After a year and a half of wrangling permits out of the city of Glendale to make everything just right, Surasang has finally opened in La Crescenta. So I met my fish-loving friends, including one who lived in Japan, for a lovely and exotic lunch.
They had already gone before to try the Shabu Shabu ($24.99 to $39.99). As they now know, one order of mixed Shabu Shabu for each couple and another one for four kids is more than enough. The vegetables, meat and seafood come raw and fresh, and you cook them over the grill that’s in the center of every table, then dip them in various sauces for seasoning. Hanging over each table is a fan hood and a sprinkler. Just in case.
The chef came out with a special kimchi he had made that night, and the wait staff cooked the Shabu Shabu for the kids’ table.
They were pleased to come back and join me for lunch.
Dark colors make the ambience relaxing yet elegant. The menus are gorgeous brass-colored books with elegant page after page of Korean delights. All items are written in English first, then Korean.
There are appetizers like kimchi with seafood or pan-fried meatball ($8.99) and casseroles with seafood ($49.99), beef intestine ($34.99) or just spicy black cod stew ($14.99), which feed more than two people. Under Korean barbecue they list more than 15 kinds of beef, including Kobe. They even serve breakfast of spicy beef soup, or beef rib stew with or without cabbage ($8.99) from 7 a.m. until noon Saturdays and Sundays.
We each tried lunch specials (served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday). First to arrive at the table were several bowls of fun, munchy things. Our table settings were only a long-handled spoon, paper-wrapped wooden chopsticks and a paper napkin on a place mat that had a picture of a cow, the many cuts of meat labeled all over it. The more chopstick-savvy of us handled items like the chunks of spicy cucumber deftly. The others of us fumbled with crunchy marinated bean sprouts, tiny strips of salty anchovy and sansai, a root mushroom-y in texture with a garlic marinade.
There was also kimchi, spicy and non. Then came a plate with a single Korean pancake with scallions. We split it three ways for a bit of a taste, dipping it into a mild, flavorful sauce of sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and chili paste. Just when we thought we couldn’t handle any more, a small crock of bubbling egg — like a scrambled poached egg — arrived, light and fluffy and seasoned with chopped green onions. That’s when our orders arrived!
The seafood and rice in a hot stone pot ($9.99) is just that. Along with shrimp, calamari, clams and mussels were shredded carrot, thin slices of zucchini, bamboo shoots and a couple of types of mushrooms. My helpful friend, Kathleen, stirred it up and found it didn’t need any more seasoning from the vinegar or mustard on the table.
I love Boolgogi, barbecued beef rib ($12.99). It’s marinated and tender with a lovely savory flavor, and came on a bed of shreds of onion sizzling on a cast-iron tray on a wooden plank. I also got a small bowl of very sticky rice, and another of broth with white pepper, chopped scallions and slices of daikon, an East Asian white radish.
My other friend, Kym, loves the same beef ribs, but ordered hers with cold noodles ($14.99). She got a large bowl with long angel-hair thin somen noodles that the waitress cut up with scissors before serving it to her. It was in a medium-spicy sauce and topped with half of a boiled egg, slices of zucchini, daikon and long, thin slices of Asian pear. There was also a cup of broth to add if she wanted to make it like a soup.
Boy, did we have a lot of food! Finally we each were given small cups of green tea ice cream. It had a very exotic flavor, unlike most green tea I’ve ever had. It was a lovely finish. It seemed very authentic. We heard a local club of Korean moms like to treat themselves there after a hard meeting to a really nice lunch. Our only problem was a difficulty in communication with the waitresses, but they were eager to make sure everything was just right.
In Korean food culture, Surasang is royal-court cuisine, the most important part in the palace foods served first to the king, then to the queen. The fresh, flavorful and elegant fare served at our Surasang was definitely special.
JOANNA LINKCHORST is a lifelong resident of La Crescenta. She can be reached at NoTipForYou@aol.com.