Hailed by the late LA Times critic Jonathan Gold as the “taste of the future,” strip mall legend Baroo had garnered a lifetime’s worth of praise for its modern, fermentation-focused approach to Korean food before it closed in 2018. Now, Baroo hopes to reopen by June 2023 with an elegant tasting menu in the Arts District inside the former Bao Hiroo space at 905 E. 2nd Street.
Back in 2015, chef Kwang Uh had quietly opened Baroo in an East Hollywood restaurant with then-partner Matthew Kim, serving delightful and reasonably-priced Korean fusion dishes such as kimchi fried rice, noorook, ragu, whole-grain bibim salads, all garnished with intricate and colorful ingredients befitting a fine dining restaurant. The restaurant quickly rocketed up the ranks as one of LA’s best and most inventive new restaurants, with the always-humble Uh earning national awards for his thoughtful menu.
This time around Uh, who had trained at Noma, Piazza Duomo in Italy, and Quique Dacosta in Spain, will develop Baroo into a prix fixe menu restaurant, pairing food with Korean alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. It joins a slew of modern Korean restaurants such as Yangban Society and Kinn that have opened in recent years by accomplished fine dining chefs.
Eater spoke with Mina Park, Uh’s partner in the venture and his wife, who for months has been detailing the reopening journey in a Substack newsletter. In 2017, the pair met at South Korea’s Baekyangsa Temple while visiting with the famed Buddhist nun-chef Jeong Kwan. Park was working as a lawyer in Hong Kong, but operated a pop-up there called Sook on the side. She eventually moved to Los Angeles to join Uh at Baroo before it closed, and in the years since the two have married and now have a son, Taehoon. In January 2021, Uh and Park opened Shiku (which means family in Korean) at Grand Central Market, serving traditional dorisak and other takeaway Korean dishes at a casual stall.
Through the years, Park and Uh had always contemplated what Baroo would look like if it were given the opportunity to become a complete dining experience with full service and drinks. With 1,800 square feet and a fully updated kitchen, Baroo will serve a $90-95 tasting menu with optional beverage pairings. The location in the Arts District next to other destination restaurants like Camphor, Manuela, and LA Cha Cha Chá should help to amplify Uh’s citywide and even national reach.
However, don’t expect many of the beloved dishes from Baroo’s previous rendition. “A lot of time has passed, four-and-a-half years, and we don’t like to do the same thing over and over again,” says Park. “Kwang wants to show his creativity, and in this fine dining space hopefully, we can contribute to the conversation.” To reflect the pair’s Buddhist background, they’ll serve a vegan menu inspired by their time with Jeong Kwan, incorporating other spiritual and traditional Korean elements, such as the concept of five elements.
In the eight years since Baroo’s opening, Los Angeles has seen a surge in non-traditional Korean restaurants, including Hanchic, Kinn, Corridor 109, Yangban Society, Tokki, and Majordomo, which mix Korean cooking techniques and ingredients with other influences. This follows the trend of other modern Korean restaurants in cities like New York and Chicago, where the Michelin guide and other outlets have recognized the cuisine style. Food-loving Angelenos who have followed Baroo and Uh closely will be delighted to be able to experience the fermentation-forward dishes once again, in a nicer, more thought-out space in the coming months.
Subscribe to Park’s Substack to get more up-to-date information and behind-the-scenes details of Baroo’s upcoming opening, slated for this summer in Arts District.