RnD Table (Los Angeles, CA)
3003 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Sun 07/31/2011, 08:30p-11:20p
Pop-ups and underground restaurants seem to be a dime a dozen these days, and I'm even getting a bit sick of them. What attracted me to RnD Table was its founder, Michael Kyu-Shik Kim, who you might recognize from the first season of Gordon Ramsay's TV show MasterChef. Kim was a serious contender last year, and I, along with many others I'm sure, was rooting for him to win it all.
The idea behind RnD Table is to provide an outlet for up-and-coming cooks (not chefs, they make that point very clear) to break away from the bondage of their executive chefs and create and serve their own menus. Kim has partnered up with fellow Bazaar alum Conrad Malaya, and the two are laying the groundwork for other young chefs to follow suit. As such, they'll be hosting the first several dinners, but eventually want to allow their peers to take over the reins in the kitchen.
About the Cook(s): Thanks to his mother, who exposed the 15-year industry veteran to a wide variety of foods growing up (including Korean-inflected dishes from Joy of Cooking), Mike "Q" Kim developed an appreciation for good eats at an early age. However, it was only during his college years, while fishing for tuna and yellowtail off the San Diego coast, that Kim truly decided that he wanted to cook. He started out in mostly front-of-the-house roles, working in small restaurants as well as mega-eateries such as Nobu and Megu in New York. Kim eventually made his way back to SoCal, landing at South Coast Plaza's Hamamori, then at Sashi in Manhattan Beach.
Around this time, he decided to audition for MasterChef, and much to his surprise, got on the show, became a finalist, and finished sixth among thousands of contestants. After the competition ended, he cooked for crews trying to repair the damage from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and also launched his own private cheffing service The EpiQurean Way. In late 2010, he secured a coveted gig at The Bazaar. Here, he first developed the idea behind RnD Table after being asked to think up a dish from scratch, and after partnering with Conrad Malaya, the concept came to fruition.
Malaya, for his part, began his culinary career at a small, family-run Italian restaurant. With some fundamentals in place, he enrolled in the Le Cordon Bleu program at the California School of Culinary Arts, and later started cooking at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel. From here, he went to work for Charlie Palmer, then started his own catering company, Market Kitchen & Catering, with Aaron Plascencia. Following, he secured employment on the line at The Bazaar, where he would eventually cross paths with Mike Kim.
Tonight, RnD Table's menu was focused on Kim's interpretation of contemporary Korean-inspired cuisine. A $60 donation was suggested, and booze was strictly BYO, with no corkage. Click for a larger version.
A few words from "Q" before the meal.
1: Croquette & Dumpling "Mandu" | potato and beef croquette, cabbage slaw, oxtail dumpling, shimeiji, purslane, sriracha
RnD's host restaurant, Persimmon, is known for its delectable croquettes, so the kitchen decided to feature an updated version of resident chef Tammy Kim's humble dish. The resulting goroke was pretty much spot on, a delicious play on classic flavors with a beautiful crunchy-creamy consistency. I especially appreciated how its savoriness was so deftly offset by the included dollop of cabbage slaw. The mandu, meanwhile, didn't quite reach such stratospheric heights, but was tasty nonetheless, with a superb interplay between the succulent (the dumpling literally squirted when I bit into it) oxtail and the acidity of the purslane. I enjoyed the countervailing notes from the Sriracha and pickled soy fluid gel as well.
2: Yellowtail Sashimi "Hwe Dup Bap" | yellowtail, chogochujang, perilla leaf, nori, arugula, asian pear, masago
Kim likened hoedeopbap to a Korean-style donburi, and his deconstructed version made use of some untraditional ingredients, among them chrysanthemum leaves, furikake, guacamole, garlic flower, and a "chlorophyll stripe." Despite the dozen or so components on the plate, he pulled it off. The yellow tail managed to remain the hero of the dish throughout, with the various tastes and textures present expertly playing off the fish. I especially enjoyed the astringency from the arugula, the creaminess of the guac, and the crispness of the Asian pear cuboids. My only suggestion would be to perhaps incorporate some puffed rice (or even nurungji?), in order to recall the dish's traditional base of steamed rice.
3: Granita "Dongchimi" | lobak radish, asian pear, fresno pepper, green onion, tomato heart
Dongchimi, or "winter kimchi," is a light, refreshing, subtly spicy form of kimchi, and thus served as the perfect inspiration for our palate cleanser. Kim's version reportedly took an entire month to prepare, but the wait was worth it. The course showed off a faultless mix of savory and spicy flavors, with a lovely touch of sweetness thrown in for good measure.
4: Chicken Risotto "Samgyetang" | chicken breast, sweet rice, jujube, ginseng, onion, garlic
A traditional dish of glutinous rice-stuffed chicken and ginseng soup, samgyetang was transformed into risotto form by Kim and company. The final product was, to quote Ramsay, stunning, easily the most amazing version of the dish that I've had. The rice, taken with the young chicken broth, was superb, with a lovely texture and fantastic depth of flavor. At the same time, the disks of poached breast added weight and body to the dish, while the crispy onion, ginseng air, and pine nuts helped to balance the soup. My favorite element, though, was that "chip" of crispy chicken skin!
5: Braised Shortrib "Galbi Jjim" | shortrib, ancho chile-soy, pico de gallo, carrot, cilantro-lime crema, coriander tortilla chips
One of the most beloved dishes in Korean cookery, galbijjim is a slow-cooked presentation of beef short rib. Here, perhaps more so than in any other course, Kim deviates from the traditional recipe, and instead gives us a Mexican-influenced version of the original. The result was surprisingly coherent. The beef itself was sweet, dark, and rich, just as it should be, while the meat's accompaniments tempered the power of the short rib wonderfully. The crunch of the escabeche carrots was especially enjoyable, and I loved the tanginess imparted from the lime-cilantro cream as well. My only concern was that the meat could've been even more tender, more succulent.
Here, Conrad "Connie" Malaya shows us how he makes the carbonated watermelon utilized in the next course.
6: Watermelon "Soobak" | carbonated watermelon, honeydew cake, coconut milk, yuzu vanilla gel, basil
Unlike the rest of the courses, dessert was all about Connie. Here, the watermelon (subak), honeydew microwave "aerated brioche", vanilla, and coconut all melded together nicely, forming a complex front of sweetness that played off the herbaceous tang of the basil and ginger gorgeously. What made the dish for me, though, were the vanilla streusel bits, which added a delightful crunchiness to the fray.
Toward the end of the evening, Kim made sure to bring out his entire staff to thank them.
To close out the meal: a special treat from MasterChef Season 2's Esther Kang. Since being cut from the show, the former attorney has focused her energies on her own cookie bake shop, Batch From Scratch, and for this dinner, she provided some of her Black & Tans. The brownie served as a decadent end to the meal, with a great interplay between the fudge-y richness of the chocolate and the comparative levity of the butterscotch, alongside a hint of saltiness and satisfying crunch from the pretzels.
The RnD Table team: Minh (dishwasher), Conrad Malaya, Will (from The Bazaar), Mike Kim, Semi (Bazaar intern), and Candice (runs RnD's FOH, also from Hamamori).
I approached RnD Table with some doubts, but left utterly satisfied with Kim's refreshing interpretations of modern Korean cuisine. Service, also, was perfectly paced and completely on point throughout the evening. As for what's next for the RnD crew, I've heard that Malaya will be taking the lead in the future to put forth a Filipino-inspired menu, so definitely be on the look out for that!