Park’s Barbeque may be the pinnacle of Korean beef barbecue in L.A., but that restaurant and pork-centric Don Don Gam apparently weren’t enough for chef Jenee Kim, who opened LaOn Dining adjacent to Don Dae Gam on June 1. The name, which translates from Korean as “enjoyable,” lived up to the billing, specializing in updated versions of dishes found during Korea’s Chosun Dynasty, which lasted from 1392 – 1897. After eating Chef Kim’s versions of her country’s classics, it was understandable why Chosun had so much longevity. More than that, it seemed like LaOn’s arrival could potentially mark the beginning of a new era in modern Koreatown dining.
My table of seven people ordered more than 15 dishes, which Chef Kim divided into two primary categories: Yori (cooked) and Hwa Ro (DIY charcoal). The plates arrived in waves, so it was hard to keep up with the flavors, let alone photos, but it was fun to try.
We ate a lightly dressed mixed green House Salad ($5) with carrot and red cabbage strands before moving on to grape-sized, salt-baked Fingerlings ($6) with somewhat spicy green bell pepper-green peppercorn sauce. Sheets of chile-soaked kimchi and small, sweet pickled cucumber had their back.
Seven Wrap ($7) was a fun play on DIY “tacos” with pickled daikon “tortillas” as the base, along with piles of beef, egg, shiitake mushrooms, cucumber, cabbage and carrot strands, all wrap-able and dip-able in an umami rich sauce.
One of the most impressive dishes was Beef Tartare ($9), which of course involved premium diced beef. After all, this is the same chef who owns Park’s. The fashionable (and vertical) starter also included daikon, julienne scallions and raw quail eggs. Eating each tower took only two bites.
Seasonal Mushrooms ($6) and Seasonal Vegetables ($6) helped to balance our primarily meaty meal, but they were also kind of plain. Maybe we would have been better off adding seasoned seafood instead of fibrous vegetables and raw fungi.
Glutinous, pleasantly chewy strips of rice cake arrived with julienne vegetables, egg strands, beef and a judicious amount of sesame oil, forming a light, satisfying dish. Along the same lines, we also ordered Spicy Pork, Rice Cake Skewer ($4), which featured a similar texture and some slight heat from the application of gochujang, Korean chile paste.
Stone Pot Roe Rice ($12) was an especially dazzling interpretation of bibimbap that involved rice that became crisp closest to the stone bowl, bursting salmon roe, creamy sea urchin and tiny beads of tobiko – flying fish roe – arrayed in four different colors.
Korean restaurants don’t typically serve Western style desserts. If anything, it’s melon gum, a bowl of sweet rice “soup” or fresh fruit. Kim had other ideas. We received slices of cake, which were fine, but store bought and unspectacular. Since our visit, she upgraded to house-made green tea donuts, which wouldn’t have been as sweet, and undoubtedly would have been more satisfying.
Our meal was very good, and fairly reasonable at just north of $30 per person for a wide variety of dishes. As it turns out, we didn’t even try two of Chef Kim’s favorite dishes, braised short rib (Galbi Jim) with mashed sweet potato and fried sweet potato, and spaghetti with kimchi and pollock roe. It’s not like we need any more excuses to return to LaOn Dining, but that makes two.