• Tasting menu Courtesy of MoKo.

  • Preface: A non-hypenated American chef from NYC just made Korean food palatable. How in the world is this possible, in Culver City no less? By making the food Non-Korean. And really, for Chef Robins, this probably wasn’t that hard considering the absolutely state of garbage where most Korean cuisine resides. MoKo embodies three gustatory faux pas (Fusion Asian Food, Korean Food on the West Side, Asian food cooked by a non-Asian) and the results are … smashing.

    Korean food’s forte is to transform the bottom heap into something viscerally attractive. There is budae jigae. There is rotten cabbage. There is week old root vegetables entrenched in left over cold rice. This is a cuisine shaped by “recent” war and invasion (and bad American cuisine in the 50s);the entire country is a bit like Hanoi — the good chefs all ran away, or were massacred.

    Nothing akin to an oversized pot of boiling goulash will be found at MoKo. This is the essence of all that is good, and useful, in the Korean repertoire, applied to quality pan-Asian ingredients by a Chef with nearly 20 years of Continental, French-inclined, executive cheffing experience (NYC’s Biltmore Room, Russian Tea Room, Sheridan Square). He also happened to haunt NYC’s 32nd street/Flushing Koreatowns for grub.

    Remove all perceptions of Korean meal, whether it be the “chu sok” feast, or a drunken soju fueled late night meal at a ojang ma cha, at MoKo’s front door. There’s no refillable panchan here, there is no cheesu corn. Though there are table burners, don’t plan on doing any tabletop grilling. And don’t complain afterwards if you did. Caveat emptor to all. Ignore the tale told on the front of the menu, forget the word “tapas”. Order a crudo to start, be it a few Kumamotos dressed in yuzu gelee with roe sprinkles, or the unearthly scallops wading in a shallow puddle of house-made ssam jang dressing, texturized by fried leeks. If Nobu was Korean, these 2 hwe/raw dishes would be at Matsuhisa. Immediately contrast the froid dishes with something powered by “sut/soot” (fire), go for some excellent skewers. If KBBQ beef is insisted because of the Ko(rean) in MoKo, chose the kalbi beef ($11), but realize the ($12) grilled pork belly skewer, interrupted with chunks of scallops, rules that menu section.

    Chef Gary Robins’s familiarity with Momofuku Ssam Bar is apparent the moment the crisp pork belly “ssam” (which is clearly not cabbage nor lettuce wrap) arrives at the table in the form of a house made Chinese bao bun. Young cilantro can sometimes be found top of the various bao; good luck finding any seasonal herbs at Arado. The pork belly (sorry, again with the pork belly) bao is the best rendition of a Taiwanese gua bao a Westsider will ever taste without crossing the 710. The duck confit bao is a poor man’s Peking duck, and simply the best Chinese dish to be ever served at a Korean restaurant, bar none. This may be the only incidence, in the history of Chinese cuisine as bastardized by Koreans (and cooked by an American) where a dish is actually improved. Duck, mango, arugula, in a smoky bean sauce, all tucked into a split bao. At $6 per, it’s not cheap by any means, but there is simply nothing else like it in all of Los Angeles, not even at the vaulted house of Austo-Peking duck.

    Pair the baos with more carbs in the form of pajeon (immediately above), but for novelty’s sake, do not default to the twisted hamul pajeon. Even the most adamant Korean foodiot will forsake the kimchi pajeon from the maternal kitchen after a slice of the grilled shrimp/squash/zuke pancake topped with sesame tomato “chutney” ($15). This is how every pajeon from Kobawoo should’ve tasted, but there was not enough kitchen intelligence to deliver. If pajeon is judged like LA pizzas, MoKo’s would be Mozza, your mom’s would be Papa John’s. It’s like that.

    Did I mention Chef Robins isn’t Korean? Finally, before anyone Korean starts repping their grandmother’s cooking — your g-ma isn’t making yook hwe with Wagyu, neither is she making “Korean” lox latke (Soju cured salmon crisp potato pancakes with ginger cream, $13).

    9540 Washington Blvd
    Culver City, CA 90232
    MoKo on Urbanspoon

    NB: the shill disclaimer disappeared for a day due to an HTML error. As Midtowntown so keenly observed, the gratis meal notice was present initially. Apologies to all for awkwardly nuking it by 6/7/11 10am (stupid “<" signs)



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    • Anonymous

      If only Kobawoo had blogger dinners!ย  Then maybe it too could be an awesome example of a Korean restaurant…

    • When Moko opened up in my hood, I barely gave it a second look. But I’ve been hearing more and more positive buzz. Maybe I’ll have to stop by (at least for happy hour).

    • Anonymous

      Your loss Zach. Reply to Kara’s email. She won’t tell anyone.

      PS. Since you’re new-to-LA — Kobawoo is for review-chasers. There is better bossam nearby. Hope you cover more K-town lunch deals the rest of ’11. The city is reading.

    • I lived around the corner from this place when it was Gyenari. Then it turned to Moko just before I moved out. I took little notice of it too. I still have no desire to check out this place.

    • Anonymous

      I’ve eaten at Moko and it was as good as this article boasts! It was absolutely delicious! I’m not a huge fan of Korean food, usually I find it too salty, but not Moko. The food there is unbelievably yumster.

    • Moko is an interesting name in itself. Spelled Moco means “snot” or “mucus”. I want to try this place after your review! Thanx for visiting my blog by the way…. I’m loving your blog and writing style. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • this is beautifully written and the photos are awesome. I’ll have to check it out. So good to see a not so native chef cooking something they love regardless and doing a bitchin job. Cheers

    • Elise Thompson

      I fell in love with Moko too.

    • Jimin Suh

      “Preface: A non-hypenated American chef from NYC just made Korean food
      palatable. How in the world is this possible, in Culver City no less?
      By making the food Non-Korean.”

      Fuck you.

      “And really, for Chef Robins, this
      probably wasnโ€™t that hard considering the absolutely state of garbage where most Korean cuisine resides.”

      Stated by someone who thinks he knows everything about Korean food through his forays in K-town. rolls eyes.ย 

      “Every mofo out there armed with a P&S camera thinks he/she is
      qualified to spew the most worthless bits of garbage on what they ate
      for breakfast/lunch/dinner.

      Let me be the first to say: I am extremely under qualified.”

      You’re correct. The first right thing you said.

      “I find the whole Jewish food movement fascinating and their obsession
      with Chinese food. Some of the best food writers are Jewish.”

      So unbiased.

      “Korean cuisine is a 2 trick donkey. Inevitably, if you go to a Ktown
      restaurant (not bar/pojangmacha), if youโ€™re lucky, youโ€™ll be offered 2
      things: big red bowls of sop looking like neon afterbirth, or plates of
      self grill flesh*. Thatโ€™s it. If interrogated, even Koreans will admit
      that is all they eat, at least in America. Anecdotal evidence provides
      panchan as not entrees, hence do not count in this culinary math
      equation of โ€œbloody bowl + raw meat plate = 2 dishes in every Korean
      Menuโ€. A side of greens by the KBBQ grill negates this law, you say?
      Nope, thatโ€™s just an accoutrement to the 50% of all Korean dishes. What
      about dduk, the smart Korean kid from UCLA asks. Not enough close. Itโ€™s a
      meat vehicle which a Korean deploys as to not appear a Neanderthal when
      grappling blackened meat.”

      Yeah, that is the whole point of your take on Korean food, to bash Koreans. I’m sorry that you are a Chinese nationalist troll that has to spew his pettiness by trashing Koreans and their culture. A Chinese looking down on the hygiene habits of Koreans, so ironic considering the stereotypes of Chinese hygiene habits.ย 

      “This is a cuisine shaped by โ€œrecentโ€ war and invasion (and bad American
      cuisine in the 50s);the entire country is a bit like Hanoi โ€” the good
      chefs all ran away, or were massacred.”

      Because someone who has eaten at A FEW restaurants in K-town would know the state of Korean food IN KOREA.

    • Jimin Suh

      Please remove my comment. Thank you.

    • Jimin Suh


    • Jimin Suh


    • Anonymous


      ์™œ ์ด๋Ÿฐ ์‚ฌ๊ฐ€์ง€ ์—†๋Š” ์ค‘๊ตญ ์“ฐ๋ ˆ๊ธฐ๋ž‘ ๊ฒฐํ˜ผํ–ˆ์Šต๋‹ˆ๊นŒ? ํ•œ๊ตญ ์Œ์‹์ด ์“ฐ๋ ˆ๊ธฐ๋ผ๊ณ ์š”? ํ•œ๊ตญ ์‚ฌ๋žŒ๋“ค์€ ์ˆ˜ํ•™์„ ์ž˜ ๋ชปํ•œ๋‹ค๊ณ ์š”? ํ•œ๊ตญ ์Œ์‹/์‚ฌ๋žŒ/๋ฌธํ™”๋ฅผ ์ด๋ ‡๊ฒŒ ๋ฌด์‹œํ•˜๋ฉด ํ•˜์—ฐ์”จ๋ฅผ ์–ด๋–ป๊ฒŒ ์ƒ๊ฐํ•˜๊ฒ ์Šต๋‹ˆ๊นŒ?

      Source: http://sinosoul.com/2011/05/tttu-rak-k-town-all-that-is-wrong-with-korean-food/

      ํ† ๋‹ˆ ์ฑˆ,

      ๋‹ˆ ๋ชจ์š•์ด ๊ทธ๋ ‡๊ฒŒ ์ž๋ž‘์Šค๋Ÿฝ๋ƒ? Ask your Korean wife if you don’t understand. ํ•œ๊ตญ ์—ฌ์ž๋ž‘ ๊ฒฐํ˜ผํ–ˆ์œผ๋ฉด, ๊ทธ๋…€์˜ ๋ฌธํ™”๋ฅผ ์กด๊ฒฝํ•  ์ค„ ์•Œ์•„์•ผ์ง€. ๋‹ˆ๊ฐ€ ๋ˆ„๊ตฐ๋ฐ ํ•œ๊ตญ ์Œ์‹/๋ฌธํ™”/์‚ฌ๋žŒ์„ ๋ชจ์š•ํ•˜๋Š” ๊ฑฐ์•ผ?. . . ๋Œ€๋งŒ ์‚ฌ๋žŒ์ด๋ผ๊ณ ? . . . ์˜ค. . . ์„ค๋ช…์ด ๋˜๋„ค. . . ํ†ต๊ณผ ๋ธŒ๋กœ์ปค๋ผ๊ณ ? ๋‹ˆ๊ฐ€ ์–ด๋–ป๊ฒŒ ์ƒ๊ฒผ๋Š”์ง€ ์ž˜ ์•Œ๊ณ  ์žˆ์œผ๋‹ˆ๊นŒ ํ•œ๊ตญ ์‹๋‹น์— ๋‹ค์‹œ ์˜ค์ง€๋งˆ. . . ์ž˜๋‚œ ์ฒ™ํ•˜๋ฉด์„œ ๋ˆ„๊ฐ€ ๋‹ˆ ์–ผ๊ตด์„ ๋ชจ๋ฅด๊ฒ ๋ƒ? ๊ทธ๋ž˜ ๋‹ˆ๊ฐ€ ์ž˜๋‚ฌ๋‹ค. ๋‹ˆ๊ฐ€ ์ž˜๋‚ฌ์–ด. ์ค‘๊ตญ์ด ๊ทธ๋ ‡๊ฒŒ ๋Œ€๋‹จํ•˜๋ฉด. . .์Œ์‹/๋ฌธํ™”/์‚ฌ๋žŒ. . ์™œ ํ•œ๊ตญ ์—ฌ์ž๋ž‘ ๊ฒฐํ˜ผํ–ˆ์„๊นŒ? ์ค‘๊ตญ ํŠธ๋กค๋“ค์€ ์›๋ž˜ ์ด๋ž˜. ํ•œ๊ตญ์„ ๋น„ํŒํ•˜๋ฉด์„œ ์†์œผ๋กœ ํ•œ๊ตญ์„ ์งˆํˆฌํ•˜๋Š”๊ฑฐ์•ผ. ๊ทธ ๊ผด ๋ฐ–์˜ ๋ ์ˆ˜ ์—†๋Š” ๋†ˆ์ด ์šด์ด ์ข‹์œผ๋„ค. ํ•œ๊ตญ ์—ฌ์ž๋ž‘ ๊ฒฐํ˜ผํ•˜๊ณ . ๋‚˜์ด์ ค๋ผ๋Š” ์•„๋“ค๋„ ๊ฐ€์ง€๊ณ . ์˜คํ† ๋ฐ”์ด๋ฅผ ํƒ€๋Š” ๊ฒƒ์„ ์ฆ๊ธฐ๊ณ . ์ฐธ ์ž๋ž‘์Šค๋Ÿฌ์šด ํ•œ๊ตญ ์—ฌ์ž์˜ ๋‚จํŽธ์ด๋„ค. $500,000์งœ๋ฆฌ ์ง‘๋„ ์‚ฌ๊ณ . ๋‹ˆ๊ฐ€ ํ•œ๊ตญ ์Œ์‹ ์ „๋ฌธ๊ฐ€๋ผ๊ณ ? . . ์ฐฉ๊ฐํ•˜์ง€๋งˆ. ๋„ˆ๋Š” LA ํ•œ์ดํƒ€์šด์— ์žˆ๋Š” ์—ฌ๋Ÿฌ ์‹๋‹น๋งŒ ๋‹ค๋‹ˆ๋ฉด์„œ ๋ญ˜ ์•Œ์•„? ๋‹ˆ ์ž๋ž‘์ด ๋‹ˆ ๋ชฐ๋ฝ์ด ๋ ๊ฑฐ์•ผ. . . ์‚ฌ๊ฐ€์ง€ ์—†๋Š” ๋†ˆ. . .

    • Anonymous

      Whatever you think of Korean food, you should show some respect to Hayon and her family. But I guess that is asking too much of someone who doesn’t even provide a proper wedding for his “beloved”. How would you like it if she wrote that Chinese food tastes like “cheap donkey ass” and constantly degraded Chinese food all over the web? Anyways, you’re probably going to respond in your usual asshole style, so perhaps I shouldn’t bother. You think a Korean girl wants to get married at the justice of the peace for heaven’s sake? Just shows that you are so out of touch with what Hayon needs and really don’t respect her as a wife and person. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that someone who would celebrate his union in this manner would write such drivel about Korean food and food in general. Is there anywhere on the food web that you have not trolled? All your comments about Korean food are derogatory and ignorant. You just make yourself out to be a fool by claiming that you know all there is to know about Korean food when you’ve only been to K-town. You don’t know jack shit. And your ignorance shows. For Hayon’s sake, I do hope you get your act together, for her and Nigel as well. Don’t take her for granted because she gave up A LOT to marry you. Why does she have to put up with the disrespect of her culture and family when she married you, a guy who can’t even pay for a proper wedding and acts like a general asshole? I guess as typical of your mentality she was just another piece of hot Korean ass to you. You have no respect whatsoever for Hayon, her family, and her culture. She really does not need to put up with your shenanigans. Learn to think of others instead of being the assholey, pompous attention whore that you are.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, in Monterey Park, CA.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, I believe Tony Chen is home with Nigel and Hayon.

    • Anonymous


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