My girl friends like to gather for their “girls night out” dinner occasionally, and I am usually considered one of the girls (I’m ambivalent about that distinction, but it’s always fun hanging out with them). I was originally placed in charge by Jeannie of choosing a restaurant for our dinner last Saturday, but Christina insisted on having Korean (which actually helped the process of elimination). She and Jolene also insisted on the dinner being under $20/person. I gave Christina a couple of choices, from which she chose Kobawoo House.
I had read about Kobawoo from Jonathan Gold’s 99 Essential Restaurants list. The problem with Korean cuisine in L.A. (at least how it’s perceived) is that while the number of options are plenty, the vast majority of the options serves one of two things: all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ and spicy stews. So the nice thing about Kobawoo is that they specialize in bossam (or bosam on the menu), which is basically steamed pork wrapped in vegetables and served with accompanying condiments. We all know how I feel about pork belly, and the cuts of pork that are used in bossam contain pork belly. Time to get freaky!
What Korean meal is complete without alcohol? Or better yet, Korean alcohol? Makkoli (or spelled Makgeolli) is made from fermenting rice and wheat, which gives it its milky appearance. Pretty damn good, and we definitely got our money’s worth – at least two bowls per person for our party of four).
For Kobawoo’s variation of bossam, we were able to wrap the pork in either napa cabbage or pickled radish, and eat it with various condiments. The wang option (as opposed to the regular one) also comes with steamed skate served with a spicy sauce (the bowl on top right of the plate) and pigs’ feet (photo below). One order was more than enough for the four of us, especially since we had other dishes. The pork was cooked very well, and each of the condiments tasted great with the pork. The pigs’ feet was really good too. The skate (not hongeo), while being pretty good as well, seemed out of place with the dish.
Haemul Pajun ($15)
A really big seafood pancake served on a sizzling plate. It had plenty of seafood – scallop, shrimp, oyster, squid, clam. The amount of seafood, while flavorful and justifying the price, was a slight detriment to the dish because of the seafood-pancake ratio. I would’ve liked it to be more pancake-y, I suppose. But a great tasting dish nonetheless. One of their other specials along with the bossam.
Dolshot Bibimbab ($10)
Unfortunately, the bibimbap isn’t one of their specialties, and it shows. It was your traditional type served in a stone pot, with a fried egg on the side. That kind of turned me off – I prefer the raw egg cracked in the pot. Not a bad dish, but nothing special.
I thought that not only was I able to mix things up by having Korean food (I rarely have it nowadays since I don’t live near Koreatown anymore), I was able to have Korean food that didn’t fall under one of the stereotypes of the cuisine in L.A. The differences between a B and a higher grade for me is usually creativity, technique, and most importantly, execution. Kobawoo certainly isn’t creative in serving traditional Korean cuisine, and Korean techniques aren’t rooted in innovation. However, I have to say that the execution was excellent. And going by the grade scale I use, Kobawoo is definitely recommendable and better than most.
Chris Hei grade: B+
698 S Vermont Ave, Ste 109
Los Angeles, CA 90005
Note: credit Daniel L. on Yelp for the first photo. Also, since price doesn’t factor into my grade, I wanted to mentioned here that Kobawoo is probably one of the best deals in town. For the amount and quality of food you get, you can be more than full for less than $20/person with tax and tip. So for people like Daniel Zhu, this place would be an A :)