There's seemingly no stopping Baroo, the James Beard Award semi-finalist and all-around food media favorite. The latest to ride the fermentation train to the depths of East Hollywood is one Patric Kuh of LA Magazine, who stopped in to give the place a proper review.
The still-incognito critic has certainly heard the hype, and wanted to stop by himself to see what might be going on inside chef Kwang Uh's mad laboratory. His early take on all the hullabaloo:
The notion that such "big" food could come out of such a modest space is intoxicating to anyone on the hunt for the next great flavor in this city. But that only partly explains the bicoastal hype that has surrounded Baroo since it opened in September; the place is an obsession given an address, a passion project you can check out with a $12 bowl.
But then, in a pretty surprising moment, Kuh admits to dropping the veil of anonymity while dining at the restaurant because he was just so darn perplexed about what exactly was going on inside. It's a bold move, considering that (at the moment) he's the only really "unknown" critic working in the city.
I aim for anonymity when I’m on the job, but I had to join Uh at the stove to understand how he creates the addictive umami burst of the food at this tight hole-in-the-mall joint he runs with friend Matthew Kim in Hollywood. I’m particularly interested in the noorook, which is kind of a risotto made from a trio of grains: farro, Khorasan wheat, and Job’s tears, a grass seed that is roasted and used for tea in Korea. The dashi broth Uh heated them in and the yon-do, a vegetable stock soy he splashes in, are part of the secret, but the driving force is koji. Often made from fermented rice and then powderized, the bacterial culture is central to sake and miso.
Right before serving, Uh sprinkles on a store-bought variety for an effect similar to fleur de sel with an enzymatic kick. But before that, as the dish is still warming, he incorporates a koji that he propagates from spelt and buckwheat, resulting in a flavor that’s earthy and absolute, sort of what guanciale is to the Sunday roast. When I ask how he makes it, Uh points to the top of a box freezer. In another restaurant the appliance might be purring; at Baroo it’s left unplugged and functions as a shelf in the cramped space but also as an incubator, a drugstore heating pad elevating the temperature inside just so.
In all, the unmasked Kuh admits to loving the place, through all its quirks. He holes out three whole-hearted stars.
The Elsewhere: The SGV Tribune enjoys noodles at Mian, Brad A. Johnson of the OC Register enjoys squid at Thanh Binh in Mission Viejo, and Angeleno Magazine enjoys the reborn Belvedere in Beverly Hills.