Status: Opened last week
Bann Restaurant, a New York mainstay, softly opened in the heart of Koreatown last week. Hidden from street view within a pleasant courtyard in the new Ma Dang complex, it could be just another average Korean restaurant. Fortunately, Bann is much more than initially meets the eye. Owner Young Sook Choi is the famous name behind the oft-maligned, hugely successful Woo Lae Oak restaurants in Beverly Hills and New York. New York Magazine credited her with taking "inventive liberties with traditional flavors" and William Grimes of the New York Times said back in 1999 that Woo Lae Oak was "blazing its own trail" in menu offerings and decor, and tagged the place with two full stars. If there was any doubt that Choi was on the forefront of a new wave Korean, she has a cookbook out there to prove it.
With this in mind, one has high hopes for the well-appointed Bann. Entering the courtyard on a pebble walkway, guests pass a goldfish lily pond - a sign of wealth and prosperity. The restaurant's entrance is both elegant and calming with antiqued woods and furnishings set off by tall white orchids and bamboo. Jisan Kim, Choi's young lieutenant and General Manager, is suited and stealth, and casts a careful eye on the dining room. He greets guests, their mothers and their grandmothers, with equal ease. There is a glassed wine cellar that contains just as many bottles of Chardonnay as Sake. The place could be gaudy, it could be cliche, but instead it feels a lot like walking into someone's home, hospitable in all of the right ways.
Just past the open kitchen is a walkway leading to the main dining room. Peek through the wooden grills at the slender servers and dignified patrons and it's easy to forget that you're on the corner of Wilshire and Western. A lounge area adjacent to the bar boasts comfortable red leather-backed stools and plenty of whiskey and soju. Choi's food and service must be good enough for expansion to come so easy on opposite coasts. Not only are tables outfitted with sleek, hoodless barbecues and cooktops, but there are screened and curtained private tables and rooms upstairs and down, perfect for intimate gatherings.
Besides the usual and unique Korean barbeque options (marinated or not), there's a section of cold offerings like conch salad, beef knuckle pate and sesame beef tartar with Asian pear. Tempura vegetables, seafood and dumplings are popular appetizers; classic scallion pancakes and mungbean cakes round out the first courses. Choi is famous for her hand-crafted tofu in some circles and it makes an appearance here with a host of topping options like kimchi or red chili and black beans. Slowly Roasted Pork Spare Ribs basted in soy and chili are served alongside Sweet Corn. Blue Crab is marinated in traditional spices and vinegars much like an Asian ceviche. There are hot pots. There are noodles. There are soups and stews. Prices are high for the neighborhood and might be more at home on Restaurant Row. It's true, the place doesn't quite fit with this stretch of Western Avenue and its hodgepodge of dry cleaners and Pho 99s, but its crowd on a recent afternoon seemed happy to have it. Bann Restaurant is open seven days a week from 11AM until 11PM.
Additional Photos: Eater LA Flickr Page