Han Yang Has a Bone to Pick
Have you noticed? Little Seoul, once constrained within the confines of Garden Grove, is slowly spilling into sections of Buena Park, spreading the gospel of its food to territories previously only notable for jousting knights and boysenberry pie. One recently established temple of worship is Han Yang, a specialist in galbi tang, Korean beef-short-rib soup, which is featured on a menu that has only 10 other dishes.
If it served nothing but the galbi tang, it would still be enough reason for you to wait in line at this former A&W drive-in. And there's always a line. It's the kind of soup that takes you by surprise, floors you, and makes you believe new discoveries are still possible in our Wikipedia world. Sip it, and the revelation is similar to the first time you had a really good bowl of pho or realized that ramen doesn't always come from a 30-cent packet.
All galbi tang virgins should have it here first. In OC, the soup is more esoteric than sullungtang—so don't expect to find it at your local all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue. You may recognize the galbi part in the name, though, as it's from the same part of the animal as those meaty planks you'd sizzle atop griddles. In galbi tang's case, though, the beef is hacked lengthwise into 2-inch-long pieces, bones outweighing flesh. These are hand-holdable, actual ribs—so do it. Though the meat has been coddled under a long, slow simmer to loosen its grip with just a gentle nudge of your chopsticks, all Han Yang diners take it upon themselves to pick the things up and fulfill their basest, primal caveman instincts by tearing off sopping mouthfuls with their teeth. Preceding each bite, they dab on a mustard-smeared soy sauce to cut through the richness.
The broth will, at first, appear to be unremarkable. Save for green onions, softened cloves of garlic, a long rectangle of thinly sliced omelet, vermicelli noodles and dots of red jujubes, it's crystal-clear and plain-looking. But a sip reveals a nectar-sweet, salty and savory miracle, a broth possible only when made by someone with saintly patience. To call it a great Korean soup would be unfair—this is just great soup.
The donkatsu is also made with extraordinary care; once sampled, the breaded pork cutlet will become the local benchmark for future breaded pork cutlets. Han Yang serves it on a metal rack set above a plate, elevated above all else so every piece remains perfectly crisp and greaseless from edge to edge, top to bottom. And it's exactly that: perfect, with the meat between the crumbly coating so tender it crosses the line into fluffiness. Dribble on it the restaurant's fruity house-made dipping sauce with hints of apple, then spend the rest of the time pondering questions such as: How did the chefs do it? Did they use a mallet? Was it from a particularly soft and lethargic pig?
Han Yang makes other things you should eat, of course. The nakji dol sot—a mountain of rice on a sizzling plate, topped with a fried egg, diced octopus, onions and vegetables—is lubricated with an oily house chili paste that seeps through the stack. Mix and distribute the ingredients with a spoon until it turns into a fried rice of sorts. And the parts that crisp up on the searing-hot metal? That's extra credit. An order will come with a bowl of milky soup, ladled from the same pot as Han Yang's version of sullungtang, a broth so rich with gelatin that the leftovers will solidify into what resembles a block of Jell-O in the fridge. A more interesting use of the broth is the do ganee tang, which contains the slippery chew of cartilage and tendons.
You'll have to wait until the summer months to sample Han Yang's mul nang myun or kong guk su, both variants of noodles in icy broths. For now, they're on the menu as teasers. But even when warmer weather arrives, the galbi tang will be there, transcending the season just as Korean food refuses to stay within the arbitrary and permeable border of Little Seoul.
This review appeared in print as "Bone to Pick: Han Yang takes Korean food and its beef-short-rib soup beyond the borders of Little Seoul."
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