Back in December, I caught an episode of “Unique Eats” on the Cooking Channel about three restaurants with very different takes on pork. One featured Palsaik Korean Barbecue in Los Angeles.
There, they marinate 3/8-inch-thick strips of fresh pork belly in eight different mixtures and grill them right on your table. Gee, I thought, I would love to experience that.
It so happened my sweetheart and I would fly into L.A. a month later. So I mapped Palsaik’s location in Koreantown west of downtown. So, last month, we ventured from LAX to find it. Boy, was it worth it.
You know what they say about choosing the ethnic restaurant that is full of people from that particular group. I quickly saw that we were the only non-Asians in the place. (Later, a paleface entered – with his Korean wife.)
On each table in Palsaik are two gas burners. Above one is a ridged griddle set on a slant. Above the other is a skillet full of vegetables, shrimp, baby octopus and squid.
The two most-ordered combos at Palsaik are the “8 flavors of pork (belly)” and a combination of paper-thin belly strips and pork steaks. Of course, we went for 8 flavors, which go for $49.95.
The eight marinates are wine, ginseng, curry, miso, herb, chili pepper, garlic and “natural,’ as in not marinated. Before going into the marinades, the stripes are scored to enhance absorption. For presentation, each is rolled and placed in little ceramic plates on a lacquered board.
Looking at the board, I thought the two of us will not be able to eat even half. I think we topped out at about 90 percent. It was that delicious.
The server unrolled four of the strips and placed them on the hot griddle, returned to turn them and came back again to scissor each into bite-sized pieces. Now, this is pork belly and the striations of fat were apparent. But we didn’t see cascades of liquid fat rushing forth. The fat that did render flavored beds of bean sprouts and kimchee resting at the low end.
There is a ventilation hood over each table that carries off some heat but by no means all. We were warm.
These special tables can accommodate six people and all but ours were occupied by at least four. Lock the doors, we were in pork rapture.
We got a kick out of a framed 2011 review of Palsaik by L.A. Weekly’s Jonathon Gold. He noted, correctly, that most Americans view bacon – which is pork belly cured and smoked – as a guilty pleasure.
Koreans, he wrote, think of it as “health food . . . as a magic, protein-rich substance that clears the skin, protects the liver, detoxifies the lungs, even cleanses the system of cholesterol.”
If I had read that before eating, I think I could have polished off all eight belly rolls all by my lonesome.
One conclusion was that the marinades do not overpower the meat, even though our server said it rests in the ablutions for two days. Not sure I heard that right.
For the record, our favorite flavors, by rank, were miso, curry, garlic, herb, ginseng, chili pepper and wine. The untreated strip was merely unadornedly scrumptious.
The “Unique Eats” Episode said the suggested way of eating the little pieces of crisp belly is to squeeze them in a leaf that looks something like kale. But we were not presented with said leaves. Maybe only locals get them – or you have to ask.
To wash away all this gluttony, Palsaik offers rice wine, Korean beer and California wine of the jug variety. We ordered warm tea, which was just fine.
The home office version of Palsaik is in Seoul. In L.A., it’s at 836 S. Western Ave. in a plaza partially concealed by a free-standing edifice of some sort. The name Palsaik does not jump out. Just look for the number 8 and a smiling Porky Pig.
I am positive I am not the first person to compare the experience with that in your typical Japanese steakhouse. But there is no comparison. If you’re way past being moved by a guy juggling Ginsu knives, once you have been to Palsaik, you will pass by every Japanese steakhouse you see – at least in L.A. and Seoul.
There are scores of Korean barbecue joints up and down Western Avenue. But there is only one Palsaik.