I’ve been a vegetarian for more years than I can remember and coming from the “If I have to cook it myself why am I paying for the privilege?” school of thought, you might say that my virginal entrance into the doors of the Zagat-rated Soot Bull Jeep’s Natural Charcoal BBQ House would spell disaster.
But minutes after I took my seat, I was told to order Bulgogi (tender thin slices of marinated beef) by one of two attentive waitresses wearing matching navy blue aprons. I sat at one of twelve long tables and watched smoke rise from sweet smelling marinated ribs and steaks which then disappeared into the stainless steel ceiling fans that hung over each table. Sunlight bounced off steel and the warm glow of rust-red faux brick walls with matching red chairs and linoleum floor, made for a cozy setting.
In no time at all I was served Korean OB beer, ten small side dishes (Banchan), and a plate of Bulgogi. I was terrified. I looked around the room at the other diners. They were a mixed crowd of hip young and not so young couples and families, mostly Korean but a few westerners who, like me, had a look of puzzled wonderment on their faces. I took a breath and decided to get stuck in; placing my strips of steak on to the burner, all the while paranoid that everyone in the restaurant was staring at me. I faked a smile and acted cool but inside, memories of my last two attempts at cooking in a restaurant: 1) the evacuation of a pizza restaurant I was working in when I forgot about the pizza I’d left in the oven; 2) the time I set fire to my glass of sambucca, spilled the glass, causing flames to engulf two tables and the corner of the bar.
With that kind of record it made sense for me to hold off on the Chum Churum Sake they served here. It was apparent that the other diners were in fact watching me when a girl from an opposite table coughed profusely then came running over to me to demand I chuck the glass of ice, which I thought was for my beer, onto the grill.
As I did this my steak seemed to take on a whole new vitality. I nodded my thank you to the girl when a waitress rushed over with a pair of scissors to cut up my steak for me. I gulped my beer then swallowed my pride to ask the waitress what the large pieces of red lettuce were for. She explained that they were for me to make wraps. NOW I UNDERSTOOD. Once my steak was cooked and I sucked in the air and smelled its sweet and addictive marinade, I happily went about the business of wrap construction.
For the uninitiated: fill a large lettuce leaf or Sang Chu (red leaf lettuce) with a combination of your Banchan. I enjoyed the more traditional Kimchi (fermented chili pepper cabbage) and Shi Geum Chi (seasoned steamed spinach). Then wash it down with spicy Kimchi soup or the clear light Yeolmumul Kimchi (summer green water). The Bulgogi was tender and sweet and combined perfectly with the vegetable dishes.
Try this at home:
Kimchi: 1 head Chinese cabbage cut into ½ inch strips 3 tablespoons salt 6 green onions, chopped 3 garlic cloves, minced 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried hot red chilli 1 teaspoon chopped gingerroot
Soak cabbage over night in a pan of salted water with 1 tablespoon of the salt. Drain water and combine the remainder of the salt, green onions, garlic, chili, and ginger root. Transfer to a concealed container and refrigerate for 1-2 days before using. You can freeze it and it makes about a quart.
THE DETAILS: Soot Bull Jeep – Natural Charcoal BBQ House
3136 W 8th Street Los Angeles, CA 90005