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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Madang621: Excellent Side Dishes But Mains Fail to Impress

I wasn't sure what to expect from the revamped Bann space in the CGV complex at the heart of Koreatown on Western and Wilshire. I had never been to the previous spot but Madang621 initially looked like style over substance from the outside. Even though it operates as Madang621, it doesn't have a new website or yelp page (I don't get why so few Korean restaurants have websites -- but let me save that for a rant or future business idea). Different priorities...

In any case, I wasn't blown away but I did enjoy some things and here are some highlights.

I can't recall the last time I had yookhoe, super quality raw meat cut in strips and seasoned with soy sauce, garlic and some sweetness, topped with a raw yolk (yes, just like steak tartare!) and garnished with crunchy slivers of Asian pear. The meat was good, if not hard from being frozen (it should be room temperature and soft), and tasted fresh enough. The marinade was just right and combination with the pears was divine. This place drizzled some spicy sauce around the plate but I'm not sure it needed it. Ditto for the greens on top. More for looks.
The meat and shrimp were all ok, nothing spectacular (meat was a bit tough). The real star of this place was hands down the banchan -- the side dishes that accompany every Korean meal.

The offerings were unusual for a barbecue place, including my personal favorites: duduk, an earthy root that's been pounded to soften it and smothered with spicy pepper paste, garlic and sesame oil; kkennip jjangajji, perilla leaves steamed with a spicy sauce; and chuinamul, an aromatic green that's often consumed with ogokbap (rice with five grains) during the full moon holiday after the Lunar New Year.
I also liked the blanched mini-squids (kkoltoogi) that came with the steamed broccoli and bright red spicy, sweet and tangy sauce. The baby squids were tender and dipped in the sauce, were addictive.

The banchan were all solid, just spicy and salty enough to complement the healthy white and black rice with beans.

The duenjang jjigae, or fermented soybean stew, was unremarkable. It tasted diluted -- not salty and hearty enough -- like it had no soul. Go here instead for that.

The dessert was a feeble attempt at replicating a classic Korean summer treat, patbingsoo, which is basically a red bean slush with all sorts of goodies on top, preferably fresh fruit.

It was grandiose in its presentation but besides coming in a bowl made out of slush, we found all of nine little pebbles of red beans. The vanilla ice cream tasted cheap. The red syrup looked and tasted ghastly. The canned fruits were sad-looking. For a place that spends so much dough on decoration, I think it can afford to do better. This didn't even do the namesake justice.

We also had Korean peppers (pootkochu) stuffed with white fish and deep fried but they were kind of bland and dry. The chicken legs that were presented as potstickers and seasoned like buffalo wings were hardly worth mentioning -- dry and too sweet.

If this place is serious about delivering good Korean food, it needs to 1) make up its mind about its identity -- is it a traditional BBQ place or fusion? 2) improve service (place more heat lamps in the patio) and most importantly, 3) improve the quality of the meat (the cooked meat was a bit tough) and the litmus test for many a Korean restaurant -- the soybean stew.


persimmongirl said...

I prefer my patbingsoo simple: ice, pat, maybe some ddeok and watermelon...

ironchef442 said...

me too. no syrup or ttuk. just ice, pat and loads of fresh fruit and maybe sprinkled w/some misu garu :)