Two of the Bay Area’s most prominent chefs have relocated to Los Angeles, with plans to open a casual restaurant and marketplace together in the heart of the Arts District this spring. Katianna Hong and partner John Hong both come from the world of the Restaurant at Meadowood, the three-Michelin-starred fine dining Napa Valley restaurant that burned in a fire this fall, and now they’ve taken over the former Bon Temps space around the corner from Bestia.
“We both have family here, and we always thought that we’d come back,” said Katianna Hong when reached by phone last week. “We spent nine years in Napa Valley, and that was never really our plan. It just ended up happening.” Even while working at spots like the Restaurant at Meadowood and sister property the Charter Oak, Hong says the pair were planning a project all their own, though the Bon Temps space was a decision made just this spring. Lincoln Carson’s celebrated restaurant formally closed in late April, and the Sprout group that controls the space approached the Hongs then to take it over.
For now, the plan is to run a casual restaurant and marketplace space called the Yangban Society. Dishes will definitely offer a bit of Korean inflection, Hong says, though defining it solely as a Korean (or even Korean-American) restaurant is short-changing the larger idea.
“It’s us identifying with Korean culture through food,” says Hong. “For John, it’s food he grew up with and those traditions and recipes his grandmother used to make for him.” Katianna Hong is also Korean, but was adopted into a family in upstate New York as a child, so her food lens is naturally different. “For me, it’s about identifying and growing up in a Jewish household, and having my own deep love of Jewish food, too.”
“It’s not Korean-American food,” says Hong directly. “We just call it American food. It’s food that’s authentic to us. It’s rooted in tradition, but relevant to us and relevant to today.” The Hongs previously spent years working in massively-exclusive fine dining atmospheres, with Katianna Hong the first female chef leading a three-Michelin-starred restaurant when she took over the Restaurant at Meadowood back in 2015. She later went on to run the Charter Oak with Christopher Kostow, who came under fire this fall for abusive behavior at his restaurants. Hong said at the time that she supported Kostow, and felt that he treated his employees fairly.
As for the Yangban Society space, the plan is to keep much of the tone the same, though with different touches and a new layout, something Hong says people have asked her about given the building’s unique footprint. “A lot of people think this is not the right kind of space,” she says, “But for us, it works.” The kitchen will remain open, there’s ample outdoor seating, room for a market area, and more. “It’s kind of like the perfect spot. The space really lends itself to what we want to do.”
Currently the Hongs are working on menu development and other finer points for the Yangban Society, with a planned opening sometime this spring.