Hashigo - Costa Mesa
The subject of Kogi came up while I was chatting with a co-worker last week, which was odd because I hadn't thought about Kogi for quite a while. It seems a quaint subject now, like talking about a once-popular movie that's since been relegated to the DVD bargain pile at Target.
In any case, I asked a co-worker if he'd ever had it. "Don't have to," he replied, rather sure of himself, "I've had a Korean taco at Hashigo down the street. Don't have to wait. Don't have to go chasing after a truck."
I nodded in agreement, and made a note to visit the place, which I've known about for years but shunned simply because of laziness. Fortuitously, a few days later, Derrick and Jeff, a couple of readers of this humble blog, invited me to lunch there. I didn't have the tacos, but saw almost immediately that they do even more than that.
In particular, there was this Korean wet burrito, which Jeff ordered. Humorously named "The Korrito", it starts with bulgogi, kimchi fried rice and cheese stuffed inside a rolled tortilla. The whole boulder-sized lump is then doused with what looked and tasted like reduced soondubu (soft tofu soup). This, I thought, was beyond weird and weird-looking. Weird, but good--a Korean-Mexican mash up that easily trumps Kogi's own burrito on sheer cojones. I just wished the picture I took of it wasn't so blurry.
I opted for something I'd never get at the Kogi truck, the $8.95, 2-item lunch special that included a main dish (a ridiculously large kalbi bowl, a gurgling soondubu pot with seafood, or a shrimp tempura udon) and a side (kimchi fried rice, California rolls, or fried gyoza).
This trip, I chose the shrimp tempura udon, and it came in a bowl as wide as a sink. The usual squiggly-slippery chew of udon were submerged beneath an amber-colored broth both peppy and hot. As with most noodle soups, success begins and ends here, and this one had a lip-smacking umami sweetness leeching out of the toasted nori that made every sip invigorating. The hot elixir comforts the same time its subtle spiciness titillates. It didn't matter that the two criss-crossed spears of once-lacy tempura were now slowly dissolving into the liquid, turning into flavor-soaked and mushy broth sponge.
The gyoza that accompanied added nothing particularly noteworthy, except for a crunchy fried counterpoint to the hot, wet slurps of soup. Truth is, I think the kimchi fried rice would've been a better side; but starch followed by starch does not a balanced lunch make.
What was essential to the meal actually came for free: three capably prepared and flavorful banchan came as a complimentary appetizer. There was enough that it could've conceivably constituted a meal unto themselves, say, if you had a bowl of rice. The gamja jorim, a stewed potato side-dish so melting and sweet, might as well be labeled as a confection.
Hmm...there's an idea hasn't yet been embraced: an all banchan food truck! They could serve it inside tortillas and call them "tacos". Why not? That's what everyone seems to be doing these days.
Hashigo Korean Kitchen
3033 Bristol St., Suite M
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
The Kickin' Crab - Santa Ana