Han Sung BBQ, Santa Clara
When you're already sweating in this heat, one strategy is to eat somewhere in which sweating is the norm. I went to visit my brother at his new office in Sunnyvale and decided to rope him into a meal at one of the Korean BBQ places on El Camino. I remembered this old report from over a year ago that hooked me in: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
Han Sung BBQ appealed because of their use of real charcoal as opposed to gas. Overall, I enjoyed the food quite a bit and found the service to be relatively attentive and efficient. I know that as hounds, service should be secondary to the food, but I must highlight how outsider-friendly the place was. I've had some particularly negative experiences at Korean establishments in LA in the past, which I think scared me away from exploring Korean food places in general (chow PTSD?). I'm happy to say that Han Sung provided a corrective experience that has put me back on track to discovery of Korean cuisine.
Since my brother is better versed in Korean food than I (he goes to Koryo in Oakland regularly and has several Korean friends), I gladly deferred to him for ordering. I was impressed that my bro even ordered using the Korean food names! Of course, I don't remember those names nor do I have a take-out menu cheat sheet, but the descriptions are below. Even though I had my camera as I always do, I refrained from taking photos per my bro's request (too freakish for him).
Short rib soup w/ egg and clear noodles (around $9). Had the option of ordering spicy, but we selected the regular. Broth was fairly light and opaque. Very comforting and subtly sweet and beefy. Enjoyed the beef and egg combo and the bright astringency of scallions. I wanted the beef a little more soft and yielding, but my bro said this ranked up there w/ good versions that he's had.
Mixture of kimchee, tofu, and pork (I think it was belly)...around $9. Generous portion. In a pool of fire engine red sauce that scared me at first, but it wasn't too spicy after all. Flavor was good, and I liked the tofu; however, there wasn't much pork. It was served warm, which may be traditional, but I somehow pictured myself preferring a room temp. or chilled version.
Grilled meats, of course!! I was really interested in the fattier short ribs, but since we got the short rib soup, we opted for beef eye round and chicken. Cost of each was around $13. Fine portions of fresh-looking, lightly-marinated meat. Chicken was boneless, skinless thigh meat. You can either have the kitchen cook it or opt to DIY at the table, and I insisted on the interactive, sweat-inducing route. The meat and accoutrements were quickly whisked out, along w/ the panchan, before the above items and we were on our way. Flavor was nice overall. Not too sweet, not too spicy. Middle of the road, fresh-tasting, and cooked to our liking. Nice smoky exterior.
Panchan consisted of about 10 items that were similar to what I've had before. My favorites were the pickled julienned carrots and daikon (reminded me of banh mi garnishes), saucy glass noodles, dried anchovies, and spicy pickled cucumbers. I also enjoyed the red paste that I used as a condiment...it wasn't too spicy and had a nutty, piquant flavor.
All in all, a solid and engaging meal for me. My bro gave it the thumbs up and said that it was on par w/ Koryo. We were stuffed yet had a fair amount of leftovers. Afterwards, I noted that it wasn't as spicy as I thought it would be or have had elsewhere. My bro's response was that they knew that neither of us was Korean. I guess if you like really spicy, you can make sure they know not to hold back.
What gems did we miss on the menu? What other places should I try next along that strip now that I'm back in the saddle again? (not interested in Palace Buffet)
Han Sung BBQ
2644 El Camino Real
Moonlight Shopping Center near Hometown Buffet
Han Sung was our favorite place for korean bbq when we lived in Santa Clara, so I don't know of any better korean bbq on that strip. I've never had dinner or ordered from the menu at Korea House, but I often hear it's good. I've done the Lunch Buffet a few times, and it's poor to decent (good kalbi, good kimchi, okay japchae, weak "sushi", bad tempura, bad salty lettuce salad).
For non-korean bbq, but we really like that Korean-owned Shandong style restaurant on El Camino & Pomeroy that I can never remember the name of. Tong Soon Garden, that's it. Thank Og for the awesome advanced search we have now. Melanie and tanspace have also liked it:
Our repeat favorites there are the liang zhang pi (cold mung bean sheets with seafood & veggies in hot mustard sauce), the zha jiang mian and the jjampong (spicy seafood soup).
If I were a waitperson at a Korean BBQ place, I'd be cranky all day. Just think of spending the entire shift carrying 30 plates to each table! And the people in the kitchen who fill up all those little plates! Talk about labor-intensive.
This post reminded me of one of the most glorious days of my life....when I discovered Korean BBQ at Sorobol on Grand Avenue in 1986.
Not to mention leaving work w/ your clothes and hair reeking of smoke. All of the ladies at Han Sung were friendly and attentive though...they all had this retro diner look about them and smiled as they zig zagged around the room. I don't mind someone being a little grumpy; it's blatant rudeness (when fawning other customers) that got me upset in LA. The only time I recall leaving a restaurant after being seated for 30 min., telling them why, and no one giving a care. That's a topic for another place and time though...
I'm happy about exploring Korean food further; there seems to be great potential in the South Bay. Thanks to Hoss for the Korea House suggestion; I've had that on my list as well.