Already sporting one of the best Korean barbecue scenes in the country, if not the world, Los Angeles has seen premium steakhouse-style places like Daedo and Mun rise up in the past year, elevating an already solid set of tabletop grill restaurants. Now Vegas-based chef Akira Back’s ABSteak, which originally debuted in February 2020 before the pandemic before it was forced to close for the past 19 months, is fully reopening December 3 with a totally redone menu that’s very clearly focused on high-end Korean barbecue.
Due to its location at the southern end of the Beverly Center’s ground floor, ABSteak was unable to do any outdoor dining. Its sleek, modern interior looks virtually untouched after nearly two years of operations, but thanks to a new local partner in Mama Lion operator Robert Kim, Back has revitalized ABSteak with a much stronger, more approachable menu that will be very familiar to Korean barbecue fans in Los Angeles. Originally Back had brought on Top Chef’s Brian Huskey to install a sort of modern Korean small plates to go before tabletop grilled steaks. There wasn’t any real banchan menu, and it didn’t feel like Korean barbecue at all. That version of ABSteak lasted just a few weeks before the pandemic forced an indefinite closure. In fact, its reopening is something of a miracle, says Back.
A few things have remained: well-marbled beef and even a dry-aging space to serve even more premium meat. The tabletop grills are now fully operational for Korean barbecue, with open iron grates that allow fat to drip down and the even-burning gas grills to sear the meat. A5 olive wagyu strip, one of the most difficult to source Japanese beefs, costs $42 an ounce (three ounce minimum) and retains an intensely beef flavor riddled with tender, almost melting fat.
The rest of the meat menu sports eight to 10 ounce portions of marinated galbi, Australian wagyu ribeye, prime boneless short rib (kkotsal), and kurobuta pork belly. The dry-aged cuts are either 30-day aged prime ribeye or 30-day aged New York striploin covered with camembert cheese, a method more likely seen on Youtube than on a restaurant menu. The high quality meat is something most people in LA can easily wrap their heads around, and prices are fairly commensurate with LA’s top KBBQ spots like Park’s.
To help ensure ABSteak’s sustained success this time around, Back installed one of his trusted lieutenants, Nam Hee-Ju, a seasoned Korean chef who knows her way around banchan and kimchi, to ensure the flavors will appeal to the most stringent standards. Koreans in LA are pretty fussy about their banchan and traditional dishes, so this is a reason to be hopeful.
Starters include egg “souffle,” which is basically geranjjim or steamed egg but instead it’s topped here with melted American cheese. It looks cloying but it’s actually really satisfying and delicious. Koreans love cheese, as Back would say. Yukhoe (raw beef appetizer) is arduously mixed tableside with tiny spoons, adding in nine ingredients from a specialized board. Meanwhile, a seafood pajeon comes with shrimp, mussels, and squid, and of course a golden brown color. Japchae and kimchi fried rice taste as home cooking, albeit with more plating finesse. A few stews like sundubu and doenjang jjigae will help with those savory spoonfuls in between the banchan and meat. Other than some shrimp to grill on the table or vegetables, that’s basically the entire food menu.
Cocktails are almost unnecessarily complicated, though very good for Korean barbecue standards. A sidecar comes with a foggy bubble you pop at the table. An old fashioned gets a smokey tableside finish and aroma. The Khee soju spritzer has refreshing Aperol and grapefruit topped with sparkling wine. There’s upscale small-batch soju and craft beer. And a 20 ounce bottle of Korean Cass beer in case all those aforementioned drinks are too fancy.
With a fully redesigned menu and essentially the same dining room, ABSteak should have a promising future despite the stunted first few years. Back seems energized and enthusiastic about this LA outlet of his steakhouse, which previously had a location in Jakarta before closing. The chef plans to open ABSteak next year in San Francisco, a city that is always itching for more Korean food. Previously, Back was in LA during an ever-so-brief period of Yellowtail, his upscale Japanese restaurant, which closed after just six months on Sunset Strip in 2015. Hopefully the prolific restaurateur, who has a Michelin-starred restaurant called Dosa in Seoul, as well as places from Toronto to Paris to Dubai to San Diego, can make this LA restaurant stick the second time around.
ABSteak is open Tuesday to Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., and 11 p.m. on weekends.