Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Soot Bull Jeep, Koreatown - Dinner In A Chimney

Driving through Koreatown, my eyes are constantly wandering around, looking around at potential places to eat. Most are in Korean, some are in Spanish. But there's one place that will blind you with it's large sans serif typeface - as bold as the Hollywood sign. Say hello to 'Soot Bull Jeep'. For some reason, I'm always interested in this simple yet eye-catching sign. Maybe it's the fact that the korean translation actually exists in the english language. And it's just fun to say. Oh the joy. (I'm easily amused.)

A few weeks later, our good friend Colleen Cuisine and her husband told us about Soot Bull Jeep. I stopped going to Manna Korean BBQ on Olympic/Western because the meat quality is lacking, plus that stupid techno birthday song makes you want to rip your veins out. My place for Korean BBQ is either Shik Do Rak (where square rice noodles, called dok bo sam, were first appearing in Koreatown) and Tahoe Galbi. Tahoe Galbi is pretty good for the $14.99 AYCE bracket. It's pretty nice inside. I've noticed that if you sit in the patio, you can get the charcoal-style bbq grills which I love. Indoors, you're stuck with the conventional gas grills. From that point on, I only like grilling over charcoal. But the problem with the AYCE places is that they rarely marinate their meat because they are too busy sending out brigades of meat. If they do marinate, the meat would have a very light taste. You really get what you pay for at these places.

For a change, J and I decided to not gluttonize ourselves at a korean AYCE restaurant, and headed over to Soot Bull Jeep. SBJ is located on 8th and Catalina, clothed in bricks and slightly tinted windows. The restaurant looks big on the outside because it's occupying two spaces, but isn't that deep. If you remove the windows and sign, you can see that the bricks and consistent billow of smoke make SBJ look like a chimney. As a pre-dinner ritual, I rubbed my hands together in delight and opened the door for J. And WHOOOMP!

We were hit by the Korean BBQ Train. *Cough Cough* Damn, that was some garlicky, tasty meat in the air. And jesus, this place was freaking smoky. You would think there is a fire burning ablaze in here. I think I just got a preview of my lungs! The place was so smoky, that even the people looked gray.

The Interior of a Chimney/Tailpipe/Berkeley Student's Dorm/My Lungs
Notice the haze by the lights. Notice all the people coughing. Yes, good eats. *Cough Cough*

Within minutes, we were seated and the waitress slapped some menus down for us. Few minutes later, she was back with all of the korean fixings, banchan. I love banchan - I can just eat this straight as a meal. SBJ's banchan is very mediocre though, but I think it's made this way so that the main dish, beef, isn't overpowered.

SBJ has a nice selection of meats and seafood to choose from. Since this was our first time, we had to give SBJ the simple kalbi benchmark test. If they can make a nice kalbi, it's likely that the rest of their food is edible. In the case of a pho restaurant, if the pho doesn't taste good, it says a lot about the rest of things on their menu. We chose the marinated kalbi and beef tongue. My trip to Japan and frequent dining at Musha made beef tongue a hot commodity. Almost every table had the grilled squid and some sort of stew in a metal pot (chi-gae/tang). I'll try that next time. *Cough Cough*

Beef Getting A Tan
The kalbi steak was marinated beautifully and tasted delicious. I like to grill my meat on the rare side because I like tasting the beef more than the marinade. Over-marinating of meat is a common technique in restaurants used to cover up lower grade meat which makes it edible, therefore keeping food costs low. After we finished the meat, we grilled the kalbi bone for a few minutes, and the waitress came over with a pair of scissors to cut the tendon off the bone. It was chewy, but very good. As for the tongue, they were sliced a little too thick but that didn't stop me from finishing the whole plate myself. Because beef tongue is a chewier piece of meat, it's critical that you get carpaccio-thin slices to ensure that you don't dislocate your jaw from chewing. *Cough Cough*

A Beautiful Shot of Beef Beach
When eating with others, it's better to use tongs to flip the meat - not your own chopsticks. *Cough Cough*

Garlic Goodness
SBJ has no regard for the way you're going to smell after eating there, only that you're having an optimal bbq experience. So they offer garlic in a foil cup with sesame oil. It goes well very well with the beef. SBJ also does not serve the square rice noodles like Tahoe, Manna and Shik Do Rak, but instead give you romaine lettuce. I actually prefer this over the rice noodles which you fill you up faster. A tip in eating korean bbq with lettuce wraps. Dip your grilled meat in the soy/vinegar sauce, salt/pepper oil, bean paste (den jang), add some of the spiced, scallion salad and wrap all of that in your romaine lettuce for a korean-style taco. For spice, add a piece of kimchi. So good.

The minimum at SBJ is a plate per person. The meat dishes range from $15.99 to $21.99 and the portions are smaller. So you'll have to eat your beef with the romaine and devour up the soup and banchan to get your money's worth. SBJ is definitely one of our favorites. For their kalbi, it's worth the smokiness and lingering odor in your hair and clothing. We came back here a 2nd time within a month because we loved the charcoal smokiness to the meat. It's a total dark, hole-in-the-wall and that's another plus for us. Places like Chosun Galbee, although nice, rely more on atmosphere to satisfy the customers. And with korean bbq, I'd like it as rustic and authentic as possible. The employees of SBJ are really working hard for their money putting up with all that smoke. I seriously think they should a) get new vents or at least turn them on b) wear paint masks with SBJ written on it. At SBJ, the service is good. If you can tolerate a smoky place and do not plan on going to a party afterwards, check them out. I guarantee you will reek the next day if you don't take a quick shower. *Cough Cough*

Soot Bull Jeep At Primetime
Here's a photo the waitress took of J and I after we finished our meal. Thanks to the constant flow of smoke emanating from other grills - my usual task of censoring faces was taken care of. Don't we look happy? *Cough Cough*

For anyone that knows about any other korean bbq places that use charcoal, we'd love to check them out. I know SBJ isn't the only one out there that uses charcoal. *Cough Cough* Thanks for reading.

Soot Bull Jeep
3136 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005-1903
(213) 387-3865

Smoke/Carcinogenic Health Clinic
4621 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90045-1987
(213) 387-9964


Jonah said...

Ha! Great write up. Sounds like you get get some smoked meat just waving it around the room.

KirkK said...

Hey EDBM - I've been to SBJ a few times and enjoy the food...but you've illustrated the major problem with eating there. It's fine if you don't have to be anywhere afterwards, but I think the smell just oozes out of your pores the point that I think my car starts smelling literally like a soot bull "jeep"...and I feel like a soot bull "creep"!

elmomonster said...

This post had me laughing. Kudos on the photos. I'd like to think they weren't doctored (the one with the smoke obscuring your faces), but then it would be scary, and not quite as funny.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a big fan of SMJ. My friends and I are always amazed that so many people go there. Anywho, a few other places you might be interested in is:

Su-won Galbi on Vermont near James Wood.

Park's BBQ on Vermont and Olympic (I think it has the best quality meat in all of K-town but I forget if it's charcoal)

Deet Gol Mok on 8th and I forgot the cross street but it's a few streets west of Vermont. The sign might be written in Korean tho so that probably doesn't help.

Chubbypanda said...

Some friends of mine went to Soot Bull Jeep a while back before attending a going-away party. The guest of honor was vegan, so there weren't any animal products served in the food. But, the entire house reeked of the BBQ meat smell coming off of these guys. I ended up hitting a Korean restaurant with some other friends on the way home just to stop the cravings.

Tokyoastrogirl said...

You funny. Nice photo of you and Jeni.....did your hair smell like smokey beef after? Sounds like you'd have to burn your clothes after a visit to SBJ but it looks like it's worth it.

MeowMix said...

Love the picture of you and your girlfriend.hahahah

Tip to going to SBJ - wear a different shirt for dinner. Change immediately after. Girls, tie your hair back in a bun - less smoke gets in. Sure, you'll still stink. Just stink less.

I agree with anonymous - Park's Barbecue is delicious. They also use the charcoal but much better ventilated. The Kobe "style" beef is great. And their banchans are all VERY good. More expensive than other places.

Su Won is great as well. Cheaper, banchan's not as great. The old ladies are super nice though.

I believe Gui Rim (6th and Manhattan) has charcoal - and they have the $14.99 AYCE.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite place is Sul Ra Bul (Western & 1st) right acrosss from HK Market. Make sure you tell them you want charcoal grill, because some of their seats have gas grills. They give you massive amounts of banchan's and they have good combination specials where you get a little bit of everything (pork, beef, brisket..) they also have a special beef or pork combo which is a little more expensive but use a higher quality of meat.

Anonymous said...

Tip: try finishing off your Korean BBQ meal with a nice cold bowl of nang myun (buckwheat noodles)if you have enough room in your stomach.
You can season it to your taste with vinegar, and hot mustard paste, which should be provided to you when the noodles arrive.

Anonymous said...

Hey EDBM - I gotta say your my new found food hero man! I was searching for a Nui Ro Mein recipe a couple weeks ago to satisfy my craving and stumbled upon your blog. Now i find that you're trying your hand at pho (something I've attempted a number of times only to find that there was always that something missing) and are dining out at Korean BBQ! I feel like your a long lost brother, or at least dorm-mate after the UC Berkeley reference. Did you go to school there (I'm a 3rd year). Anyway man, keep up the great work and please post any further developments on the pho recipe (i've heard a chicken/beef stock is sometimes used but am not sure on that).

- Nate

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Jonah, thanks. Definitely check this out with Suzy. You won't go back to Manna anymore.

Kirk, it's a serious pollution issue going on in there haha. I wonder what Al Gore would think of this place after shooting his film An Inconvenient Truth.

Elmo, what are you talking about??? I had to photoshop the image so that you could AT LEAST see our silhouettes haha.

Anon, I'm sure there are plenty of places that can knock SBJ out. Again, I was attracted to the SBJ sign. Thanks for the suggestions!

CP, that's always a sad thing when vegans go to a korean bbq place. They are left with a spread of banchan for the rest of the night.

TAG, we stunk the next day - all day. I pretty much ran myself through a carwash.

Hey Meommix, aka Sushi Zo master, guess where J and i are eating this week? Yes! Thank you for the anti-odor tips and further bbq recs. Appreciate it.

Anon, I always want to eat a bowl of cold naeng myun - no way. I never have space. The only time i had that was at Corner Place off James Woods Blvd. The place is ok and also extremely smoky.

New-Anon, thanks for stopping by. I've spent MONTHS working on the Nu Ro Mian recipe. I have 2 on there, so check out the more recent one for a better idea. I went to UCI - we have a great football team.

MeowMix said...

Sushi Zo!!!! I'm trying to make some plans for this week as well. Have a serious craving for some ankimo.......

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Meowmix, you should ask Zo if he'll offer a new stampcard like Coffee Bean used to do. Every 10 omakases you get 1 free omakase. yeah right, Zo would laugh at you and then continue cutting more fish. I think i'm going to TRY and do a la carte. i've been to Zo enough to know what I like. And that's ankimo, ankimo and more ankimo. I just may die that night. Was it hard resisting the omakase deal?

MeowMix said...

I thought it would be hard to resist the omakase but it's actually not that bad. I'm sure you've been there enough times to figure out what you love(at least I have). Ankimo with a side of uni topped with a large side of ankimo. And for dessert, I'll take some ankimo. :)

BoLA said...

You are such the Soot Bull Jeep Pimp! ;) hahaha!

Taste-Buzz said...

I like SBJ a lot, despite the smokiness and the often-difficult parking. My favorite there is the marinated shrimp, though it's amazingly easy to overcook it over the coals.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you like tahoe. i felt so sick when i went there. The banchan look like they've been transported from table to table, and their rice cake squares were stale. their meat was not so good either. in the all-you-can-eat range, i like mudongsan, on western and 11th, just south of teh galleria market.
for charcoal places, if you venture to orange county, there is light town house (sometimes it just says light house) - there are two, one in garden grove and another in ... its either brea or buena park. pretty tasty. hanna

Pirikara said...

I feel bad for J wearing that nice winter coat! Whenever I go to SBJ I try to strip down as much as possible. Um, okay, that sounds weird but you know what I mean.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Meowmix, I'm going to ask Zo to see how many variations of ankimo he can come up with.

Bola, what does that mean??

TasteBuzz, I'm going to try the seafood next time. The grilled squid smelled great.

Anon, it wasn't that bad of an experience. Compared to Manna, this place prevails. I've heard of MuDaengSan before - I'm going there soon. I've eaten at Light House in garden grove and that was good. But that was back in 1999 when I ate there. Thanks for the recs.

Pirikara, next time I eat Korean BBQ, I'm going in a speedo and goggles.

susan said...

yum~ korean bbq rocks. have you ever tried sesame leaves for ssam? that on top of red leaf lettuce is my fav. you know i don't mind smelling like korean bbq as long as i don't have anywhere to go after. it's nice to smell something so delicious when falling asleep. lol.

Clare said...

I tried this place two years ago and I'm still recovering from the smoke inhilation. But the beef is damn good :)

Bon Vivant said...

I've heard that there is another charcoal bubbaque place on Olympic more on the eastside. The english translation of the name is "House of Charcoal" but the name on the sign is in Korean only.

I'll do some investigating.

annie said...

looks like everyone had a good time. *cough* *cough*

Wandering Chopsticks said...

This is the second time I've heard SBJ mentioned so I gotta check it out. My cousin said the Manna meat quality is bad.

I'd second the Light Town House recommendation.

I like Chungkiwa for Angus beef and naengmyun. They on Olympic and 7th?

My fave place is in Seol Ak San in Stanton. Lots of panchan, 15 last time I went. Meat is good but not spectacular. And it's cooked on a slab of rock. And afterward, they make kimchee fried rice on it. I haven't found any other K BBQ that does that.

Aaron said...

Great pics and post as always. I happened to go there last week and man, it was smokey. I was at Brothers (the popular SF BBQ place) which is equally smokey - but good in the meat department as well.

How do you get the small depth of field in your pics? Do you use the camera or photoshop it after?

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Yoony, I haven't tried korean bbq with the sesame leaves - only ddok bo sam and romaine lettuce. Same here, the odor is cool but don't expect people to huddle around you. That'd be funny if you went to sleep reeking of food. You'd probably dream about it.

Hi Clare, call the smoke inhalation clinic number I put under SBJ's address. Health insurance should cover korean bbq.

BVivant, after a rigorous korean bbq search on Chowhound, I think I know what you're talking about. My friend said it's on Olympic/4th and it's called Cham Sut Gol.

Annie, most definitely. -b

WC, I've been to Light Town House in GGrove back when i was in college and it's good. I saw your post on the metal slab grill - looks awesome. Does the meat still get the same nice char with the flat grill surface? I've been to Chungkiwa for it's angus beef - should i go back and try it? Wonder how it compares to SBJeep.

Aaron, thank you. Wait till you see the other place I tried out - could be JUST AS smoky as SBJeep. For the photos, I play with the aperture and retouch in photoshop. Thanks for stopping by.

Wandering Chopsticks said...

It's not a metal slab, but rock. Like a big, thick sheet of marble or something (I don't really know my rocks). There's a nice char still, that they have to scrap off before they add rice to make kimchee fried rice at the end.

I only mentioned Chungkiwa's Angus beef b/c you had said meat quality wasn't so great at some of those places. Their panchan was all good, nothing mushy. And they have the ho fun sheets too. But their naengmyun was the most flavorful I've ever had. Most of the time, the coldness prevents me from really tasting anything in the broth so I was pleasantly surprised with Chungkiwa's. As I said, I've never been to SBJ so I can't say which is better. But you're the second flogger to mention them so I gotta check it out soon!

eatdrinknbmerry said...

WC, that's cool that they cook kimchi fried rice afterwards. But it's perks like that they may give an advantage over new places like Soot Bull Jeep. SBJ is one of the better charcoal places but there are plenty of other joints in ktown i'm sure.
Funny you call the ddok bo saam 'ho fun'. i'm too used to calling it in chinese. check out this posting on chowhound.

Wandering Chopsticks said...

Heh, I say ho fun b/c that's how I think of it. :P Even after you tell me what it is in Korean, I can't remember. In Vietnam, the latest food trend is banh pho cuon. Basically, sauteed beef and herbs wrapped inside ho fun until it's a roll.

At Seol Ak San, they give you daikon slices instead of ho fun. Less filling and more veggies is always a plus for me. On top of the kimchee fried rice, they also give you a bowl of tofu soup. So while nothing knocks me over, the sheer amount of panchan and the extra freebies, win me over.

I need to find a closer K bbq place that I like though.

Sven said...

Good Job! :)

boopathi raj said...

Soot Bull Jeep

The tongue is good with Soot Bull Jeep’s green onion salad, which rocks. I tried the tongue with the lettuce wraps, but the lettuce tended to overwhelm it. I mean, even thick tongue still isn’t thick enough to compete with all that lettuce. The lettuce is better with the kalbi, which we also ordered. The panchan were only so-so. I think they were left over from yesterday or something.

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