Sunday, December 13, 2015

Baroo: Pure Imagination in World of Chef Kwang Uh's Creation

The feeling you get when you first pull into the non-descript strip mall where Baroo holds ground, and when you first step into the quaint yet pleasantly unsettling nook, is a version of what I would imagine the kids who won Golden Tickets felt when they first set foot in Wonka's factory.

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.

When you first step into the 'free-style experimental kitchen', you see a big wooden communal table, barstools by the counter, and a back wall with shelves packed with every-color science-lab-like jars of things quietly fermenting.

You don't see any staff for a while (because the hardworking staff of two are busy in the kitchen whipping up dishes for hungry diners), so you take the time to peruse the jars.  (Yes, most of what Baroo will feed you has to do with mold and foods in various stages of breaking down.  And you'll love it.)

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.

My favorite seat is at the counter, where you can glance over the collection of cookbooks, dry ingredients, and peek into the kitchen.  Homey, like being invited over to a friend's house for dinner, and checking out their life as a collection of knick knacks on their shelves, while waiting for the party to commence.

And when the food arrives, it's understated but very simply spectacular.  Some dishes are composed of ingredients you'd never heard of, which you excitedly Google.  Some are twists on more familiar favorites.

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.

 Gim (Seaweed) ($12) has a similar mix of grains but with different 'toppings' / 'mix-ins': Job's tears, kamut & farro grains with amaju, assorted seaweed compte with shiitake, tofu, spirulina, nasturtium, nori chip, mixed berries, wasabi daikon, lime onion jalapeno, pickle.  I didn't think that berries would go with warm grains (the only time I'd encountered the two together would be in some kind of cold salad) - but the earthiness of the mushrooms, grains and tofu were well balanced by the vibrant juicy sweet/tart of the berries, punctuated by the slight heat of wasabi, jalapeno, and acidity of pickle and lime, and the crisp crunch of the nori chip.

Then there were new takes on dishes familiar to LA food lovers: my favorite is the Kimchi Fried Rice ($9) pineapple fermented kimchi, amira basmati rice, 63 degree sous vide egg, gremolata, pineapple jalapeno salsa, purple potato chips, roasted seaweed, toasted buckwheat & quinoa, and micro greens (option to add slab bacon for $2)

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.

Then there is Baroo's Ragu Style ($15) spicy oxtail faux ragu, tendon puff, gochujang gremolata with cherry tomatoes, krout powder, three years aged parmigiano reggiano with handmade pasta.  With mostly recognizable ingredients, this dish may seem the least exciting of Chef Uh's limited menu, but you'd be remiss to skip it - it may be one of the most flavorful, and again shockingly rich AND light at the same time of any pasta dish you've had.

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).

Baroo's dessert menu consists of baked goods and one fancier option.  Don't overlook the goodies under the glass dome on the side counter - they are incredible, like the savories.

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.

The Caramel Pearl Chocolate & Oat Cookie ($2) 70% Valrhona chocolate, nocciola is delicious and fun to eat with the chocolate and white 'pearls' sprinkled throughout.

The fanciest dessert on the menu is the Passion Fruit Tart ($7) vanilla bean tart, macha yuzu chiffon, passion fruit curd, elderflower meringue.  Elegant and decadent.  Definitely do not leave without trying this tart.

Jonathan Gold referred to Baroo's cooking as "a taste of the future".  Along those lines, I think that when looking ahead, and considering mass nutrition needs of the species, and moving to vegetable/grain-based diets, some people choose to reduce the things that inhibit efficient energy use and food production, and in doing so remove the human element (Soylent for example seriously makes me think of the slop they funnel through feeding tubes to human incubators/battery farms in The Matrix).  Others, like Chef Uh, choose to celebrate the beauty of nature and pushes in all their efforts with their vision to sustain it.  For the sake of humanity, I hope that Chef Uh's way is the winner.  Please 'vote' for that future by supporting his restaurant :)  Thank you!

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
Ph: 323.819.4344

Parking: free, in attached strip mall open air parking


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

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