Angelenos know about the culinary talent pipelines from more established restaurants like Michael’s, Campanile, and assorted concepts under the Mozza umbrella. Further south, Manhattan Beach Post has quietly become a feeder system for a new generation of restaurants. David LeFevre’s protégées are fanning out and opening their own establishments across L.A., including Linda Lau with Chubby Rice in Hawthorne, Atsushi Takatsuki with The Painter’s Tape in Gardena, and Juran Kwak at Hungry Crowd in Toluca Lake.
Hungry Crowd is the most ambitious restaurant of the bunch, featuring house-made noodles, dumplings, and kimchi, full-service, and a beer and wine license. The restaurant is well positioned near studios like Warner Bros., Universal, ABC, and Disney.
Kwak and business partner Michael Woo capitalize on their location with office- and set-friendly sandwiches, salads, and tacos, but people can get those dishes pretty easily at other restaurants. Thankfully, their Asian fusion menu delves far deeper, mining a wealth of high-value creativity to deliver more unique dishes, particularly at dinner.
One of Hungry Crowd’s most successful dishes is also its most restrained. Korean-style dumplings ($11) resemble overturned Frisbees, with thin skins cradling chopped cabbage, carrots, and shiitake mushrooms in a spicy vegetable broth that’s scattered with egg drops and garnished with shaved scallions and black sesame seeds.
White kimchi clam pasta ($14) is another great representation of Kwak’s personal style of Asian fusion. She makes mild white cabbage kimchi in-house and tosses it with fettuccine like noodles (also house-made), salt-kissed clams and white wine sauce before garnishing with crispy fried onions and a thatch of chile threads.
As much as locals love fried chicken, it was refreshing to see a more novel play on poultry. Half fried hen & slaw ($10) showcases tender young chicken battered in salt, pepper, butter, and corn starch, fried in rice oil until crispy, planted in cooling avocado crema and served with cabbage, carrot, red bell pepper and cilantro slaw tossed with light mayo.
They expand beyond Korea for dishes like grilled corn & polenta ($8.50), a fun take on ubiquitous street corn. A cast-iron skillet of cheesy polenta comes topped with a cob of grilled corn dusted with spicy cayenne and savory crumbled cotija. Cilantro and sliced Fresno chilies add brightness and color.
If Lincoln Logs subbed Hungry Crowd’s fried pork ribs ($13) for wooden logs, more kids would probably grow up to be engineers. Hungry Crowd’s ribs are smothered in a sweet and spicy sauce — according to Woo, “gochujang paste and other things” — with their oil-blistered exteriors garnished with crushed peanuts, Fresno chilies, and scallions. Eat these ribs before they cool and the crispy coats lose their crunch.
Mac and Cheese ($7) strays pretty far from Asia, but still succeeds thanks to firm macaroni getting bathed in molten white cheddar and funky blue cheese, and a dusting of Parmesan. Roasted cauliflower florets, crunchy breadcrumbs, and chives help to round out the texture of this sizable serving in a cast-iron skillet.
Salmon carpaccio ($10) is beautiful to behold, with silky salmon coiled into roses, plated in tangy ponzu sauce and topped with crunchy puffed salmon skin, micro cilantro, shaved radish, and black sesame seeds. Unfortunately, the serving was under-seasoned.
Not every dish is exciting or unique. Scallops ($17) arrive in a sweet caramelized, pan-seared trio plated with Brussels sprouts and bacon on a bed of apricot horseradish sauce. The dish is basically well-executed, but not the menu’s best value.
Kwak worked at M.B. Post for four years before partnering with Woo, a longtime friend who managed Ichiban in Glendale for 16 years. They both wanted to do their own thing and took over a Korean restaurant called Kochi. Now the casual space incorporates a small patio with wood picnic tables and pastel green umbrellas, dining room with speckled white tables, blackboard menu, art-lined brown wall, and flat-screen TVs.
There’s clearly a hunger for Kwak’s type of cooking in L.A., especially given the care, technique, and value. Our only question is whether you’ll be part of this crowd.
Hungry Crowd, 10140 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake, 818.853.7858, www.eathungrycrowd.com