Every hero can use a good sidekick, someone to watch his back and get him through the rough times. Batman had Robin. Mulder had Skully. Frodo had Sam. Serenity captain Mal Reynolds had Zoe. I have Elonweis.
My frequent partner in food adventures, Elonweis will uncomplainingly follow me into whatever strange hole-in-the wall has managed to catch my eye. Despite a severe mishap or two, she's always game for our next excursion. However, she does have one request when the weather gets nippy.
Soon dubu, a fiery hot Korean tofu stew, is Elonweis' preferred way of combating autumn chill. Some research online turned up Light Town House in Garden Grove's Koreatown as a possible source for this searing ambrosia.
(No Korean meal is complete without an opening salvo of banchan small dishes.)
Reputed to be the best spot in Garden Grove at which to sample Korean home-style cooking, Light Town House offers all of the dishes common to Korean BBQ restaurants in the States, as well as more esoteric fare. Their menu is extensive, including delicacies such as Yhang Jool Gi (BBQ Boiled Honey Tripe), Janguh Gooi (Charbroiled Eel), Nakji Gooksoo (Noodles with Fried Octopus), Nakji Dolpan Gooi (Stone-Grilled Octopus), and Kalchi Jorim (Broiled Belt Fish). Despite repeat visits, I have yet to sample all of their specialties.
As a starter, we enjoy ordering the Haemool Pajun (Seafood Pancake). A thick disk of fish cake, seafood, and scallions bound together by eggs and a little flour, it's very similar to a savory omelet. The surface is crisp and firm, while the innards are soft and custard-like. One of Light Town House's massive pajun can easily feed two people.
I'm partial to Emyunsoo Gooi (Charbroiled Atka Mackerel) and order it whenever I can. The blistered skin is full of rich oils. The natural sourness of the firm flesh, kicked up with a little lemon juice, is great with rice. Some care is needed when disassembling, since these are whole fish full of sharp little bones. However, they're well worth the effort.
The hopelessly terrestrial will enjoy classics like Dwaeji Gogi (BBQ Spicy Pork), juicy curls of greasy joy marinated in a sweet garlic sauce. Lunch orders arrive sizzling on a heated cast iron platter. Dinner orders cost twice as much, but you get a lot more and the fun of grilling it up yourself.
The Bool Gogi (BBQ Seasoned Beef) is a hit with any crowd.
Since soup was what originally brought us in, Elonweis and I have surveyed a number of the available broths. Light Town House is not a soon dubu establishment. However, it does offer several excellent substitutes for those in need of a strong stock infusion. The Kimchi Jige (Pickled Cabbage Stew) is a lethal concoction similar in flavor to soon dubu jige. The slow burn that builds in the back of your throat is barely tempered by the sweetness of the stewed cabbage pickle.
The Doenjang Jige (Bean Paste Stew) is a thick brew made with a fermented bean paste so pungent that your waitress will ask you several times if you're sure you want to order it. The rough, rugged, rustic cousin of Japanese miso, doenjang offers a depth of flavor rivaled only by its assault on your olfactory senses. The chunky stew begs to be poured over a steaming bowl of rice and eaten with a spoon.
Less willing to spend the rest of the day perfumed with the aroma of rotting soy beans, Elonweis prefers Light Town House's Galbee Tang (Beef Rib Soup). The essence of the beef rib bones infuses the rich broth, in which bob generous slabs of meat barely able to hold together.
When I want to get my blood flowing, I opt for a big bowl of Bibim Naeng Myun (Spicy Cold Noodle), which I've been told by Korean friends is "old people food". Thin strands of chew arrowroot noodles flounder in a crimson paste of gochujang, vinegar, and spicy mustard that sets fire to the throat and sinuses. Cucumber, daikon, and Asian pear shavings add crunch and make a noble effort at soothing your savaged gullet. Remind me not to tangle with any elderly Koreans. Those guys must be tough!
Light Town House - An Orange County treasure trove of Korean delicacies. I've got to get back there and start trying the octopus dishes. They've got an awful lot of them.
Haemool Pajun - 13.99
Emyunsoo Gooi - 13.99
Dwaeji Gogi (lunch) - 9.99
Bool Gogi (lunch) - 9.99
Kimchi Jige - 7.99
Doenjang Jige - 7.99
Galbee Tang - 9.99
Bibim Naeng Myun - 7.99
Light Town House
8902 Garden Grove Blvd.
Garden Grove, CA 92844