Mountain is the most underrated Korean restaurant in Buena Park. I've visited on weekend nights during what should've been the dinner rush and it wasn't more than half full. There's a banquet room that's never occupied and a patio where unused chairs are stacked in a corner. Compared to the newer, jazzier Korean restaurants that have sprung up in recent years in Buena Park, Mountain is a bare-bones operation with wood-paneled walls from the '80s. I'm told that the original in LA's K-Town is even more old school.
You can have the sundubu that the menu proudly states is made without MSG and isn't served with a raw egg (an American invention, it says) but the specialty of the house is the abalone porridge called jeonbokjuk, which is the very definition of Korean comfort food. Mountain's version is served on a deep, oblong plate with a single raw egg yolk on top that you're supposed to stir into the hot, gloppy mixture as soon as it arrives. When I took my first spoonful, its soothing starchiness spread slowly on my tongue and throat. Since it's more cold-and-flu remedy than a restaurant dish, the flavor was simple and actually kind of bland before I sprinkled a few grains of salt into it. But when I did, the seafood flavor of diced abalone came into focus.
As with all meals here, an order of jeonbokjuk came with satellites of side dishes called panchan. One of them, simmered beef cubes with stewed peppers, could've been a meal in and of itself. We ordered two other main dishes that came with their own array of complementary panchan, so our table was soon crowded end-to-end with plates. There were two kinds of kimchi, one more aged and thus tangier than the other. There were savory pancakes embedded with green onion, pickled radishes and tofu slicked with soy sauce.
At the center of our circular table was a built-in stove onto which one of the servers placed a big pot of our spicy seafood and whole crab stew. Since it's one of the more expensive and elaborate items on the menu, it was overcrowded with an Aquarium of the Pacific's worth of sea creatures. There were whole shrimp, mussels, giant clams and a large squid only slightly smaller in frame than the one that attacked the Nautilus. And then there was the scariest thing of all: The fist-sized lobes of the cod milt, which are the sperm sacks of the fish. It lay undisturbed in the percolating pot until one of us took a piece off, tasted it and announced that it was all soft-texture and neutral flavor.
The best thing about ordering the spicy seafood and whole crab stew is that you can experience Mountain at what it does best: making you feel like you're being doted on by someone's Korean mom. About five minutes after the first server dropped off the pot, a second server came around and took out the crab and squid to an empty bowl. With a pair of giant scissors, she snipped the crab parts into bite-sized pieces and the squid into rings. After she poured it all back into the brick-red soup, she motioned that it was all ready to be fished out with our chopsticks.
Once we finished gobbling up the proteins and vegetables, the woman came out again. This time, she ladled out most of the broth, leaving just a few tablespoons in the pot. Next, she dumped in some rice and stir-fried it with a few more ingredients including slivers of seaweed, scallions and other seasonings. We waited a few minutes until the rice attained that coveted crispy crust on the bottom before eating it straight from the vessel, spoonful by spoonful.
Mountain is all about this kind of service. Though each table is equipped with a call button that, when pressed, issues a pinging sound and makes a red LED scoreboard flash over the cashier, we didn't have to use it half the time. Mountain's women were our surrogate aunts who want nothing else but to see us well-fed and happy. Upon seeing that we finished the first serving of their sweet potato salad panchan, our server came out with not just one more saucer of it, but two. Want more lettuce and steamed napa cabbage for wrapping the steamed pork belly of the bo ssam? Here's an entire new plate of it.
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The bo ssam here, by the way, was one of the best I've ever had in OC. It's over-the-top, melt-in-your-mouth, and generously portioned. It came out fresh in the bamboo basket where it was steamed with onions and ginger and served with raw oysters, and other accouterments I've never seen at the Korean pubs where bo ssam is usually a staple. Leave it to Mountain's mothers and aunties to elevate the dish beyond just something to chew between shots of soju and pitchers of beer.
Mountain, 7446 Orangethorpe Ave., Buena Park, (714) 228-9793. Open daily, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Dinner for two, $25-$50, food only. Beer and soju.