Full write-up with lots of pictures:
A few weeks ago Debbie Lee (Food Network The Next Food Network Start) started her SeoulTown Tapas event at BREADBAR restaurant in West Hollywood to showcase her "Seoulful" cuisine. It's a limited-time pop-up event similar to LudoBites where the chef makes use of a restaurant to showcase his or her dishes. And as it turns out, SeoulTown Tapas is chef Lee's fine tuning of her recipes before she rolls out a restaurant of her very own in the West Hollywood area.
I was quite excited when I heard of this event and so I made a reservation for last Friday night to experience first-hand what chef Lee has in mind for her upcoming restaurant. We walked in around 7pm to a mostly empty restaurant, and a server hands us the menu, categorized into small, medium, and large plates of different prices. Chef Lee walks out from the kitchen to personally greet us and gives us a full run down on all of the menu offerings.
Our group starts off with a few small plates, then moved to the medium and large plates and finally onto desserts. Here is what we enjoyed:
Curry bean hummus, wonton crostini. This was an interesting way to start our night of Korean Tapas. The creamy hummus started off being cool to the palate, then gradually built up a nice heat profile as you downed each spoonful. It paired well with the crostini, though unfortunately some pieces were burnt along the edges.
Korean rice cylinders, maple smoked bacon, jalapeno ponzu. Bacon seems to be omnipresent these days and here it finds itself wrapped around Korean rice cylinders, which are similar to what you'd find in a Korean duk boki dish. The bacon nearly overpowers the mild rice in taste, but the two pair nicely, especially when dipped into the spicy ponzu. An even spicier ponzu would have been great.
Grilled tofu, Japanese eggplant, pimento scallion glaze. As you likely know, tofu and eggplant have such subtle flavors, but here the pimento glaze adds a little smokiness and heat to intensify up those flavors. Fonda and I felt the eggplant was a little firm for our liking, but I'd much rather eat a firmer eggplant than one that's been overcooked to a pile of mush.
Kimchee citrus pork, roasted Fuji apples. The last of our skewered items was a pork and Fuji apple combo. Though the apple was nice and sweet, the pork was slightly overcooked and needed much more flavor. I ended up dipping the pork in the ponzu from the rice cylinder dish to help offset the pork's dryness and bland taste.
Stir fried kimchee, pork, gochujang splash. I love kimchee and simply cannot get enough of this pungent veggie when I'm out eating Korean dishes. Here it's stir fried with pork and this time the pork doesn't disappoint. Gochujang--a Korean red pepper paste--adds a pungent blast of heat to the dish; it's that type of heat that hits you in the back of the throat. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night.
Mama Lee's meatloaf, ground rib eye, soy onion demi, shitake. This was the table favorite and for good reasons; it was tender, moist, and comforting just like a good meatloaf should be. I found the demi to be a little salty but it wasn't a problem once you started mashing your teeth on that beefy, finely-ground rib eye. More shitake mushrooms would have been nice; perhaps we'll see shitakes as a separate side dish sometime soon as they pair very well with the meatloaf.
Chicken meatballs, magnolia berry sauce. Another excellent dish. The chicken meatballs were cooked perfectly and the berry sauce added a hint of sweetness to the savory chicken meat. Think of this dish as a upscale take on the chicken meatballs you'd find at any izakaya. A sprinkling of sesame seeds and scallions adds texture and visual interest, but not much flavor as was probably intended.
Sushi ssam style seafood, ginger rice, Ssamjang, tobiko caviar. Pretty, colorful, and mildly flavored are how I'd describe this dish. It's a little messy to eat, and each bite is mostly dominated in taste by the sharp tobiko. I liked the ginger rice but again the tobiko was so overpowering. The sushi was good, but I would prefer larger cuts (not chopped like above) to add more texture and taste; here the fish is somewhat lost between the romaine and the tobiko.
Sesame flatbread, soy braised pork, pesto, chile tomatoes. Both the pork and the chile tomatoes were excellent, and I especially loved the tenderness of the pork. The stacking of the flatbread, the pesto and the pork made for a nice flavor combination with each bite. I didn't get much in terms of sesame taste, and parts of the flatbread were far too crispy, but otherwise this was a solid choice.
Korean fried chicken with pickled winter vegetables. Our final savory of the night and it was my favorite, though just slightly edging out the insanely good meatloaf. Chef Lee just added this to the menu and I was eagerly anticipating getting my paws on this chicken. It wasn't heavily battered or crispy, but exhibited more of a baked taste and texture which was fine by me. The meat was very juicy, and the glaze and spices on the outside had a nice sweet and savory profile, with just a little heat. Pickled vegetables were provided on the side and played the part of cleansing the palette between bites. This is a must order if you visit SeoulTown Tapas.
Now onto desserts. There were four desserts available for choosing and we did what was most appropriate and ordered all of them.
Sesame donuts, chestnut glaze. These resemble empanadas more so than donuts. The taste was sweet but nothing remarkable; I did enjoy the chestnut glaze and made sure to scoop it all up with the donuts.
Butterscotch profiteroles, chile chocolate cream. Chef Lee's version of a cream puff has a filling of tangy chile-chocolate ice cream and is drizzled with butterscotch sauce. It's a nice pairing of tastes that worked well for me, but eating these puffs with their runny filling proved to be quite messy and I found myself alternating between using a fork and my hands to finish one, and yet part of me wanted to eat one whole (just not in front of guests!). Had the filling been firmer and more contained within the puff pastry then I would have had a better chance of consuming all of the flavors with each bite. I enjoyed but would probably pass for next time.
Fuji apple eggrolls, ginger mascarpone. My favorite of the four desserts was this sweet "egg roll" of crispy dough wrapped around a Fuji apple filling and served with a side of ginger mascarpone for topping. This reminded me of those delicious baked apple pies you can get at McDonald's, but only much more refined. The ginger mascarpone was heavenly and I couldn't resist eating a big dab of it with each bite of the eggroll --a little more ginger taste would have been nice but then I suppose some people would be put off by too strong of a ginger flavor. After finishing the rolls I made sure to spoon every last trace of mascarpone from the little jar.
Grilled Nutella sammie. A grilled sandwich with Nutella filling was our last dessert, and it was just average for us in terms of taste. The bread was a little dry and over-cooked, and I felt the Nutella needed something else to complement its taste. I was hoping for something along the lines of the fluffernutter I had at The Must last year; the bread was softer, chewier and the filling more generous in quantity.
Overall the desserts didn't wow us too much, save for the Fuji apple eggrolls (and my wife wasn't too crazy about those). For future dessert offerings, I'd love to see chef Lee's take on the hotteok (Korean sweet pancake) or perhaps even a house-made Choco Pie (a popular Korean snack item). I can only imaging a house-made Choco Pie with that ginger mascarpone and served with the chile ice cream...drools!
Our total bill for the 10 dishes, 4 desserts and my large Pellegrini came out to just under $120 before tax and tip, which was a great deal when you consider the variety and amount of food we ate, plus the fact that we fully enjoyed our 3 1/2 hour dinner. I loved the small-medium-large plate concept and it made for easy sharing and it certainly sparked conversations amongst us. Service was decent and polite but far from the Michelin-star service you'd get at Providence. Don't come here expecting that level of service, though, because just as with the LudoBites pop-up, you're paying mostly for the food and less for the service and scene. I'm definitely looking forward to chef Lee's restaurant and to seeing what new dishes she brings to her very own restaurant.
SeoulTown Tapas at BREADBAR West Hollywood
8717 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles CA, 90048