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LA Times Critic Dives Into Post-Hype Mastery at Korean Sensation Spoon by H

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Plus, the ease of great pasta in Santa Monica

A pork belly dish sitting in bright red sauce in a white bowl.
Pork belly guksu at Spoon by H
Wonho Frank Lee

This week’s batch of LA Times reviews pulls in two decidedly different direction. On the one hand there is Bill Addison offering his take on the much-lauded Spoon by H, while co-critic Patricia Escárcega opts instead for the easy-eating Italian food at Colapasta in Santa Monica.

First up is Addison, who drops an appreciative piece on what some consider the best Korean restaurant outside of Koreatown. The simple strip mall Spoon by H space on Beverly got famous thanks to Dave Chang, who tweeted and podcasted about the place and his adoration for it, all of which eventually drew long lines and lots of local think pieces (including Eater’s). How did the restaurant handle it all?

In the beginning, [owner Yoojin Hwang] served only simple sandwiches and soups with udon noodles. Then she started trotting out daily whims: japchae and sometimes bibimbap, pastas with creamy seafood sauces, crab-stuffed mushrooms, or pork belly lettuce wraps. Waits for food began to stretch out with all the recent notice; dishes came out erratically when I had my first meal here midyear.

Now the place has “streamlined,” offering a more concise menu of staples along with one-off specials and the desserts that the restaurant was first known for.

Hwang also makes two sensational takes on fried rice. One highlights combination of righteously smoky bacon and kimchi made by her mother and aged a month so it burns mellow. Grated mozzarella melts slowly into the mix; the yolk of a sunny side up egg beams on top. For the other, Hwang celebrates Spam; Korea’s consumption is second only to that of the United States. She molds spicy fried rice riddled with cubed Spam into a shape not unlike Americana meatloaf, with an extra slab of Spam jauntily angled on the side and another radiant egg on top.

A creative plate of Spam fried rice with sunny-side egg on top.
Spam fried rice
Wonho Frank Lee

Addison ends the review on a light, musical note, tying in Hwang’s past as a performer with her restaurant now. The result is a mastery of savory Korean cooking in an unexpected place.

And on the other side of town, there is Colapasta. Escárcega is “mildly obsessed” with the restaurant’s casunziei ravioli dish, a comforting option that is “native to the northeastern part of Italy, where the Dolomites rise.”

It’s just one dish, but the casunziei says a lot about the restaurant and owner Stefano De Lorenzo, who previously ran the Michelin-level La Botte and Piccolo, and (more recently) Maccheroni Republic. The place is decidedly more downmarket than any of those restaurants, with Escárcega noting that “nothing on the menu is more than $15.” Part of that is form, and part of that is function.

The Colapasta menu has been built around the limitations of a tiny kitchen space that fits only “a 36-inch grill and one pot of water.” So there are never more than seven or so pastas on the menu at any given time, including feather-light potato gnocchi dressed simply in olive oil and tossed with slivered almonds, sweet cherry tomatoes and wild arugula.

Primary highlights include a seasonal pesto dish, and a classic beef ragu lasagna, the latter being among the most popular single items in the whole place. Colapasta draws obvious comparisons to similarly-priced Italian spot Uovo, which started in Santa Monica and now has a mid-Wilshire location, but De Lorenzo’s restaurant just feels more personal.

During dinner service, De Lorenzo regularly emerges from the kitchen to take the temperature of the room. He enjoys mingling with guests but also speaks fondly of solitary, late-night pasta-making in his kitchen. Every night, De Lorenzo stays late to make two or more lasagnas for the following day’s lunch and dinner service, finishing his work around midnight.

After that, it’s time for a burger on the way home, and then up to do it all again.

Spoon by H. 7158 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles.

Colapasta. 1241 5th St., Santa Monica.

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