2138 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
When I first read Pat's (of EatingLA) announcement about Tangiers's change of hands, decor and menu, I hurried over to the referenced UrbanDaddy article and got all excited. Excited in a "they've remodeled Pirate's of the Caribbean" kind of way, not, "there's a notable culinary playa in the neighborhood" kind of way.
Just this last weekend, we met R&R (violinist in The Furious Seasons and his significant other) in Los Feliz at Tangiers and had a great time. A great time in the "I can't believe they serve meat this good on Space Mountain" rather than, "I am peeking through a cultural window into Korean dining traditions" kind of great time.
Upon arrival, there was not an owner or member of management in sight, but we grabbed a seat and an ensuing drink at the bar and took in the surroundings. As expressed at UrbanDaddy, the name Tangiers Korean BBQ of Tokyo and the decor both communicate, "a playful, anything-goes mishmash" of cultures. And by mishmash, I mean Japanese and Korean, definitely not even a trace nor a hint of a trace of anything even vaguely Moroccan. R suggested maybe they were too lazy to change the signage, and I cannot see why when literally everything else has been changed structurally and design wise. Walls have been torn down, the bar moved, booths and a giant LED screen installed, and so on and so forth. The effect is whimsical and a bit raucous in the sexy/innocent/superhero way that anime has on our collective conscious.
There are many options on the menu, mind-bogglingly so. We chose a set menu for "3-4 people" that legitimately would have fed 6. See above.
There were some issues with the sake menu. They are in the process of changing the entire sake offereings and were out of all but the most expensive offerings by the bottle. D and I went for $10 glasses of cold house sake spilling over into cedar wasu. R & R had cocktails from the list. R the violinist had a Seoul Iced Tea, a riff on a Long Island that was tasty but super sweet, and R had a Kiki Fizz, gingery and refreshing.
Anime splashes the menu playfully on nearly every page. With such good company I didn't take the time to explore the stories, but under more solo circumstances I would have read every word. I love a graphic novel, or novella as the case may be.
And just like at any normal Korean BBQ, diners are started off by a dizzying array of banchan.
Pickled bean sprouts.
Tofu with chile flakes, oil and green onion.
Baechu kimchi, made using whole leaves of cabbage.
Sigumchi namul (marinated spinach).
Every bowl of banchan was delicious, devoured quickly and refiled several times. Service that night was stellar and incredibly personal. And there was no lack of customers in the house. There were a couple large parties, the bar stayed full all evening long and many two tops came and went. Service remained steadily excellent.
Courses were served quite rapidly. While all four of us are good eaters, we are all fairly health conscious and exercise enthusiasts. We all ate fairly slowly, tempering any speed with lots of good conversation, news, and general chattyness. The food really piled up on our table. Sitting at a long table designed for six with two grills, it's a good thing we didn't need to share space with anyone. There was barely room for the four of us with all our food spread out across the table.
Immediately after the banchan arrived our soup. Our choice: spicy miso or kimchi jjigae. I can never get enough kimchi and my taste buds steered everyone else in that direction as well. We were advised about the intense spiciness of the jjigae, however we were ill advised. Not one dish in the series of banchan registered on my spice-o-meter, nor did the kimchi jjigae. I was disappointed in the level of heat. Just a warning.
Above is a gorgeous and plentiful green salad with a mild miso dressing. Delicious. Despite my disappointment of in the lack of spice of all dishes that crossed my path, I was beyond thrilled at the quality and quantity of produce.
Veg for grilling. Squash, asparagus, mushrooms, carrots.
Lettuces and greens for wrapping meats after grilling. I don't remember wrapping meats in green leaves from my two previous favorite Korean BBQ joints, ChoSan Galbee and the now defunked east side Woo Lae Oak (the Beverly Hills Woo lae Oak is still up and running, I understand). It's been awhile since my last Korean BBQ experience, but when I first moved to LA I was semi-regular at ChoSan.
You, eat. This guy could kick Mr. Clean's ass.
Between courses we were offered a choice of Tokyo or Seoul Carpaccio, and you know how the saying goes. When in Korea...Everyone else liked this a lot, a carpaccio of red snapper. I thought the freshness of the fish left a lot to be desired. A little mealy and a touch dehydrated.
And the BBQ games begin. Simple chicken breast with yuzu-lime-pepper stuff. We tried the yuzu-lime on the chicken before grilling and after, and it was delicious.
The breast had not been marinated in any way, and after grilling I thought it was a little dry. I ate my slices with a trace of yuzu-lime or a slice of garlic that sizzled away until brown in the hand made foil container you see above. Tasty!
Reminds me of Trixie from Speed Racer, just a little more, a'hem, mature. Put that cleavage away, ma'am.
The first round of beef was Kobe beef sirloin. Did anyone else see the April Fool's day article about Kobe Bryant suing Kobe, Japan for using his name in branding beef with that locale as a provenance? I was not fooled. But Chowhound did take me in on their spoof about mothers protesting booze flavored ice cream at the Bay Area's Humphrey Slocombe. What got you this year, you fool?
We did a good job of sharing the grill. Recently I ate yakiniku at Totoraku, and there were hands far more versed in grilling than I, so I took a backseat. Friday I jumped on in.
This was melt in your mouth delicious and appropriately marbled with luscious fatness.
Two other beef courses crossed our paths: harami and kalbi marinated short ribs. Harami is the very tender beef around the diaphragm typically used in Japanese yakiniku, and a kalbi marinade includes Korean soy sauce, garlic and sugar. When I make a kalbi, I use Howard Yoon's recipe gleaned from NPR years ago and still hanging around the internet. I was super stuffed by the time the kalbi was done on the grill. Next time the kalbi, my favorite meat of the night, will be the only beef I order. Having said that, the Tangier Course Meal was a great introduction and we really enjoyed sharing all the different bits and pieces that came to the table.
If Tangier Korean BBQ of Tokyo seems like a sports car, it is definitely a convertible. Friday night it seemed very adult, full bar, funky and fun drinks list, bright lights, large parties, an unoccupied DJ booth. But it could be used just as happily for a family friendly event for eaters of all ages. The booths against the north wall have brightly colored murals, the menu is vast with lots of white-washed style maki rolls (a blinking neon sign telling me this is not a place for the kind of sushi I like), and the anime theme is echoed throughout the menu and onto the several bigger than life-size statues that populate the dining room.
And the high chairs are irresistible.
I wouldn't come here seeking the most authentic Korean BBQ experience. However, I like that a little taste of K-Town has bled its way northward and into Los Feliz. There is fun to be had at Tangier Korean BBQ of Tokyo and I have every intention of returning. As soon as the fix that cold sake menu.