Bruce's Blog

a handful of dimes and a jukebox

I was looking through Yelp yesterday, preparing for my Thursday lunch, and came across “Jun Won Restaurant”.   The comments sounded intriguing.  Of course, there’s always one Yelper who writes, “I’m Korean, and I should know — this place rocks!” and then another Yelper who writes, “I’m Korean, and I should know — this place sucks!”.   But it’s usually pretty easy to sort out the reviews worth reading.  I asked Jonathan Gold, LA’s Pulitzer Prize winning food writer via twitter if he would recommend it and he replied, “Jun Won is formidable; great panchan, jjigaes – come to think of it, I’ve never written about the place. Thanks for reminding me!”.  “Panchan” are the various little appetizers that accompany a Korean meal, and   “jjigaes” are a hot, spicy stew.

Jun Won1My first thought as I sat down is how “homey” it was.  Actually, that was my 2nd thought.  My first thought was taking in the amazing aroma.  The staff were *so* welcoming.  They don’t really have a lunch menu per se, so the dishes seem a little expensive for lunch (ranging around $11 to $29) but really, my wife & I could’ve split my lunch and still had left-overs.  I’m looking forward to having the rest of my Thursday lunch at work tomorrow. 🙂   Today it was about 500 degrees in LA, and I thought perhaps I’d pass on the jjigaes.  They advised me on dishes, and recommended the steamed fish (cod, beltfish, mackerel) and also the spicy pork, with and without kimchi.   I decided on the spicy pork sans kimchi.  One of the cool things was that I could see into the kitchen — or at least the entrance of it.  In fact, there was this feeling of being more in someone’s home rather than a restaurant.  I didn’t know at that time that this atmosphere was actually quite intentional.
Jun Won2Gold had said that Jun Won was “formidable”.  That struck me as a rather funny word to use.  Michael Phelps is formidable.  Voldemort is formidable.  Is it a good thing for a restaurant to be formidable?  🙂  But now, I understand.  The panchan was (were? obviously, I was a music major, not an english major) indeed outstanding.  There clearly was thought put into each one, and how the combination of the items worked together.  My favorite, I think, was anchovies in a sweet red bean sauce.  Mmmmm…little fishies.   There was kimchi, of course, but also some lovely black beans, and lots of other interesting dishes, 8 in total.  The soup was quite nice, very subtle with such a warm undertone:  home cooking.  The spicy pork was spicy all right, and in such a nice way.  About half-way through lunch I had a Korean spice induced sniffle, and the Korean businessman at the next table looked over at me and asked me very kindly “Are you ok?   It’s very spicy, isn’t it?”   I assured him that I was indeed quite ok and loved the food.  I didn’t feel too bad, though.  His companion was sniffling like a house on fire.
Jun Won3When I was paying my bill, the fellow who advised me on the dishes came over and asked what I thought about the food.  He said, “You know, people have such busy lives these days and most people don’t have time to make nice dinners at home they way they had when they were growing up.  So that’s what we try to do here.  All the panchan we serve are like what a good Korean mother would make for her family.”

Formidable.  That’s what it is.  It’s not Bobby Flay putting in 32 kinds of spices into some dish, designed to totally disguise the flavor of the food.  It’s Korean home cooking;  so satisfying…so comforting.

I learned today that “gam saham nida” (or something resembling that) means “thank you very much” in Korean.  I’ll certainly be going back to Jun Won for the food, the cool vibe, and my next lesson in Korean.

Jun Won Restaurant

3100 W 8th St #101
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 383-8855

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