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Jun 23, 2010 04:28 PM

Review: Dongbu Live Fish - Hwal Uh Sashimi - A Hidden Gem in Rowland Heights

Dongbu Live Fish is a small, family-run hwal uh restaurant tucked away in the back corner of a Rowland Heights strip mall. In Korean culture, hwal uh refers to the centuries old practice of serving thinly sliced portions of fresh raw meats or fish. Upon walking into Dongbu Live Fish and seeing the large irrigated saltwater tanks stocked with live fish, mollusks and crustaceans, I knew that I was in good hands.

Although the menu offers other options, I remained fixated on their signature hwal uh sashimi – live halibut prepared and served with all the trimmings and offered in four sizes from x-small ($35) to large ($110). My dining companion and I settled on the small ($65), more than enough to feed two hungry people.

Within minutes of ordering, our table was laid out with an attractive array of edamame. quail eggs, sea squirt and sea snail. Soy sauce, chogochujang, ssamjang, garlic, gochu, wasabi, ginger and lettuce were provided as condiments. The sea squirt and sea snail were sublime, ocean fresh, right from the tank. The chogochujang and ssamjang were both excellent preparations, each with just the right amount of punch to compliment the mollusks.

Next, a delightful sashimi salad was presented – essentially a multi greens slaw with tasty bits of our upcoming halibut tossed in a slightly sweet soy vinaigrette. An excellent precursor dish to what was forthcoming.

Two companion appetizers soon followed – a hot krab with mussel and a hot salmon with mussel, both diced, sauced and served atop the mussel in shell. Yum!

Several dishes subsequently arrived in quick succession. First, a mixed naengmyeon platter that our server initially brought out to display unassembled and then returned to the kitchen to combine for us. As is traditional, the long, cold noodles were left uncut. A great, tangy, almost effervescent-tasting baechu kimchee accompanied this dish.

I had been longing for kongchi gui (broiled mackerel pike or saury) for the past week or two. Much to my surprise, my wishes were granted when a prime specimen was delivered to our table. My dining companion does not care for the strong taste of kongchi, so the entire dish was mine to devour from head to tail. And devour I did, including the entrails and eyeballs. (*_*)

The piece de resistance, the hwal uh sashimi platter, was next to arrive along with bowls of steamed rice. The sashimi was very thinly sliced and elegantly presented atop a saran-covered bowl of ice. The delicious tender filets appealed in every sense of the word and continued to cool as we ate. Rarely have I enjoyed sashimi so fresh. I was utterly content and decidedly full … and then …

Next to arrive, almost to my protestations was a hot, spicy pot of maeuntang made with the final bones and morsels of our halibut, its eggs, some tofu, daikon and a bit of onions and kelp. A taste sufficed for me but, thankfully, my dining companion was able to polish off the entirety in true culinary reckless abandon. It was that good.

The service was friendly, courteous and attentive. Throughout the meal, we chatted with the owner/chef, his wife and family. We were made to feel most welcome and appreciated.

Thank you Dongbu Live Fish for such a wonderful dining experience, undoubtedly one soon to be repeated. And thank you too, Ms. Halibut. You most certainly gave your all to our fill and enjoyment. Enjoy we did and full we were! (^_^)

Dongbu Live Fish - Hwal Uh Sashimi
18785 Colima Rd
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
(626) 810-8582

Dongbu Live Fish
18785 Colima Rd, Rowland Heights, CA 91748

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  1. wow, i'll have to check this place out.

    1. Thank you for the review! This is so interesting, I've always wanted to try something like this after seeing Bizarre Foods.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Johnny L

        Hey, Johnny L.

        I saw the same episode of Bizarre Foods. I did not mean to imply that the seafood was still alive when it arrived at the table. It was alive when we walked in the door. They removed it from the live tank then dispatched and prepared it in the kitchen.

        If you want to be adventurous, I’m sure they will deliver your sea squirt and sea snail alive and well upon request. In fact, I plan on doing so on my next visit.

        1. re: degustateur

          Oh I know, but its the closest I can get to without be strangely cruel to the fish.

      2. do u think one person can go here, solo?

        1 Reply
        1. re: kevin

          Hi Kevin,

          Absolutely. One person should do just fine with the x-small order for $35. Please give them a try.

        2. you say "rarely have I had fresher seafood". So where have you had fresher, since this came out of the tank alive moments before it was eaten?

          2 Replies
          1. re: dharmathug

            Well, dharmathug, it all began with my eating a live goldfish during a childhood right of passage … then, later in my youth, I ate slices of a just caught yellowtail prepared by a sushi itamae while sport fishing. And, no, I did not eat the still-beating heart – that was the “other” guy (^_~). Thereafter, I began enjoying ikizukuri and hwal uh sashimi in restaurants and sushi bars.

            Actually, dharmathug, the practice of eating still living seafood is not uncommon among Koreans and Japanese. In Japan, the practice is known as ikizukuri, whereby sashimi slices are removed from one side of a live fish and served to patrons atop or alongside the still living (quivering) fish. The slices are eaten in the order they were removed from the fish. Often, the entire ritual is performed tableside and with a true sense of decorum and respect for the fish.

            Mi Song, also in Rowland Heights, served sashimi from live fish (off-menu) some years back. Masan in LA still serves it (again, off-menu), I believe. Before its demise, The Hump offered it. I recall a particularly feisty sculpin. Likewise, I have consumed live crustaceans and mollusks countless times at numerous venues and continue to do so. A delectable live lobster presentation can be requested at Seafood Village (again, Rowland Heights and, once again, off-menu). One of the largest and freshest local selections can be found at Quality Seafood on the Redondo Beach Pier. Be sure to try the live uni – from the tank to your mouth in 2 minutes or less.

            At Dongbu, perhaps 30 minutes had elapsed between the time the live fish was removed from the tank until it was delivered to our table. Its “freshness”, nonetheless, remains somewhat of a moot point.

            I did not misstate and you read me correctly, dharmathug.

            1. re: degustateur

              The funny thing is a lot of sushi is actually aged to accentuate or improve its flavor (and this art is a large part of what sets top flight sushi masters apart from those who aren't as skillful or learned). So right off the boat or out of the tank is not preferable when it comes to seasonal high end sushi.

          2. been wanting to try this place for a long time, thanks for the review =) Sounds like a lot of food for a very reasonable price!