Except that Baroo is tiny, where Wonka's factory was gargantuan, and Baroo is obsessive with natural ingredients, fermentation and locavorism, as Wonka was about sugar spun confections produced en masse...but it's that core feeling of wonder, and being unsettled in a simultaneously fantastic and unnerving way. Because you are greeted by things you may not ever have even thought to think of.
You wander to the fridge, packed with housemade kombucha in flavors from elderflower to rose & passionfruit to yuzu to lemon verbena. (And tepache (fermented pineapple juice)) Healthy and tasty - though a menu of fermented foods, those not into that intense fermented taste of kombucha may not want to double up.
You read up on the chef, who after spending time in the kitchens of Daniel in NYC, Nobu Bahamas, Noma, Quique Dacosta and Piazza Duomo, and in the halls of the University of Gastronomic Sciences in northern Italy, earning a masters degree in Food Culture and Communication: Food, Place and Identity, that he has decided to pour his passion into Baroo, a place where he can combine natural ingredients and fermentation and let his creativity flow.
But you would never know about his fine dining background, on meeting the owner/chef, as he seems to embody the humble philosophy behind the name of his restaurant: Baroo means "a bowl that Buddhist monks are allowed to possess and use for their meals until their last breath," which also seems to symbolize the minimalist approach to life in order to focus on what's really important: respect, trust in and love to nature and people. This he channels through food, using local, sustainable and organic ingredients. He is not a big talker either, but lets his creative dishes speak for themselves.
Though Chef Uh loves all his dishes, when pressed, one standout he and partner Matthew Kim would recommend is Noorook (Koji) ($12) Job's tears, kamut & farro, roasted koji beet creme, concentrated kombu dashi, toasted seeds (sunflower & pumpkin), macadamia nuts, finger lime, and rose onion pickle. Every grain makes its presence known here, perfectly cooked and clean, distinct, made cohesive with the beet creme and dusted with super finely grated cheese (?). It has risotto qualities, but is at the same time unlike anything you'd ever tasted, especially with the umami and subtle tartness of koji (edible mold) kombu dashi, crunch of seeds, nuts and exquisite tiny bursts of brightness via finger limes cutting through the grains which are rich yet light at the same time. Confounding in the best way. The only thing I knew was that a few forkfuls in, I was hooked, and had already decided this was my favorite and I needed to come back for more.
Changing up the rice to basmati apparently makes a huge difference! Again, many ingredients and tastes you wouldn't think to combine, come together to blow your mind. This one, like Chef Uh's other dishes, also pay amazingly detailed attention to balance of levity and density, juicy, crunchy, crisp, sweet, sour, spicy, savory all in harmony - and again every grain of rice is clean and distinct. Chef Uh's Kimchi Fried Rice is the new crack.
And then will also make you realize that most of the other dishes don't have any meat in them: and you never even missed it, because the flavors and textures are so amazing. And when you get up from a meal at Baroo, you are fully satiated, but not lethargic like you might be at a gluttonous meal at many other restaurants in town. I love that the taste is amazing first, and that the 'health' aspect makes it even better (and there is no 'sacrifice' or forced abstinence of any sort).
The Classic Shortbread ($2) 84% butter cacao nibs and citrus bursts is probably the best, most clean crumbly piece of shortbread I've had in recent memory.
On a 7 point scale:Flavor - 7 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 7 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6.5 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%
5706 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038