Over the past few months, chef Brian Baik has been hosting quiet Monday evening tasting menus at Kobawoo House in Koreatown, a dinner series he’s calling Corridor 109. The name is a reference to the now-closed Paris restaurant Passage 53 and Kobawoo’s suite number in the busy Vermont Avenue strip small, and it’s supposed to meld two major parts of Baik’s background. That’s because Baik’s family founded Kobawoo more than 30 years ago, becoming world famous for its pork bossam and other traditional Korean dishes. The other part of the name is founded on Baik’s experience at New York City’s top restaurants, from Eleven Madison Park, Brooklyn Fare, and Bouley to most recently at Sushi Noz.
These dinners are a bit of a test run, and way to drum up attention for Baik, who had contemplated opening his own modern Korean restaurant in New York before deciding to resettle in Los Angeles during the pandemic. Early menus have boasted the potential of Baik’s cooking, with pristine seafood sourced from Japan and Korea, as well as intricate plating that he and just one other cook prepare at Kobawoo’s kitchen.
The tastings only take place on Mondays because that’s the only time the busy Korean restaurant is closed during the week. Enter through the side kitchen door to see a sparse, dimly lit dining room stacked with chairs and tables that block the main entrance. At the moment the dinners only seat eight people per evening though Baik says they’ll eventually have two seatings, doubling the number of diners to 16 each Monday.
The meal starts with a tartlet of chopped spot prawn and caviar with cured egg yolk, sweet onions, wasabi, and citrus, a wonderful amuse bouche that gives way to a Jeju Island fluke with uni in a citrus gelee, ginger, and shiso oil. The highlight of the introductory courses is the Hokkaido iwashi toast, a beautifully sliced, gently marinated Japanese sardine placed above a nigiri-sized piece of plush milk bread.
Middle courses offer more of the seafood parade, from Hokkaido scallop nestled into a rich spinach clam sauce and laced with herbaceous parsley oil. Yamaguchi red tile fish swims amid a puddle of anchovy dashi, seaweed, and turnips that would taste right in place in a modern kaiseki meal while the saba pesto pasta has a hit of grated ginger and pickled white kelp to bring together the bright green spaghetti. The heftier carbs are a welcome course after a number of lighter dishes that preceded it.
Final phase of the tasting starts with rock fish and blue crab bouillabaisse followed by an almost decadent Japanese abalone roasted, sliced, and then placed atop koshihikari risotto and black truffle. It ends with a single scoop of black tea ice cream. Overall the experience is reminiscent of the early days of Benu in San Francisco, with refined French technique and playful precision using East Asian seafood as the main characters.
And there’s certainly similarities with Providence and maybe N/Naka, though Baik’s style and minimalism is very much his own. At the moment, the menu seems to be more directly influenced by Baik’s time in New York, with more of Japanese sashimi preparations and clean presentation. Baik does say he plans to do a version of his family’s famous bossam, though he concedes even with years of professional restaurant experience, he’s still unable to recreate the recipe exactly as his parents do.
As for the Koreanness of the meal, Baik openly admits it’s not quite Korean food on the plate: “I am trying to incorporate Korean specialty ingredients whenever I can source them. And of course I have the influence of being Korean and growing up around [Kobawoo],” he says.
These early Corridor 109 tastings are a window into the workshopping period of a future fine dining restaurant. Baik has seen LA’s upscale scene rise in recent years, with the return of the Michelin guide and talented chefs coming into town with great success. In terms of tasting menu places, LA seems to be catching up to New York City and San Francisco, with Baik seeing a lot of potential here with the likes of Kato, Hayato, and N/Naka gaining global recognition.
Corridor 109 also joins LA’s burgeoning Korean American scene, with Perilla, Shiku, Kinn, Hanchic, Tokki, Yangban Society, and Majordomo developing a bona fide LA perspective on modern Korean cuisine. And Baik is clearly interested in adding to the finer dining conversation that other young Asian American chefs like Mei Lin, Jon Yao, Zen Ong, Ki Kim, Nan Yimcharoen (of Kinkan), Minh Phan (of Phenakite), and Ryan Wong (of Needle) have helped establish in Los Angeles over the past few years.
Currently there are dinners taking place every Monday at Kobawoo. Check the restaurant’s Tock site for reservations. Normally, the price is $150 per person not including tax or gratuity, with optional glasses of wine available to purchase. Updates on dinners will be posted on Instagram as well. With a solid resume, storied K-Town venue, and top-notch ingredients, Baik’s Corridor 109 adds something very compelling to LA’s fine dining world.