Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Yangban (Los Angeles, CA)

Yangban Restaurant
712 S Santa Fe Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90021
Wed 12/13/2023, 09:00p-11:15p

Yangban Exterior

As you probably already know, Yangban Society debuted at the start of 2022 as a sort of Korean-American deli-slash-restaurant-slash-superette from the wife-and-husband team of Katianna Hong and John Hong. The concept was a new one for LA, and I think that people had somewhat of a hard time understanding it, and thus, the Arts District eatery has been in a near-constant state of adaptation ever since its opening.

The first major change came on March 24th last year, when the Chefs launched a "Yangban-style" prix fixe dinner option at $50 a head. Then, on July 8th, the restaurant rolled out a new menu and began focusing on dinner service. Those adjustments proved effective, and Yangban Society was soon deemed both one of "The 10 Best New Restaurants of 2022" by Bon Appétit, and one of Esquire's "Best New Restaurants in America" (the Hongs were also named "Chefs of the Year" by the publication). Meanwhile, at the start of 2023, James Beard rated the spot a "Best New Restaurant" semifinalist.

By Coachella this year, Yangban Society had updated its name to merely Yangban, and I believe that it was also around this time when the deli counter was removed. Finally, to complete the metamorphosis, the partners closed the restaurant on August 1st for a remodel, and reopened Yangban 2.0 on September 15th with a completely new decor and a revamped menu. The NY Times quickly judged Yangban among "The 25 Best Restaurants in Los Angeles," while the LA Times placed Yangban at the #18 spot on their annual "101 Best Restaurants in LA" ranking (up from #49 in 2022).

Yangban Interior
Yangban Dining Room
Inside, Yangban was re-envisioned by local firm Outsider Interior Design, which, conveniently, is located less than 200 feet away from the restaurant. As you can see, it's a much darker, moodier, more serious space now, featuring pieces from artists such as Brian Zamora/Tomas Osinski (Seoraksan metal mesh panels), Sammy Seung-min Lee (A Very Proper Table Setting rendered in hanji paper), Jisun Kim (Blooming series lamps), and Dave Young Kim (The Elements as Equalizer painted on the upper-level walls).

Yangban Menu: Snacks Yangban Menu: Mains Yangban Menu: Banchan Yangban Cocktail List Yangban Beer List Yangban Wine List: Sparkling, Rose, White Yangban Wine List: Skin Contact, Red Yangban Dessert Menu
And here we see Yangban's new menu, which is more upscale, and more obviously Korean in many cases, though some old favorites still remain. Naturally, the cocktail list and wine list have been tweaked accordingly as well. Click for larger versions.

Hot Smoked Trout Schmear
Hot Smoked Trout Schmear [$8.00] | griddled potato bread, dill, chive, fresh horseradish
The meal kicked off with a series of snacks, the first being this reworked version of a dish from the deli days. The marriage of that smoky fish with a three-way of dill/chive/horseradish was on point, and I liked how that thick, hearty bread grounded the bite.

Blue Crab Tostada
Blue Crab Tostada [$9.00] | gochujang, perilla, red leaf lettuce, crème fraiche, masienda tortilla
The tostada was another winner. I loved how the nuttiness of sesame oil paired with the sweet, briny crab, while the trademark heat from the gochujang crept in on the back end.

Golden Prawn Toast
Golden Prawn Toast [$16.00] | ama ebi, brown butter, yangban makgeolli, golden sauce, cherry tomato, cured egg yolk
This take on shrimp toast turned out to be the weakest of the snacks. I felt that the prawns were actually overwhelmed by the creamy, buttery elements in the dish, and flavors thus got a bit muddled. I found the bread a tad tough, too.

Left Hook
Left Hook [$16.00] | a tropically toned mexican punch / blanco tequila, mezcal, green tea, passionfruit, gochujang, lemon
My first cocktail blended smoke and tropical fruits to good effect before finishing with a long-lasting heat. Think of it as a punch that packs quite a bit of punch.

Wagyu Stuffed Perilla Leaf
Wagyu Stuffed Perilla Leaf [$12.00] | vermicelli, beef fat tare, cotija
This yukjeon-esque dish was another highlight. I was a fan of the juiciness and richness of the meat, and how that meshed with those crispy fried bits, all while the perilla contributed just enough brightness.

Squashini Jeon
Squashini Jeon [$7.00] | whipped crème fraiche, trout roe
A squash fritter ate dense and sweet, and really set the stage for a tasty juxtaposition of creamy with briny.

Fried Lobster Claw
Fried Lobster Claw [$16.00] | chojang mayo, tarragon, meyer lemon
A sort of lobster twigim combined the crustacean's sweet salinity with subtle spicing, and I appreciated how its fried exterior provided crunch without getting in the way taste-wise. The fritter was delicious alone, but was taken up a notch by that chojang-boosted mayonnaise, which had this piquant spice that complemented the lobster without overpowering it.

Right Hook
Right Hook [$16.00] | juicy old fashioned / american whiskey, pandan, pineapple, pale cream sherry, bitters
This old fashioned variation showcased the requisite bitter, boozy notes, but the key here was than pandan, which imparted this familiar, sweet, ricey warmth that really elevated the cocktail.

Grilled Cucumber
Grilled Cucumber | yangban chili oil, toasted cumin, meyer lemon juice
The banchan here are on the creative side, and come in a set of five, priced at $28, and naturally we had to give 'em a try. Up first were the cucumbers, which came out bright, crunchy, and perfectly matched with that intriguing interplay between chili oil and the warm, nutty character of cumin.

Kimchi | kae sung kimchi, habanero, roasted sesame oil
We had to have kimchi, of course, and tonight's possessed less heat, less sourness than I expected, but was quite a bit nuttier, which I didn't mind.

Steamed Broccoli
Steamed Broccoli | yuzu, chicken skin furikake
Taken alone, the broccoli was lightly flavored, so its tart-yet-savory broth was crucial, as was the saltiness imparted by the chicken-y bits.

Blossom [$16.00] | our version of the white negroni / sesame washed gin, blanc vermouth, locally produced amaro angeleno
Our third cocktail really conveyed that bittersweetness you expect from a Negroni. At the same time though, the sesame gave the drink a beguiling nuttiness that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Brokaw Avocado & Shinko Pear
Brokaw Avocado & Shinko Pear | hot mustard, california almonds, yangban rice seasoning
Up next was arguably the most interesting of tonight's banchan. The crux here was the interaction between that juicy Asian pear and the dish's unabashedly savory, spicy components, underscored by a mustard-y heat. In addition, the avocado served as a creamy moderator, and I liked the nutty crunch of those almonds, too.

Honey Glazed Carrots
Honey Glazed Carrots | whipped yogurt, halaawi date, walnut oil, herbs
The carrots were certainly a favorite. I loved their dense, sticky consistency, while flavors were sweet and nutty, with a fantastic herbal counterpoint. Very clever.

Sujebi [$28.00] | white kimchi beurre blanc, poached ocean trout, trout roe, dill
Hand-pulled pasta ate hearty and satisfying, with a great chew, while that duet of supple, saline trout and zippy dill was a match made in heaven.

Jungle Juice
Jungle Juice | cocchi americano, amaro angeleno, peach tea, coconut water, sherry, brandy, pineapple juice, watermelon, pandan syrup, whiskey, orange vermouth, dry vermouth
Given that we'd ordered so much, we were given a complimentary serving of Yangban's "secret" cocktail. Due to the huge hodgepodge of ingredients in the drink, there was lots going on, but it all coalesced surprisingly well. I actually got a vaguely carrot-y sensation, offset by a very apparent, amaro-like bittersweetness. A fun one.

Lobster Congee Pot Pie
Lobster Congee Pot Pie [$32.00] | poached lobster tail, fine herbs, marigold, lobster brown butter
I'm a sucker for pot pie, so this was an absolute must-try for me. I was pretty smitten by the concentration, depth, savoriness, and sheer coziness of the congee, and loved how the porridge contrasted with the lightly cooked pieces of lobster up top, while the herbs provided further brightness.

Matzoh Ball Mandu
Matzoh Ball Mandu [$26.00] | stuffed with grandma sindy's matzoh ball, chicken broth, shmaltz
This matzah-mandoo mash-up was an effective reimagining of a classic Jewish staple. I was a fan of the texture on the dumplings, while their subdued flavors melded easily with the assertively chicken-y notes from the soup.

garlic butter black rice
Gochujang Braised Black Cod
Gochujang Braised Black Cod [$42.00] | joseon radish, rice cake, kabocha squash, sylvetta arugula, garlic butter black rice
Eundaegu arrived wonderfully soft, buttery, and flaky, the fish's subtle flavors working hand-in-hand with a refined-yet-robust, slightly peppery gochujang broth. The greens lightened the mood, and I appreciated the additional textural interest from the tteok. The cod was accompanied by a bowl of rice, which was excellent texturally, and had this restrained garlickiness that really worked for me.

Desert Lotus
Desert Lotus [$16.00] | elemental margarita variant / mezcal, cactus pear brandy, melon, acidified prickly pear water
The night's final cocktail was lovely, commingling the captivating smokiness of mezcal with the even more captivating sweetness of prickly pear.

Grilled King's Cut Short Rib
Grilled King's Cut Short Rib [$52.00] | potato puree, grilled king trumpet and shiitakes, galbi jus, toasted bread crumb, horseradish, chive
Our short rib dish didn't quite meet the mark. The beef was as tender and fatty as I was hoping for, but was overly seasoned for my tastes, especially when taken with the mushrooms, though the puréed potatoes did help even things out. I also would've liked a bit more smoke character on the meat.

Stone Pot Rice
Stone Pot Rice [$44.00] | koshihikari rice, peads and barnett pork belly, aged kaesung kimchi, bean sprout dashi, garlic chive kimchi
The dolsot rice was another must-try, and turned out to be another favorite. The pork itself was well spiced and richly flavored, and paired perfectly with the veggies, the zestiness of the buchu being particular apropos. I also reveled in how satisfying the rice itself was, and enjoyed how the heat from the aged kimchi seemed to help tie everything together. My only quibble was that I wanted more nurungji action.

Matang Goguma Custard Pie
Matang Goguma Custard Pie [$16.00] | roasted white sweet potato, condensed milk, vanilla, burnt sugar
Our lone dessert also delivered. The sweetness of goguma was front and center, and combined like clockwork with the pie's smoky, sugary brûléed top. The vanilla-laced condensed milk sauce was also pretty great, and taken all together, and I swear that I tasted Danish butter cookies in there.

Jeju Semi-Handcrafted Sejak Green Tea
Closing things out was a cup of Jeju Semi-Handcrafted Sejak Green Tea [$6], a relatively easy-going nogcha with a decidedly fruity quality.

Mammos Nurungji Candy
Arriving with the bill was some scorched rice candy from producer Mammos (맘모스).

I enjoyed Yangban Society before, but I do have to conclude that Yangban represents an improvement across the board thanks to its more sophisticated food, drink, and service. The cooking here is smart, engaging, personal, and quite unlike anything else in LA, and the whole concept simply feels more fully-formed; it just feels right. Yet, the original ethos, the original raison d'être behind the restaurant is still plainly recognizable, so I'm glad that the Hongs didn't lose sight of their original vision. Now that being said, I'm very curious to find out what the next evolution of the restaurant will bring. Personally, I'd like to see the team institute a proper tasting menu...


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