My dearest friend Sly emailed me last night to see if I wanted Korean food, and far be it for me to turn her down. After all, her company is ever so charming, and even more importantly, I’m a fiend for Korean food; so really it was a win-win situation for me. Throw Bets into the mix, and we had the makings for a raucous evening out (even if there was inevitably a sheer lack of raucousness). Nevertheless, we soon had to decide on a destination amongst the various offerings in Los Angeles’s Koreatown neighborhood, and feeling adventurous, I proposed we go to Ondal 2 (or On Dal 2 — the spelling varies). I had never been to the restaurant, whose speciality is a crab hot pot, but I had once read about it in the Los Angeles Times back in 2007 and had wanted to try it ever since (I even went so far as to email the author of the story to ask for the restaurant’s street address, which had inexplicably not been published initially).
For two years, every time I proposed dinner at Ondal 2, I never had any takers, but thankfully last night, I finally generated interest in the spot. Sly and Bets both seemed game for something new; so we trekked down to a quiet stretch of Washington Boulevard and entered the unassuming restaurant. As soon as we stepped inside, the intoxicating odor of crab (not to mention Windex as one server rigorously wiped down a nearby table) filled our noses. We knew then that we were in for a memorable dinner…
As we take a seat, we’re all given red garments that are somewhere between a bib and an apron. Sort of like the skort of protective garb. Not everyone in the restaurant chose to wear these items, but we happily donned ours as we anticipated a fully messy experience.
Sly and Bets show off their bib aprons. Or as I like to call them, BIBPRONS.
First up, we received small bowls of salad with an orange-sesame-something-or-another dressing. They were deeee-licious. We were all sad to have not had more, but given how extensive our meal turned out to be (2+ hours), it was probably okay that we didn’t fill up on salad.
After the salad came a variety of small plates, or banchan. Starting in the upper right-hand corner and going clockwise, we had crispy seaweed (phenomenal — perhaps the best of the dishes), and then Korean potato salad, a veggie pancake (also amazing), something golden and indeterminate (but still good), some octopus, broccoli, a fried fish (perhaps smelt?), egg custard, some sort of fishy kimchee (maybe skate wing?), raw slices of sweet potato, cucumber kimchee, and at last raw crab.
The octopus in its simplicity was quite lovely.
This pancake kind of makes me salivate now just thinking about it.
The crab was actually very tasty, but it was a pain to get out of the shell; so we pretty much gave up on it, which is a shame.
Soon our spicy crab hot pot arrived. Hence the crabs.
Unfortunately, we were left with nothing to do but STARE as the whole thing bubbled away.
Eventually the attentive waitress came over, cut up the crabs, and made each of us little bowls of soup, topped with a shell stuffed with rice and bean sprouts. It was totally great, and as we slurped our way through seconds and thirds, the broth only became richer, sweeter, and more flavorful. I believe that Sly emitted one or two borderline orgasmic moans throughout the next forty-five minutes.
As we reached the bottom of the hot pot, we discovered a few sea squirts waiting for consumption (as seen here, uncooked, from a picture I found on Google). None of us had ever eaten sea squirts, and there was some mild trepidation, but Sly informed us that she had one in her mouth and that it was DELICIOUS. Based on that glowing review, I went and popped the thing (which when cooked resembles a small brain) into my mouth.
Based on its appearance and name, sea squirt, I assumed this item would be soft on the outside and gushy in the middle — like a fried oyster. But oh it was not. It was fleshy on the outside, but upon biting down, it was stiff and borderline hard — like tough cartilage. Everything about it felt unnatural, but I pressed on and discovered that once one penetrates that hard second layer, then there certainly is a sudden gush of liquid. It was all so… strange. I didn’t dislike it. I didn’t like it. It was just… weird.
Sly and Bets, however, were not as tolerant of the sea squirt. Bets managed to gag and cough all over her plate, but to her credit, she did get the whole thing down. Sly, meanwhile, realized that she had NOT had a sea squirt in her mouth but in fact a large chunk of crab (BIG DIFFERENCE, I should note). When she did finally try an actual sea squirt, it lasted all of two second in her mouth before she spat it out. I told her that she was being weak and reminded her that Bets, who had detested the sea squirt, managed to eat the whole thing. If Sly wanted to be part of the sea squirt club, she’d have to go all the way.
Sly, however, was not having it. She tried three or four times to eat the sea squirt, but every time she hit that hard inner layer, she spat the thing out and flapped her hands in protest. Eventually, we had to accept that she simply was immutable and incapable of broadening her horizons.
Nevertheless, the sea squirt interlude should not detract whatsoever from the rest of the broth, which had become heavenly by now. But just because we’d reached the bottom of the hot pot didn’t mean the dinner was over. Oh no. The waitress came over, poured in more broth, and then dropped little bits of fresh “pasta” into the bubbling pot. Time for Round Two (or four, if you count the salad and panchan).
The waitress ordered us to wait five minutes before enjoying the pasta; so we just sat there and stared yet again. Photo assist by Sly.
Bets smiles with anticipation.
Here’s me prominently displaying the detritus we’ve accumulated so far. Meanwhile, not long after this photo was taken, we were able to dive into our noodles. Again, very tasty, but alas, we forgot to take pictures.
Ninety minutes into the meal, it was then time to make use of the hot pot YET AGAIN. The waitress whipped up some fried rice using sesame oil, leftover crab broth, and a whole variety of herbs and seasonings.
As great as everything was that came before it, nothing could top the rice. It was sensational. I say without hyperbole that it was some of the best rice I’d ever had in my life (if not THE best). Sly and Bets were equally ecstatic about it.
We were actually instructed to dip a spoonful of rice into a cold kimchee soup. The combination of the two was totally intriguing and awesome.
Bets scrapes up whatever last rice she can get. It’s a largely fruitless effort.
I’m so full I have to clutch my man bib.
But wait! THERE’S MORE! Well, just a little more. It’s dessert! Specifically, this is a bowl of sweet honey water (or something like that) with little bits of rice floating in it. Now we were done. Only took two hours. And the cost? $21/person (assuming you have three people — the hot pot cost $55 + tax). Highly recommended…
Ondal 2: 4566 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 933-3228. Credit Cards accepted!
On Yelp: Ondal 2