Sunday, November 8, 2015

Hanjip: Seoulful Elevated Korean BBQ in Culver City

With the largest Korean community outside of Seoul, Los Angeles food lovers are spoiled in the best way by the abundance of amazing restaurants concentrated in Ktown.

While I definitely have my much beloved 'everyday' type restaurants on regular rotation, few have tried to elevate the cuisine to more of a luxury dining experience.

Now, two brilliant minds have paired up to bring fine dining korean bbq westward to Culver City.

Chef Chris Oh, who brought playful inventive Korean to Westsiders in the form of Seoul Sausage (and now to Little Tokyo with Seoul Sausage Company), and restauranteur extraordinaire Stephane Bombet, who is responsible for one of my absolute favorite restaurants in the city (Faith and Flower) as well as many successful launches including Picca, Paiche and the newly opened Viviane are even taking it a step further - creating new sure-to-be-staple dishes while paying homage to the classics.

Even the banchan (complimentary side dishes) that are first to arrive at the table were impressive: high quality, fresh ingredients for familiar dishes like kimchi, potato salad, fish cakes, and inventive ones like marinated octopus tentacles in thin tasty slivers, and acorn jelly which is typically topped with just a spicy sauce, with crisp nori as well.

Then to the main attraction: the meat menu is carnivore nirvana with beautifully marbled staples like ribeye, skirt steak, short ribs and sliced brisket in prime cuts, pork belly ($23-$31 a platter) and - this I love - options that are more unusual to see this side of town, for the more adventurous, like pork neck / jowl, tongue, intestines and baby octopus. 

Hanjip like many others offers their meats both marinated or not - the latter so that you can control the intensity of flavor if you wish, using their dipping sauces.  I personally always prefer pre-marinated, for even flavor that has infused throughout the meat, and trust the chef here - the flavors are skillfully controlled and well balanced.

Definitely try the hamachi (yellowtail fish) collar as well - an item more familiar on Japanese menus than Korean ones - with its fatty juicy tender meat, and wake-up-the-next-day-with-a-need-for-another-fix delicious marinade, made addictively smokey over the grill.

As another fun element that makes every guest feel VIP - Hanjip will break out gold grillz for you to cook the meats on.
The award for most dramatic cut of meat - that is sure to become Hanjip's signature - is the gargantuan Tomahawk steak ($120) that is on a bone so big it looked like it came from a pterodactyl, cooked sous vide with FOIE GRAS BUTTER for the most luscious tender texture and earthy umami, captured within a light and crisp char when seared on the grill.

Part of the reason I love Korean barbecue so much is for the very interactive, social aspect of the dining experience.  While the chef of course does all the prep for you, you get the chance to actually finish the cooking yourself, with your dining companions, as a shared activity.  The fun of it is in working together to complete your meal, alternating roles of cook / server/ eater all while at the dining table.

The tomahawk takes that to the next level and will definitely make for a very memorable night out (for up to 4 people to feed on, I would say!) - and one that will have people reminiscing for weeks after. (Read again: FOIE GRAS BUTTER!!!)

Beyond the amazing meats, the 'Bonus' section dishes are stars in their own right as well.

As with his other restaurants, Stephane's team really pays attention to every detail here: even the humble Kimchi Fried Rice ($10), ubiquitous to most korean restaurants, gets an upgrade in taste sauteed in brown butter with lovely runny egg + seaweed toppings, and in presentation in an elevated version of the lunch tin (shikdorak).

A bonus dish that was not only a fun photo opp, but an example of Chef Oh's creativity, is the Bone Marrow Corn Cheese ($15) with shaved parmesan and bonito flakes.  The luxe 'meat butter' is scraped down and mixed up into the sweet kernels of corn punctuated by counterbalancing textures and intensity of savory with bonito flakes, and creamier with parmesan.

My favorite of the Bonuses was officially called Uni Steamed Egg ($15), but what I like to call Egg on Egg on Egg Trifecta.  Chef Oh takes the steamed egg that is commonly found in korean restaurants, and adds bright creamy umami sea urchin on top, with salmon roe for additional bursts of brine, and tops the whole thing with furikake in a steamy, fluffy cloud of foodgasmic eggporn deliciousness.  Seafood lovers will defnitely have their dishes to love beyond meats as well!!!

(If for some bizarre and unfathomable reason you do not like sea urchin, this dish is offered sans uni as well, for a very good deal of $5.)
Which reminds actual favorite of the 'mains' was the Carabineros Prawns ($88 for 3).  These prawns - some of the biggest in the world - typically come from Morocco, and I haven't seen this on very many menus in LA yet at all.  They are the MOST delicious prawns I've ever had. With intense, concentrated flavorful meat that is in perfect balance between savory and sweet, with texture more robust and meaty than shrimp but softer and less muscular than lobster, these divine sea creatures are a MUST get whenever you encounter them, and definitely at Hanjip.  Foodies who are also shrimp/prawn-head lovers will appreciate the giant treasure troves here, of precious roe, tomalley, and clean structured dark orange flavor bombs that had me disregarding all sense of decorum and going all in, juices dripping down to both elbows or not.  Even other food bloggers used to seeing all kinds of gluttonous debauchery were slightly (or majorly) appalled at the spectacle - but these were SO GOOD that I didn't care one bit.

Besides the luxe food offerings, another point of difference with Hanjip from most other KBBQs is that you can get great wines to pair with your meal. I don't know anything about wines but expert @pleasethepalate was happy with the list!

All in all, Stephane can count this as another hit in his portfolio of super successful dining destinations.  It's become an instant favorite for me at least, and I will be back again as soon as I possible can.

Til then, I will remain in severe #foodenvy mode with all the Sony employees who have Hanjip right in their backyard.


3829 Main Street, Culver City, CA 90232
Ph: 323.720.8804


Parking:  Structure on Cardiff next to Bank of America.  First 2 hours free.

Look for reservations (and rewards points!) at OpenTable.


Hanjip Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

*Disclaimer: this meal was hosted.

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