Feng Mao: Glimpses From Another Border

August 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

On most Sunday afternoons, a familiar scene unfolds in the food courts of Korean malls in town. After a day of shopping, harried parents quiet their squirmy charges with big bowls of jjajangmyeon, noodles doused in a thick sauce of slightly sweet-salty black bean paste and minced meat. A popular staple of childhood in many Korean families, the dish is also the most common example of Korean-Chinese cooking. When you glimpse the dish on a menu, it is often at a Korean-Chinese restaurant, where the food is strange synthesis of northern Chinese cuisine filtered through Korean tastes. Aside from noodles, you’ll also probably find a version of tangsuyuk on the menu, usually sweet-and-sour nuggets of pork, heavily breaded and fried, that often recall the worst parts of many Chinese restaurants in this country: sometimes-soggy bits of meat wallowing in pools of sweet, gloppy sauce.

Although Korea shares a border and many similarities with the northern parts of China, the fusion of these two cuisines has always disappointed me (both in Los Angeles and in Seoul) despite my love of both. A visit to Feng Mao on the western fringe of Koreatown, however, suggests that there is more to Korean-Chinese fusion than I suspect and that the dining culture of Los Angeles continues to surprise.

Feng Mao, which advertises itself as a northern Chinese restaurant, is a rarely spotted bird in this part of the city: maybe the best Chinese restaurant west of downtown and certainly one of the few on this side of the 110 that doesn’t cater to American ideas of Chinese food. Like many Korean restaurants, the stock in trade here is assorted skewers of meat and seafood over a brazier, but once you see the restaurant’s logo, you’ll know that lamb reigns supreme here. Roasted over a communal grill, lamb kebabs are tender and succulent, perfected by the little bowls of a spicy mixture of cumin, red pepper, and salt that is intended as a dipping powder for the skewers. Including bits of lamb, squid, beef hearts, and chicken gizzards, there are about a dozen skewer options available, but it’s the half-dollar size chewy disks of bull penis that elicit the most conversation and seem somehow mandatory after the second bottle of soju.

If you’re not too consumed by the constant rotation of skewers on the grill, the other pages on the menu present a satisfactory scattering of Korean and Chinese dishes. The scallion pancakes are always welcome additions to the table, as are the Chinese-style vegetables and steamed buns. To keep the mostly Korean clientele happy, a few plates of panchan start the meal, and a variation on naengmyun, the cold noodle soup that traditionally concludes BBQ feasts in Korean restaurants, is on hand.

Feng Mao is hardly a hidden gem. After carving out a steady business at the original location, the owners opened another restaurant on Western, on the busiest stretch of bars and restaurants in the neighborhood. Much like the expansion of San Gabriel Valley superstar Boiling Crab into the streets of K-Town, it seems as if two restaurant worlds are colliding. With such delicious results, though, you’ll hear no words of complaint from this hungry soul.

Feng Mao Mutton Kebab
3901 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
414 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90020

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