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).
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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