Friday, November 13, 2009

Neptune's Lounge (Los Angeles, CA)

Neptune's Lounge
601 S Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90005
213.365.0730
www.yelp.com/biz/neptunes-lounge-los-angeles (Yelp, restaurant has no web site)
Fri 11/13/2009, 07:35p-10:30p




When people think of consuming raw seafood, most think of the Japanese, with their ubiquitous iterations of sushi and sashimi. However, Koreans also have a tradition of eating raw fish and shellfish, specifically with saengseon hoe, basically raw seafood prepared in the same vein as sashimi. There are certain restaurants that specialize in live and raw, such as the subject of this post: Neptune's Lounge in Koreatown, which opened in February 2008. It's not the type of place that I would visit on my own volition, so I was brought here by Christine of Folie à Choisauce. She'd organized a small get-together with Danny of Kung Food Panda, Mike of Right Way to Eat, Noelle of Drink ‘n’ Dive, Ryan of Only Eat What Feeds Your Soul, Wesley (sans Evelina) of Two Hungry Pandas, and Will of FoodDigger.

Neptune's Lounge Exterior
Neptune's Lounge is situated on the south-west corner of Western and 6th, in a building that might be described as decrepit. If it weren't for the glaring neon sign, one might mistake the entrance for that of a business of lesser repute. Valet was $2 I believe, or you could always try your hand at street parking.

Neptune's Lounge Interior
Neptune's Lounge Interior
Inside, it's a different story altogether. One side of the room is dominated by the sushi bar, replete with fish tanks and awash in hues of blue light. Opposite that is a view into the semi-open kitchen. The south wall is taken up by private rooms, while the north houses a large projection screen, showing whatever sporting event might be on at the time. The space is the antithesis of cohesive, but it is fun and festive. And while we were there, the sound system was playing K-pop, which Danny seemed to enjoy (I believe he hinted at knowing the dance routine to the Wonder Girls' song Nobody).

Full Course Meal Sashimi
Neptune's menu is a contradictory mishmash of Korean-Japanese fare, with some oddball items thrown in for good measure (did I see onion rings?). I didn't try to decipher it, and Christine quickly took charge of the ordering, being the only Korean speaker in the party (the staff's English left much to be desired). The restaurant is well-known for their prix fix all-you-can-eat deals (first photo; click for a larger version), and that's what we were here for. The so-called Basic Package runs $34.99 per person, and is probably all that you need. Upgrading to the $49.99 Mermaid Package includes live shrimp and live abalone, while the $69.99 Neptune Package adds live mirugai (geoduck) and toro. There are also cheaper $29.99 and $24.99 options, though I'm not sure exactly what they entail.

Hite Beer
The libation of choice here was Korea's omnipresent brew, Hite. We went through a dozen large bottles, priced at $5 each. If you've never had Hite before, just think of it as Korea's answer to American macrobrew lagers--Bud, Coors, and the ilk--not great nor interesting, but drinkable.

Saeu & Edamame
Saeu & Edamame
Our first course was quickly brought to the table, consisting of a duet of boiled shrimp (saeu) and edamame. The soy beans were as expected, while the shrimp lacked flavor.

Korean Salad
Korean Salad
Bits of lettuce, dressed with a sweet-tangy sauce. Not much to say here.

Jeonbokjuk
Jeonbokjuk
Now this I liked. Jeonbokjuk is a porridge of rice and abalone, and here it demonstrated a salty, hearty, almost ham-like flavor, with the essence of abalone on the finish. I should've requested another bowl of this.

Spicy Seafood Salad
Spicy Seafood Salad
I believe this next course amounted to a slices of fish, mixed with lettuce, and dressed with a spicy-sour sauce. It wasn't bad, with the dressing proving a nice accent to the fish and lettuce.

Sea Squirt & Conch
Sea Squirt & Conch
Here we have one of the more interesting plates of the night. On the right is conch, which had an almost abalone-esque texture and a flavor that was surprisingly mild. Next to it was the notorious sea squirt (meongge). Sea squirts, or tunicates, are underwater filter feeders; they're known for their pungent taste, which I found slightly astringent and very briny here.

Ojingeo Hoe
Ojingeo Hoe
Along with the previous course came a dish of squid topped with chili sauce, with miyeok seaweed (wakame in Japanese) and broccoli. I actually enjoyed this course, appreciating the texture of the squid as well as its delicate flavor, heightened by the spicy accompaniment.

Seongge Hoe
Seongge Hoe
Next was one of Neptune's most well-known dishes, the sea urchin bowl. We have a hemisphere of urchin, complete with five portions of uni, along with rice and masago (capelin roe). I like the idea behind the dish, but execution was lacking to say the least--Ryan complained that his uni tasted "rancid." Live urchin can be hit-or-miss I suppose. Mine wasn't great either, while Christine's uni tasted the freshest. This is one of the items that is not all-you-can-eat, though frankly, I wouldn't want another serving!

Maki Sushi Assortment
Maki Sushi Assortment
Now, an assortment of four types of rolled sushi. I believe they were: eel (jangeo), eel with avocado, crunchy roll, and some sort of California roll-like maki with an off-putting wrapper. All were quite pedestrian.

Nigiri Sushi Assortment
Nigiri Sushi Assortment
Sushi consisted of mackerel, tuna (the piece I had was particularly sinewy), yellowtail, and salmon. Once again, tolerable but uninspired.

Badagaje Hoe
Badagaje Hoe
Here we have the pièce de résistance, arguably the best thing we had the entire night. It was live lobster, cut in half, with the delectable tail portion served sashimi-style. The flesh was delightfully snappy, yet creamy, with a briny, yet subtly sweet sapor that was simply marvelous. This was definitely not AYCE. Click here for a video of the lobster struggling to escape.

Miso Soup
Miso Soup
Textbook miso soup. Would this be considered a type of dengjang chigae?

Sashimi Assortment
Sashimi Assortment
An impressive spread of sashimi then appeared before us, placed atop a mass of uncooked dangmyeon (cellophane noodles). We detected tuna (chamchi hoe), salmon (yeoneo hoe), yellowtail (bangeo hoe), and still-moving abalone (jeonbok hoe) for sure. We initially thought that the white-fleshed fish was snapper (domi hoe), but in hindsight it was probably halibut (gwangeo hoe). There was also a small bit of very chewy sashimi, which I thought might've been halibut fin (engawa in Japanese). To accompany the fish, we had the standard wasabi-soy combination, as well as chogochujang (think gochujang, but sweeter). Given my disappointment with the sushi portion of our meal, my expectation for the sashimi was low. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality and flavor of the cuts here.

Badagaje Lobster Claw
Badagaje
The squirming lobster torsos from above were subsequently taken away by our server, then returned to us in steamed form. Some went for head, while I grabbed a claw. Since there were fewer claws than people at the table, I offered Christine some of mine. However, my meat was being stubborn and wouldn't come out, so I told her to pull harder. However, she demurred, fearing that she'd break it off if she tugged too hard.

Wes Tweeting Christine Tweeting
Humorously, the apparent double-entendre just begged to be live-tweeted, with Wes and Christine racing to see who could get the tweet out the fastest. Wes, ultimately, won that battle, though Christine got hers in mere seconds later.

Maki Sushi Assortment 2
Maki Sushi Assortment 2
Much the same as before: unsatisfying.

Sashimi Assortment 2
Sashimi Assortment 2
Given the success of the first sashimi platter, we decided to order up another round. All the same players were present minus the abalone.

Sashimi Gangbang Sashimi Gangbang
At the suggestion of Wes, I made a stacked presentation of the saengseon hoe, topping the unholy amalgam with plenty of chogochujang and a sprinkle of wasabi. We named it the "Sashimi Gangbang," paying homage to Christine's creation of the infamous Cali McGangbang.

Ke Crab Paparazzi
Ke
Now, one of the most widely-anticipated items of the meal was upon us: steamed stone crabs. I rather enjoyed these, with the claw meat being especially delectable--enchantingly briny, underscored by the inherent soft sweetness of crab. Very nice.

Kkongchi Gui
Kkongchi Gui
Here we have what I believe was grilled mackerel pike, delightfully salty and backed by a profound fishiness. Quite good.

Stone Grilled Beef
Stone Grilled Beef
Up to this point, we'd pretty much been subsisting solely on seafood, so it was nice to finally have some beef thrown into the fray (there is an option for grilled fish instead, though no one seems to go for it). This was simply beef, cooked on a hot stone slab by our server (click here for a video of the grilling action), accompanied by a condiment best described as a watered-down A1 Steak Sauce. The beef wasn't the most flavorful cut, nor the most tender, but it sufficed.

Seared Yellowtail and Halibut
Wes had the bright idea of using the stone slab to sear our fish. This came in handy for some of the yellowtail, which was still frozen.

Stone Grilled Beef 2 Stone Grilled Beef 2
Stone Grilled Beef 2
Danny and I were in the mood for some more meat, hence this second round. I even enjoyed the beef paired with the sweet chogochujang.

Sashimi Assortment 3
Sashimi Assortment 3
Sashimi number three, halibut and yellowtail only this time.

Ke 2
Ke 2
Given the strength of the crab, another order was a no-brainer. Messy fun, but worth it--yum!

Baechu Kimchi
Baechu Kimchi
What Korean meal would be complete without kimchi?

Maeuntang
Maeuntang
We closed out the meal with some maeuntang, a spicy, savory, heartwarming fish stew incorporating gochujang, fish bits, and various vegetables. Nice.

Nurungji Bap
Nurungji Bap
Along with the maeuntang came this rice porridge, made from toasted rice. I wasn't a fan, finding the soup rather bland, with a somewhat disconcerting nutty flavor.

Maeuntang 2
Maeuntang 2
Christine liked the first maeuntang so much, she ordered another bowl, which she finished almost all by herself.

Group Shot

All said and done, the tab was less than $50 per person, inclusive of tax, tip, and tipple--not bad given all that we consumed. As expected, the food at Neptune's Lounge was hit-or-miss. The sushi was merely average, and some of the other items were of dubious quality, but there were certainly standouts--the lobster, crab, and abalone porridge come to mind. Come here with the right expectations, and you'll be fine.




Palmtree LA Palmtree LA
These days, a dinner in K-Town must seemingly always end with some noraebanging, so we made our way to our favorite place, Palmtree LA. Though Palmtree is best known for its karaoke rooms, the space also houses S Bar, a lounge, as well as Arang restaurant, a "robata and sake bar." I'd never ventured into either of those before, but as we had to wait for a karaoke room to open up, we opted for a booth at S Bar.

S Bar
Above, we see the decked out S Bar space, replete with a video projection screen playing mashups of the aforementioned Wonder Girls and Katy Perry.

Hite Beer Francoise Chauvenet Silver Cap Blanc de Blancs
Hites [$7.95] were a given, but we also decided to take a risk on the "House Champagne," the Francoise Chauvenet Silver Cap Blanc de Blancs. It was hardly Champagne, but rather a vin mousseux, a generic French sparkling wine. It retails for under $7, and tasted like it. We were charged $39 for the privilege, but at least it came with our choice of a fruit platter or a pizza.

Fruit Plate
Wisely, we went with the fruit. The best part of this was actually the frozen yogurt, which had a pleasant acidic tang reminiscent of the yogurt from Iceberry / Pinkberry / Kiwiberri / Red Mango / Cefiore / YogurBerry.


Perhaps fomented by the wretched wine we consumed, Danny decided to wow us with his Russell Peters impression (for the uninitiated, please refer to YouTube video above):

"I give you best price, thirty four fifty!...Fifty cents a lot of money. You save fifty cents here, then maybe you go somewhere else you save another fifty cents, then you have one dollar. Then you take your dollar, you go to the dollar store, you buy something else!...Hey, be a man!... Be a man, do the right thing!"

However, Christine was not amused by the inherent farcicality of a Chinese guy imitating an Indian guy imitating a Chinese guy, and tweeted to that effect.

We eventually made our way into the karaoke studio, where C-Town (the Chinese O-Town) serenaded crowds with their signature anthem, All or Nothing, as well as select hits from Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, and 'N Sync. Good times...

12 Comments:

Anonymous Jai Kohli said...

It's a shame, I'm sure Christine would have LOVED your meat.

Monday, November 16, 2009 11:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Holly said...

I usually love your blog and have been reading for months, but the sight of a live animal trying to crawl away after being cut in half was disturbing, to say the least. I realized that any meat or fish is something that died whether we see it or not, but there's death and then there's eating something alive with its guts hanging out.

The latter seems... excessive, no matter how it tastes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 1:01:00 AM  
OpenID choisauce said...

the answer to the miso/denjang question: no. it's just miso :)

wes looks so intense tweeting lol u boys are hardcore karaokers now. I just couldnt keep up =P thanks for entertaining me though (for when I was awake =P)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 9:26:00 AM  
OpenID choisauce said...

and send me the pics from the night! =P

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 9:28:00 AM  
Blogger Wesley said...

As always, great write up! It was a fun night and the Sashimi Gangbang made it even more memorable.

Holly: The lobster was actually dead already. The nerves in the brain were still active. Had we not touched the innards it wouldn't have moved.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger Pepsi Monster said...

Ahh dude, I went commando that night. No pics from me.

Honestly, I thought this place was pretty good for what it is serving. Believe it or not, I went to another all you can eat sushi buffet the next day for lunch. Two AYCE sushi meals in a row. Obviously, this place takes the cake.

The sizzling steak was not bad, but I definitely liked the lobster. Christine can definitely pulled my meat......

Don't know what I was talking about. Long night! hahaha

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 12:52:00 AM  
Blogger Kung Food Panda said...

Wrong Info! I don't know the Wondergirls dance. I may know HOT or Fin.K.L stuff from the early 2000, but I'm so behind on Korean Pop culture.

Anyways for the price it was a pretty good deal. Enjoyed the food and company as always.

Holly: The lobster was dead, it was not moving during our meal until we agitated its nerves.

Thirty Fo Fifty bitches!! =P

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 1:20:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Jai: Oh she did. It ultimately did come out after some careful tugging.

Holly: Please see comments from Wes and Danny below.

Christine: So is there a Korean name for the miso soup? Pics are on their way--check our email!

Wes: Props for coming up with the SGB. It's something that should never be repeated though.

Mike: I'd rather have you without a camera than the other type of commando... ;)

Danny: So knowing the dances moves to Fin.K.L and H.O.T is somehow better than knowing Wonder Girls? ;) I'll admit, Nobody is fairly catching, as is Tell Me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 2:28:00 AM  
Blogger thngotiatr said...

Funny that Christine went back having been only a few days before. I think I may make a return trip rather soon as well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 3:06:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Are you sure she was at the restaurant a few days before? Did you see her there or something?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 3:10:00 PM  
Blogger nelehelen said...

ohh ive been eyeing this place cuz of their live lobser since it opened!

i was excited to see that i don't have to go all the way to redondo beach to enjoy live lobster.

i'm sure the food was a hit or miss, as i would've expected from such a joint... but i enjoyed your review and now i definitely need to make a trip there!

Friday, January 15, 2010 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Definitely hit and miss, but the hits are pretty good. Just go in with the right expectations. If only the lobster was AYCE...

Friday, January 15, 2010 3:01:00 PM  

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