Hot kismet

Mo Du Rang

9325 La Riviera Dr.
Sacramento, CA 95826

(916) 363-8505

Some higher power put Mo Du Rang on the map.

Still, it’s easy to pass Mo Du Rang’s nondescript location in a sketchy strip mall that’s mainly peopled by liquor store/mini-mart shoppers. But that doesn’t seem to bother the MDR folks who lay out a varied Korean spread, as well as udon noodle options for those seeking a more familiar fare.

The dining room features an odd warrenlike layout of varnished pine booths with dividers capped by white lattice, and the samplings of Mo Du Rang are also uneven. This is mainly because one of the meals is such a standout, that the relative merits of the others pale.

But that brings everything back to the higher power/kismet thing: End of the day. Dragging ass. Just wanna consume while catching up on unread work and then skedaddle.

Why does the eye instantly fixate on Ohjinguh Bokum? It’s under “Specialties” on the colorful, playful menu. A more common English spelling is “ojingo bokum,” and the dish is usually a spicy stir-fry of squid and octopus served with small rectangular carrot shavings, white onion crescents, half-inch pieces of green onion tail and thin slices of jalapeño that lurk in its not-so-inky depths.

Here, no appetizer is needed since every Korean meal is preceded by banchan, small dishes of daikon—sweetly pickled threads to half-moon chunks heated with kimchi spicing—sautéed spinach, crunchy anchovies, gray pasta-tasting sacks of fish cake, et al.

For this meal there are nine dishes. On previous visits there were more exotic dishes. Perhaps the proprietor and her mother worry that some of what the Korean crowd fancies might be too alien for a non-Korean.

The menu doesn’t say the ojingo bokum is spicy, so the matriarch returns to the table to warn, in not exactly the most conversant English, that there’s heat included with the mollusks. If only some minuscule grasp of Korean would allow a response trumpeting precisely how delightful this news is. Also, based on past samples, it seems culturally impossible for Koreans to out-Thai the Thai. (I’d pay money to see it, though.)

While I’m washing my hands, a complimentary scallion-studded crepe arrives at our table. On another visit, a thicker version of this appetizer that’s filled with seafood—pajeon—must be shared, or the portion and its addicting dipping sauce will guarantee mere picking at the entrée which, in that case, isn’t fatal, since its juicy-on-the-inside-but-a-bit-too-crisped-on-the-exterior grilled mackerel isn’t the most salubrious option.

Otherwise though, word to the wise.

The banchan arrives at roughly the same time as the rice and ojingo bokum. The latter’s heat is like leaving soup on simmer, nowhere near scalding but well above room temperature. That, along with the embedded team of jalapeños add an accent to the robust sauce whose sweet elements—rice vinegar, maybe?—neatly intertwine. With banchan, rice, crepe and the ojingo platter, it’s already impossible to devour everything, but the squid and octopus stir-fry’s memorable flavors—not common in conjunction with Asian seafood dishes—screams for seconds, which could easily be delivered since younger and older matriarchs hover tableside (to ensure diner enjoyment, natch). The matriarchs are forthcoming with answers as to the contents of some of the banchan dishes but many nuances in the explanations are lost in translation.

Then, without solicitation, a small dish of midnight-blue grapes is presented. They are sweet—close to the concord variety—with seeds sized like a teardrop shed by a diminutive, verklempt rodent. “Poe-toe” is the best phonetic representation of what the younger matriarch explains is the grapes’ Korean name.

It’s a wondrous and unexpected delight that deserved more people to share the joy.