While having lunch at Ma Dang Gook Soo the other day -- the small Korean restaurant known for its hand-made noodles -- we noticed, toward the bottom of the menu, spaghetti with meat sauce. It is the only Italian (or really, non-Korean) dish on the menu. Surprisingly, we've noticed this before at a few other Korean restaurants too. In the food court of the Koreatown Galleria for instance, displayed proudly on a menu next to some fist-sized dumplings, you will find spaghetti with meat sauce. Why, of all things, has spaghetti Bolognese made it onto so many Korean menus? We have no idea. But we thought that today's food fight, in which we compare two different versions of the same dish, was an excellent excuse to try some out.
We started, of course, at Ma Dang Gook Soo, where we were joined by Food GPS founder Josh Lurie. A nice woman came to take our order, we asked for the spaghetti with meat sauce, and then she paused for a couple of seconds, staring at us in utter disbelief. After a few minutes, a large, steaming plate of spaghetti with meat sauce was dropped in front of us. They gave us two bowls, two plastic forks, and a plastic shaker of pre-grated cheese (making us wonder how much Parmesan cheese Ma Dang Gook Soo goes through in a month). So there we were: two white guys sitting in a Korean restaurant packed full of Koreans, eating spaghetti Bolognese while everyone else was eating Korean food.
The spaghetti, of course, was terrible. The noodles were over-cooked, and the sauce was unrelentingly sweet. There was a lot of ground meat, but everything just tasted like onions and green peppers. In all likelihood, 16-year-old single mothers of two, living in a trailer in the Midwest somewhere, have made better spaghetti Bolognese. We'll definitely be back -- just not for Italian food.
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For our second attempt, we decided to finally step into one of the more bizarre restaurants in Koreatown, Mr. Pizza Factory. It is a large restaurant, there are wide-screen TVs over the bar, and there is a steady rotation of Frank Sinatra and casual jazz piano coming from the speakers. A (very funny) review from our own Mr. Gold hangs on the wall too. When our Bolognese arrived (actually listed on the menu as Bolognese, rather than meat sauce) we were, it turns out, pleasantly surprised. It was plated nicely, and the pasta looked to be cooked decently. It was a chunky sauce, topped with shaved Parmesan and a fresh sprig of parsley. It also had a nice, restrained level of heat to it, and thus didn't need the unmarked bottle of hot sauce on the table, which we were pretty sure was Tabasco. We took a bite, and the pasta was, indeed, relatively al dente.
So, in one of the more unlikely triumphs in food fight history, Mr. Pizza Factory beat Ma Dang Gook Soo in a noodle battle. Is Mr. Pizza's Bolognese better than the versions found at most decent Italian restaurants in Los Angeles? Absolutely not. But on other hand, it may be the only restaurant that serves it with a side of bread-and-butter pickles.