Koreatown is a fascinating, bustling neighborhood in Central Los Angeles, known for its ethnic diversity, outstanding restaurants, enticing shops, and grocery stores with unique Asian produce and products. We had never been to Koreatown, but we recently had the opportunity to dine at one of its most impressive restaurants, Star King BBQ.
The restaurant's owner, Jackie Yoo, pointed out that Star King BBQ is the only Asian restaurant in Los Angeles serving Piedmontese beef, which is known for its premier cuts that are especially delicious and nutritious. The cattle producing this beef originated in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy and are now raised in the Great Plains of Nebraska. This breed is genetically exceptional with its unique double muscling that results in very little fat. The cattle are nourished on a pure vegetarian diet. All this combines to produce lean meat that is also flavorful, tender and juicy. We were about to find out why Piedmontese is so special.
We were with a group of food writers ready for a special Sunday lunch at Star King BBQ. We discovered that Korean food is not exotic or strange but full of interesting, pleasing flavor combinations that our unaccustomed palates found unique and definitely tasty. We sat at long tables with coal-fired, cooking grills in the center of them. The first treat for our eyes (and then our palates of course) was Ban Chan, which is a traditional Korean arrangement of small bowls of seasonal side dishes that had been fermented or pickled and included such treats as kimchi, broccolini, spicy anchovies, squash salad, corn and pea salad, and toasted seaweed salad. We tasted these colorful side dishes throughout our meal and particularly enjoyed them as enhancements to the grilled beef.
We were then served some classic Korean salads with special flavors:
Do Tori Muk Muchin: This attractive salad featured acorn jelly (made in-house) that had been tossed with a light and tangy sesame dressing with cucumbers, jalapenos, chives and toasted seaweed. Although acorn jelly may not sound too appealing, it was surprisingly delicious and perfectly complemented the other salad ingredients.
Jap-chae: Glass noodles made from sweet potatoes had been sautéed with cabbage, spinach and green onions in a sweet, soy-based sauce. The glass noodles were light and nicely absorbed the tasty sauce. We also enjoyed a wonderful crunchy, cold beef salad.
Next we were served a special dish presented in an original Korean lunch box. Rice was topped with a fried egg and it was all mixed with toasted seaweed, sautéed kimchee and anchovies. The presentation was intriguing and the tastes were delectable.
Now it was finally time to try the grilled Piedmontese. Our server cooked the beef in front of us on the smokeless grills, but we learned that guests at Star King also have the option of cooking the beef themselves. First we were presented with a platter of the deep pink, raw beef cuts along with onions and mushrooms. In addition to the Ban Chan, small dishes of sauces and crushed sea salt nicely enhanced the meat.
We tried three different beef cuts. We really enjoyed the Brisket Point which had been thinly sliced and was tender and flavorful. We loved the Tomahawk Ribeye that had been brushed with olive oil that caramelized on the grill. This special cut of beef melted in our mouths and was a gustatory treat since the Tomahawk is not readily available in most restaurants. When the beef was almost cooked, the server took it off the grill and sliced it into smaller pieces, which were then placed back on the grill and seared according to our tastes, along with the onion and mushrooms. Finally, we savored Star King’s signature short ribs that had marinated in the restaurant’s original, soy-based marinade for 48 hours. Most of us just picked up these ribs and the meat fell right off the bone into our welcoming mouths. I had never tasted short ribs as flavorful as these. We were convinced that Piedmontese was indeed a very special beef and it was nice to know that it wasn’t full of fat but was tender and full of great taste.
We enjoyed our meal with samplings of a variety of beverages including traditional barley tea; Bok Bun Ja, a sweet raspberry wine; Soju, a rice wine somewhat like vodka or sake; and Makkeoil, a mellow rice wine served in a small traditional bowl.
We will come back to Star King BBQ and Koreatown again and again. It’s the next best thing to actually traveling to Korea. We also walked in and out of fascinating, nearby shops and through a huge market chock-full of Korean products we had never seen before. (We now have Roasted Seasoned Laver in our pantry.)
Star King BBQ is located at 3807 Wilshire Blvd., just minutes from downtown LA. It is open seven days a week, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon until 11 p.m. Reservations are not always necessary but are recommended. Call 213-384-5464. And be ready for a special treat.