As much as the folks over at A.O.C. would have you believe it, small plate restaurants are really no good for a group: they mean subdivided scallops and scant forkfuls of the one pasta that everyone sullenly wishes they could hoard for themselves. No, a big group really calls for big food: massive, seemingly endless portions where people can eat and drink themselves into gluttonous oblivion without having to compete with their loved ones over the last bacon-wrapped date.
Every so often, our big group standbys (barbecued pork belly at Don Dae Gam, ribs at Hamji Park, a cauldron of burbling, gingseng-spiked Mongolian hot pot at Little Fat Sheep) start to feel a little tiresome. Which is what landed a few of us one rainy L.A. night on a somewhat remote stretch of West Washington Boulevard for Ondal 2's spicy crab stew.
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To be clear, the crab stew at Ondal 2 is not merely a stew. It's more like a primordial soup from which things continually seem to be evolving. First, crab shells are scooped out, stuffed with bean sprouts and rice, and served. When everyone has eaten their fill, the waitress will add hand-torn dough into the broth for a course of chewy dumplings. And finally, the whole business is transformed into fried rice, studded with any remaining bits of crab and mushrooms that your party has not already devoured.
Theoretically, you can end your meal with the crispy bits from the bottom of the pan, though our rice refused to cook through and never achieved actual crunchiness. If one includes the usual small dishes of banchan and sweet, cold rice tea to finish, you're looking at five full courses. It's hard to imagine even five adults leaving hungry after one medium-size order ($55).
While there may have been crab soup in excess, the crabs, sadly, were a little anemic. The stew (pleasantly lip burning when ordered at a 6 out of 10 heat) was not a disappointment, exactly. But, as the last rice scrapings were served up, a vague ennui seemed to settle over the table. As if we were all quietly wishing we'd spent the night fighting for the last bacon-wrapped date, after all.