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Flame Thrower

The awful truth about kimchee

Photo by Jack GouldDon't you hate people who, 20 years ago, spent the entire summer in a place like, say, Hawaii and who talk now as if they're a transplanted Hawaiian and about how much better everything was there than here and how someday they'll move back because they consider it their adopted homeland?

Me, too.

But one thing I loved about my fabulous summer on the Big Island 20 years ago was that partying wasn't partying unless it included a ton of different food to go with the legal and illegal substances meant to fuck us Hawaiians up.

One food I have missed since returning to the mainland was kimchee. The way my Hawaiian friends explained it to me, kimchee was a Korean side dish in which Chinese cabbage was pickled, put in a jar and buried—with a shovel, in the ground—for an extended time. After it's pulled from the ground, the kimchee is chilled and served like a salad.

I remember the kimchee in Hawaii as addictive, packing a spicy wallop and during the later stages of digestion—well, let's just say it wasn't a good idea to get your butt near any open flames.

Considering Orange County's large Asian population, there must be a number of kimchee joints. But I had never noticed kimchee on a menu until I was at the Flame Broiler in Stanton. I ordered a $1.50 portion about the size of a small coleslaw at KFC to relive my Hawaiian fantasies.

The menu included the full list of ingredients: Chinese cabbage, salted baby shrimp, anchovies, red pepper, green onions, ginger, garlic and salt. My mouth watered as I stuck a fork in, pulled up the first piece of cabbage, and put it in my mouth.

It was the foulest substance I've ever consumed, and that's saying quite a lot. First of all, the smell would raise the dead. It had the consistency of a bloody scab. And spicy? Friends, I've never had a Thai, Indian or Mexican dish as scorching as this. My tongue actually turned white!

The kimchee at the Flame Broiler made me question my idyllic memories of Hawaii. Perhaps the ocean wasn't so blue. Maybe Mauna Kea wasn't so majestic. It could be that the slow-paced lifestyle I'd always thought suited me so well would have wound up giving me a massive coronary. It makes me wonder what Beirut is like in the summer.

I remembered enough about my earlier kimchee experience to know it would be unsafe on an empty stomach. So I also got the chicken-combo plate ($4.99), which immediately restored my faith in the Flame Broiler, which is actually a healthy alternative to fattening fast food. Whether it's beef, chicken, vegetables or Korean short ribs served as dinner plates or in a bowl, everything is fresh, grilled, or steamed and prepared with no MSG.

For my plate, a chicken breast was grilled to sizzling perfection, cut in strips, and served over a bed of fluffy steamed white rice. The entrée was then covered with chopped green onions and a ladleful of tangy teriyaki sauce. It comes with "seasonal fruit" (orange slices this season) and a salad or—ta-dah!—kimchee.

There would be nothing special to report about the salad—your basic chopped lettuce, carrots, radishes and red cabbage that you can get pre-bagged at Costco—were it not for the incredibly sublime sesame-seed dressing. It was so wonderful—and I'm talking wonderful in a life-altering, can't-get-it-out-of-my-mind, got-to-go-there-right-now way—that I had to discover the ingredients. The guy behind the counter didn't know.

All I know is next time, I'm getting a large KFC-coleslaw-container's worth of the Flame Broiler's salad, and I'm leaving the kimchee in Hawaii where it belongs.

The Flame Broiler, located at 12700 Beach Blvd., Stanton, is open Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (714) 899-1863. Dinner for two, $10, food only. No alcohol. Cash only. Also in Orange, Fullerton and Santa Ana.

 
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