came to the table – kimchee, oi, mook, and even a few other things, but sushi is where Mi Song tripped up.

mi song japanese retsaurant, rowland heights, los angeles, ca - uni
gonads scraped from the box
mi song japanese restaurant, rowland heights, los angeles, ca - spicy tuna roll
loose and disheveled

In most cases, I am in wholly in favor of flavor over fashion – it doesn’t have to look pretty in order to taste good. However, when it comes to sushi, appearance does play a large role in how taste is perceived. The quality of the fish wasn’t bad – except for the uni, which was an underhanded attempt at cobbling together the leftover bits of urchin gonads that had been scraped up from the bottom and sides of the wooden tray.

mi song japanese restaurant, rowland heights, los angeles, ca - hamachi sushi
swallowed by hamachi
mi song japanese restaurant, rowland heights, los angeles, ca - albacore sushi
sloshed sauce, sloppy garnish

Ignoring the quality of the fish itself, Mi Song’s execution is sloppy. Rice balls are minus lone grains trailing on the plate, loosely wrapped rolls are disheveled and misshapen, fish is cut so large it practically swallows the rice, sauces sloshed all over the plate, messy garnishes that look like they were hurriedly thrown on as the server was snatching the plate away to take it to the table. It looks careless, as if the chefs were in a huge rush. Perhaps they were.

mi song japanese restaurant, rowland heights, los angeles, ca - spicy tuna on top
only so much makeup can do
mi song japanese restaurant, rowland heights, los angeles, ca - dynamite roll
mayonnaise monstrosity

It wouldn’t be fair to speak of the gross monstrosities covered in the equivalent of layers of cheap makeup to hide whatever natural un-beauty lies beneath. I hate those things, and wouldn’t have touched them with a 10-foot chopstick.

mi song japanese restaurant, rowland heights, los angeles, ca - bento box
relatively better, absolutely bad
mi song japanese restaurant, rowland heights, los angeles, ca - california roll
not worth mentioning, good or bad

The bento box was better than the sushi, but from an absolute sense, the individual items were not very good. Teriyaki sauce was sticky sweet, tasted like it came from an industrial-sized bottle, and even a generous dousing wasn’t enough to flood out the dryness of overcooked salmon. California rolls are never worth mentioning, good or bad, but the tempura was…bad. The batter was too thick, heavy, and cooked in such a way that it was chewy. How does tempura batter get chewy?!?! Maybe it was a bad fry, maybe it was from someone else’s order the night before and had been re-heated in the mocrowave oven, maybe it had been sitting too long waiting for pickup. I don’t know – but it was unaccaeptably chewy.

mi song japanese restaurant, rowland heights, los angeles, ca - tempura
how does tempura get chewy?!
mi song japanese restaurant, rowland heights, los angeles, ca - green tea ice cream
ice cream and family fixes everything

But even with the odd combination of Korean bahnchan and Japanese food, even with ugly sushi, dry salmon, and chewy tempura, there is nothing a tiny bowl of green tea ice cream and a giant helping of family can’t fix.

Mi Song
18359 Colima Rd.
Rowland Heights, CA 91748

** a year ago today, i couldn’t wait around forever for the love of my culinary life, so i settled for green tea risotto **

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  • Kirk

    Hi Sarah – Well this will be interesting! We lived 2 blocks away from Mi Song for about 5 years. Can’t wait to see what the Delicious One has got to say…..

  • Kirk

    Hi Sarah – Gack is right…….ate there once.

  • onetomato

    i don’t know…the pics sure look delish to me

  • FoodZealot

    Tempura gets tough by too much stirry stirry when wet and not enough resty resty before cooking. Works up the gluten like a bread dough. It’s actually better to use chopsticks (inefficient = better in this case) and leave a few lumps in there.

  • sarah

    kirk: gack again. LOL! but still, when we are all together, taste seems to disappear into the background :)

    lac: my parents used to live in that area before moving to The OC.

    onetomato: trick photography ;)

    foodzealot: omg! that is what mingtsai told me, too! okay, he didn’t tell it to just me, but you know, sometimes i pretend it’s just me and ming when he comes on the tv screen ;)

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