Won Jo Kokerang Agurang
3132 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
When you're truly food crazy, every restaurant sign is a siren song. "Here," each one sings to you. "I am the one... the best restaurant in the world that no one else knows about." But in the world of food blogging, there are very few restaurants no one else knows about. No matter how off the beaten track a place may be, I usually a find that a blogger, or Jonathan Gold -- damn you and your lifetime of experience! -- has already written it up. But aside from one reference to "that dancing crab place" on Chowhound LA, I can't find a single review of Won Jo Kokerang Agurang. Perhaps this is because no one has been brave enough to try to write out the name?
Whatever the case, I believe this is an L.A. Food Crazy scoop...
Driving down Olympic Blvd. at night, as we do fairly often, to a Kings game or to Beverly Soon Tofu, one sign calls to me like a spoonful of smack to a junkie. A red, neon crab, its claws flickering in its two neon positions: up, down; up, down; up, down. There's no English on the exterior signage at all. It's one of those inscrutable Koreatown bunkers that line the boulevard, each one sheltering who knows what culinary delights.
Every time we drive by the Neon Crab, the windows are fogged up. If customers enter or exit as we pass, a puff of steam wafts out the door, through which I glimpse a small spare room packed with Koreans. I tell my wife -- like ten times -- "we have to try that place." Finally I talk her in to it. As we approach, I say, "I'm picturing steaming iron bowls of roiling, spicy crab stew, with noodles and legs stickings out all akimbo."
I am almost entirely correct. There are no noodles, but there is rice.
Oh, there is rice.
The room is tiny. Ten or so tables. No one speaks a word of English. This is a good sign. The menu is small, so don't bother picking and choosing, much less asking whether this or that is good, or whether this or that comes with this or that appetizer, or whether the food is too spicy. Your questions will not be understood. Just order the Spicy Crab Soup. This is the steaming bowl of crab in question. Or, if you hate soup, order the Spicy Crab Casserole (pictured). It's identical to the crab soup, with sauce rather than broth.
As I say, there are no noodles. What look like noodles in the photo are bean sprouts. This is excellent news for those of you who, like LA Food Crazy, are low-carbers. It's true -- people ask me, how do you stay so thin when you eat so much food? To which I have three answers: 1. Low carb diet; 2. I actually only post once a month or so, which doesn't require lots of eating' and 3. Do you really think I look thin!? I love you! This means, btw, that whenever I discuss noodles or burritos or french fries here, I have unselfishly broken my diet and researched meals in excess of 20 carb units just the edification of you, my readers.
But I digress. Back to the meal.
There are panchan (the ubiquitous side dishes that are the bread and butter or chips and guacamole of Korean dining) galore: tangy, refreshing cucumber salad, tsukomono-style bean sprouts, tofu, kimchee, pickled turnips, seaweed, and yes that is potato salad with apple chunks.
Then the lady comes with the crab and the scissors. I've decided American waitresses don't use enough scissors. She cuts up the crab like your crazed third grade teacher attacking construction paper, chopping it into manageable pieces. She makes a little plate for you out of one of the crab's shells, and leaves you to it. (She may also try to embarrass you by placing a lobster bib around your neck. Please, for the dignity of all white people in Koreatown, politely decline it.) You go to town on Dungeness crab, the spicy broth, the bean sprouts and greens and onions soaked in spicy crab sauce. It is probably more crab than you can eat. You drink soju. Oh, the price of the crab soup for two ($45, if I recall correctly -- notes are not LA Food Crazy's strong point, he's too excited about the food to write stuff down) includes a beverage. You want soju. God bless soju, and I don't even believe in God.
But the best is yet to come. You say to the waitress while making a stirring motion over the detritus of your soup/casserole, "fried rice, please."
The waitress comes back with a rack of ingredients: some rice, some seaweed, some sesame oil, some spices. She takes a ladleful of your crab soup/casserole, and mixes it up into a risotto that comes out looking like this.
It is, I guarantee you, one of the best things you have ever eaten. Spicy, savory, with a rendered-down crabby essence... you will find yourself getting out of bed at three a.m. for leftovers, because you couldn't possibly finish the rice right after all that crab.
Okay, so the word is out. I suspect the next time I drive by, and that crab blinks at me, and the door opens, and steam wafts out, that I will see one or two of you, trying to talk to the waitress and asking "what's in the "mixed seafood casserole?" and "do you have noodles?" and "Could you make it medium spicy, please? And do you have a wine list?"
Jeesus, did you not read what I just told you? Seven words:
Spicy Crab Soup.
Fried rice, please.