Go ahead. I dare you.
Western Doma Noodle (429 N. Western, Suite 10, Los Angeles) is an unassuming little place that seats maybe 20 people, which allows the lovely proprietress to zero in and target each customer with a personalized onslaught of dishes. If you show the slightest sign of not being in passionate love with one of your dishes, she will come out, and, tsk-ing, plop down another. Did you fail to finish every drop of the red sauce that comes with your ddukboki (spicy rice cakes)? Well, you must not have liked it then, and you will be offered a veritable pot of manduguk (dumpling soup) to make up for it. She will tell you, proudly, about how she hand-cut all the noodles. Didn’t finish your soup because you were too busy trying to make a dent in the 4 pounds of cod, tofu, radish and green pepper in your main course? Or perhaps you got distracted by the 8 bottomless banchan (small side dishes) that remain in front of you? After all, they represent every possible variety of taste you would ever want: pepper-slathered cucumbers, crunchy anchovies, vinegary potato salad, bean sprouts marinated in sesame oil, and more. Never mind that, though: you must still be unsatisfied! Allow her to bring you some seaweed snacks, or a bowl of sprouted purple rice.
What differentiates Western Doma from the AYCE Korean BBQ places out there that will also feed you as much as you want? Well, for one, this isn't Korean BBQ - or at least not primarily. And secondly, this is arguably some of the tastiest and freshest homestyle Korean food you’ll find in Los Angeles. The cod is meltingly tender, infused with a spicy dark red sauce that is reminiscent, somehow, of mole. Buried beneath the generous fillets are whole radishes and slices of tofu that have also absorbed the magical sauce and fused it with their own unique flavors. The ricedbulgogi is sliced paper-thin, giving you all of the grilled smokiness and none of the toughness that comes hand in hand with most of the Korean barbecue in the area. The pajeon, which is translated as “green onion pancake”, is, despite its name, no lacy vegetarian side dish. It is the size of a large frisbee and comes piled high with crab, octopus legs, shrimp, and yes, green onions, but they are an afterthought. The waitress will come by with sauce and spoon the exact right amount onto your slice for you. Don’t interfere with her: it is exactly the right amount, every time.
Where, outside of your doting aunts and grandmas, are you going to find someone who cares so much about whether or not you love your food that she’ll keep trying until you’re visibly jumping for joy? There is nothing more satisfying than the look she gets when she is finally convinced that you are a Western Doma convert - and don’t worry, that moment will come. She’ll nod slightly, almost imperceptibly, and smile her way back to the kitchen to get you, finally, not more food, but a stack of to-go boxes. If you don’t still have enough packed away in those boxes for lunch and dinner the next day, well, you should probably start entering those competitive eating contests.
(originally published over at Examiner)