Photo by Amy TheligThe cult of gook soo at Hang A Ri Noodle House, a wood-paneled Korean restaurant in Garden Grove's Little Seoul district, might initially flummox your American palate. These buckwheat noodles are like no pasta you've ever slurped: thin, slimy, pungent. They clump together like a ball of yarn and are as elastic as putty.
Gook soo is tough to eat the first time—akin to swallowing your lover's shampooed tresses—so Hang A Ri is more than happy to help. After a couple of minutes of seeing you choke and grumble, a kindly hostess will approach with a pair of scissors. “Want me to cut them?” she'll ask, and you'll nod silently. She trims the gook soo mass into manageable squares; you'll stare ahead, ashamed of your bumbling food handling in a way you haven't since the first time you encountered chopsticks.
But then you chopstick the noodles into your mouth, and the frustrations of the evening vanish. At Hang A Ri, they prepare seven versions of gook soo: some spicy, some cold, all in bowls big enough to bathe a puppy. Gook soo noodles nicely soak up whatever ingredients accompany it, and Hang A Ri excels in infusing the proper counterparts to accentuate the noodles' natural hearty flavor. In kong gook soo, the noodles assume a beautiful sweet nuttiness thanks to the chilled soybean soup that subsumes them. When it's unimaginatively called spicy noodles—there's another name for it listed, but my Korean is rusty—the gook soo now slithers across a salad spruced up with lengthy slivers of squid, pine nuts, half of a hard-boiled egg and enough chile to keep your kisses spicy for a couple of romps. Boiled in a seafood soup, gook soo noodles transform into vermicelli-like wisps that tickle your mouth.
Regardless of choice, all gook soos come with complementary sides of white rice, anchovy soup sparsely decorated with leeks and green onions, and a mini-cauldron containing the pickled, chile-sluiced lettuce leaves known as kimchi—alternate between the four distinct textures and tastes of each to enjoy your dinner to its fullest potential. And its name notwithstanding, Hang A Ri also steams and fries superb mandoos, the massive Korean dumplings beloved for their herbed bite that come 10 to an order here. But request them as a side—concentrate on finishing your gook soo. And remember: CUT!
HANG A RI NOODLE HOUSE, 9916 GARDEN GROVE BLVD., GARDEN GROVE, (714) 537-0100.