Quickie Korean Lunch at Seo Rae Gwan Restaurant

seo rae gwan bahn-chan

Seo Rae Gwan
3881 Wilshire Boulevard (at St. Andrews Place)
Los Angeles, CA 90010

Koreatown is not a usual destination for me. If ever I do Korean cooking at home, there are rarely any ingredients that I can’t get at the regular grocery store, and even the nearby Westside Japanese markets can supplement some of the Asian-specific items. For kimchee, it’s a little different. Mitsuwa (sometimes) has it, and even Ralphs and Pavilions will have tiny jars, but usually, I pack a little to-go kimchee from the ginormous jar that is gurgling away in the fridge when I go home to visit my parents. Gurgling. Really.

Even for restaurants, I consider Koreatown more of a headache than it’s worth. I only find myself going to the big barbecue houses only when required by special family occasions. In fact, barbecue, I have found better in Orange County around my parents. Who knew? Korean barbecue in Orange County. Most of the Korean things I like to eat, I can make (better) at home.

So when I am crawling my way up Western Avenue, it’s for totally random reasons. To get Mexican food in Koreatown at El Cholo. To go to a rock concert at the Wiltern. To look for wedding dresses (no luck, and *thank god* not mine).

And most recently, at the behest of Mom, to do very stupid silly superficial things to my face. *raises perfectly shaped eyebrows* I only agreed because then I would already be in k-town, and she would have to buy me something to eat. Spoiled rotten brat – that’s me.

The first visit (last month), we decided on a sushi lunch at Furusato, after a momentary *hm* about the Korean restaurant next to it that we had never noticed before. This time on my touch-up visit, we most certainly noticed a big green B in Furusato’s window (it wasn’t there before either). Though I am not as worried about the letter grade (and perhaps that explains my college transcript), my Mom, like all Korean mothers, just wouldn’t have it. She actually explored the entire exterior of the neighboring restaurant looking for the letter grade, but couldn’t find it. She’s sort of crazy, but in a healthy sort of way. We went in anyway. My logic would be that if they don’t very prominently display it, then maybe they are purposely hiding it. I don’t care about the grade, but I do care about honesty.

on the corner where furusato used to be

Seo Rae Gwan, ???, is on Wilshire, two small blocks west of Western. The door is pretty inconspicuous; so inconspicuous that we never found it and actually entered Seo Rae Gwan through their back door that faces the rear parking lot. We traipsed through the kitchen to get to the dining room. Ridiculous.

When I went in to Furusato for the first time in years, I noticed that it had been reduced in size by about half, and that the decor had completely changed. The west half is now Seo Rae Gwan, and while Furusato went “street Japanese” with black decor and neon accents, Seo Rae Gwan kept the old Furusato decor that I knew before. Bright daylight, light wood, those extremely high backed, somewhat claustrophobic and uncomfortable chairs.

bae-choo kimchee: spicy pickled cabbage

oi kimchee: spicy pickled cucumber

Seo Rae Gwan has a $4.99 lunch special, but something that cheap scares me. Instead, we took advantage of the fact that Dad wasn’t there and ordered dehn-jahng jjigae (boiling hot pot with soy bean paste base). I think he had a traumatic experience with the stuff back in Korea when he was little, so he won’t stand for anyone ordering it if he’s around. We also got ee-myun-soo gui (broiled mackerel) for a little protein.

kong namul: seasoned bean sprouts

Since it’s lunch, the bahn-chan (side dishes) are simple: regular bae-choo kimchee (cabbage), oi kimchee (cucumber), ggak-doo-gee (spicy pickled radish), kong-namul, and mee-yuk (seaweed). Really, if we were at home, we could have simply eaten bahp (steamed white rice) with just the bahn-chan. They were all fairly standard, though I really like the mee-yuk and could have eaten a whole plate of it with ggoh-choo-jahng. Not because it was especially well-done at Seo Rae Gwan; just that I like mee-yuk.

eemyunsoo gui: broiled mackereal

A small piece of ee-myun-soo gui came out on a sizzling metal plate the way most barbecue does, with sliced white onions underneath. Raw white onions give me heartburn, but I can’t resist the natural sweetness of onions. I gobbled them up, and regretted it later – much more so than having kimchee breath all afternoon). Ee-myun-soo is a naturally oily fish, but Seo Rae Gwan added too much cooking oil so it ended up being too greasy. We took a few bites of the crispy salted skin, then left it at that. The leftovers are still in a styrofoam container, tightly wrapped in a plastic bag in my fridge. I think it’s time to throw it out. *shudders*

The dehn-jahng jjigae was okay. It was different from the one we had recently had at Sagan. Neither better nor worse, just different. It was spicier, with a much heavier dose of ggoh-choo jahng and fresh jalapenos. There was less of the characteristic noxious fumes from dehn-jahng, which was alright, only because it would spare my co-workers at the office later in the day. Had it been dinner, I would have liked enough dehn-jahng to knock me over. The doo-boo was a good stand in for the protein I was missing from theforsaken ee-myun-soo, and of course, I fished out all the zucc
hini. Good stuff.

dehn-jahng jjigae: soy bean paste hot pot

shik hae: rice punch *blech*

They brought Korean dishwater. Alright, alright, so it’s shik-hae (Korean rice punch) but I didn’t touch it.

Seo Rae Gwan does have a front door, it just takes some searching. And they do have a letter grade. That required a little searching, too. The green letter B was hidden behind a bamboo plant by the front door, on the inside (not visible from the outside). It was a quickie lunch which was decent, but discovering that hidden B, it was our last lunch there, too.

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  • nosheteria

    Speaking of kimchee…have you ever made it? I heard that it is quite easy, and infinitely more delicious. Just wondering if you have a recipe, since you are so forthcoming with other yummy Korean recipes.

  • sarah j. gim

    kimchee isn’t difficult to make pers e, as in doesn’t require culinary skills, but it’s sort of a big production, stinks up the house, stains your hands and utensils all shades of red, and of course, takes up quite a bit of space in the fridge to “ferment.”

    i’ll have to ask Mom about her recipe and perhaps a weekend this month i’ll actually do it. oh my poor neighbors who will have to suffer through the smell – LOL!

  • brocklanders

    That place is actually known for their bossam. They have combos that you can choose from including bossam, yumso(goat) tang, hae mul pajun, and soju. I wasn’t too impressed with anything except the bossam.
    It’s funny that your mother didn’t want to eat at a place with a B. My mother never pays attention to those grades and she never abides by the expiration dates. I thought all Korean parents were like that, but I guess not.

  • sarah j. gim

    LOL! it’s strange, isn’t it? the expiration date thing – i totally hear you. sometimes i poke through my mom’s fridge and find packages of curry that expired two presidencies ago, and when i attempt to throw it out, my mom leaps to rescue it from the trash screaming “what?!? don’t waste! it’s fine!” and she’ll make us eat it that night just to prove it to us – lol!

  • Helen (AugustusGloop)

    That Korean rice punch looks mighty scarey.

    And I hear you on the expiration thing… I can’t stand people who adopt the dates religiously (it’s a legal requirement buddy, not a steadfast rule) but at the same time my parents have come up with some hilarious pantry fossils. We found a nice box of tea bags the other day … vintage 1982!

  • sarah

    augustus gloop…omg! that is classic. keep them. preserve them. LOL! they might be worth $200 someday!

  • Jessica

    So glad to read your review of that place. For those of us who grew up in the Hancock Park/K-Town area, that space served as our local Tiny Naylor’s! Might be worth trying when I really wanna save some pennies, but otherwise I’ll keep driving…

  • Evil Jonny

    Personally I think shik-hae is delicious!

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