There are a number of very specialized restaurants popping up in Koreatown, and one of the best is Master Ha, or HaSunSaeng, which focuses its small menu mainly on two dishes: a soup called seolleongtang and raw, marinated crab.
Seolleongtang starts with a base of bone broth — or, you know, stock. Beef (traditionally oxen) bones are simmered for about a day to create the soup, to which slices of beef are added, which is apparently a Mongolian contribution to the feast. The broth is traditionally an off-white, opaque color, but at Master Ha seolleongtang also comes in a brick-red, spicy variety.
Either way you order it, the soup comes to the table boiling hot. There isn't much in the soup, beyond the generous portion of meat: a few vegetables and a handful of noodles. You can, of course, gussy up the soup to your liking via the selection of banchan it arrives with: both cabbage and root vegetable kimchi, various pickles and dried herbs; the spicy version comes with an egg. But taste the soup first — you may find that you appreciate the extremely clean beef flavor unadorned.
The other specialty of the house is at the other end of the food spectrum: It's raw and complicated. The “marinated crab combo” is also just slightly confused: Why does it come with two shrimp, head and tail on, served on a separate plate? Not that I'm complaining, of course. Bring on the shrimp, always. But they too are raw and marinated, and if you don't add enough herbs, sauce and pickles to the whole setup, it can be a bit overwhelmingly rich. But when you do get that mix right, it's a truly special dish, floral and meaty at the same time.
Food at Master Ha can be ordered to go, and great care is taken to package everything separately: no wilted or muddied flavors by the time you get home. The care that goes into this is just a little metaphor for how much thought goes into every element of the food here.
1147 Western Ave., Koreatown; (323) 998-0427, masterhala.com.