Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Koreatown

Restaurant Diary: The curious case of the Prince in Koreatown


The Prince in Koreatown is located in one of those trapped-in-time rooms in a building dating back to the 1920s. It was originally opened as the Windsor, back when Wilshire Boulevard was the grandest road in town, cutting a ritzy swath through a former barley field and housing the Prince's elite neighbors, the historic Ambassador Hotel and its legendary nightclub, the Cocoanut Grove.

The Ambassador is gone, as is the Cocoanut Grove, but the Prince soldiers on in the only way it knows how: as a quintessentially L.A. hybrid. It's a Korean restaurant inside an early 20th century American steakhouse with Latino influences (fresh chips and salsa are served gratis before your meal). To add to this contradictory but pleasing mix, the music played during dinner service is usually a variation of late 1990s rap.

On a recent Friday, my boyfriend and I cozied up in one of the restaurant's cushiony red, tufted booths, ordered martinis and discussed whether or not the people who owned the Prince had any idea what a resplendent jewel of a room they had on their hands. As we sipped our clear booze nectar we talked about how nice it would be if the music playing were not Alvin and the Chipmunks performing some sort of gangster rap, but rather, jazz or blues from the 1940s or '50s.

Then we stopped ourselves. If the Prince were not the Prince, with its layering of cultural influences, stink of deeply embedded smoke, questionable bathroom facilities and heart-stopping dimness from another era, we probably wouldn't frequent it. If it were owned by self-aware hipsters with a sentimental streak for all things "Mad Men"-esque, the martinis would likely be $15 and the room would be full of smug industry types winking at each other from behind their iPads.

No, let the Prince remain the Prince. We'll take a plate of the boneless spicy chicken, please, and some fat-marbled galbi with a side of seasoned green onions and kimchi fried rice speckled with fat cubes of ham and topped with a greasy fried egg. And we'll listen to Biggie Smalls, and we'll like it.

Later, when we want to wallow in whiskey and Dean Martin's melodies we'll wander down the street to another early 20th century gem, the H.M.S. Bounty in the Gaylord apartments, where an old man wearing a baseball cap will glare at us, somewhat fondly we think, like he always does.

Thank you, Koreatown.

The Prince, 3198½ W. 7th St., Los Angeles, (213) 389-1586; www.theprincela.com.


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Let them eat weed! (On 4/20)

Palate Food + Wine shuts it's doors

--Jessica Gelt

Photo: A bounty of goodness at the Prince. Credit: Jessica Gelt / Los Angeles Times

After Cabron: A new bar planned for Guelaguetza


After the closing of Cemitas y Clayudas Pal Cabron -- the K-town cemitas shop run by Bricia and Fernando Lopez -- the bother-sister duo now is focusing on the family's Guelaguetza restaurant on Olympic Boulevard. New menu items are being added and a new bar is in the works, designed by Ricki Kline, who also designed Cedd Moses bars such as the Varnish and Las Perlas (where you can still get Pal Cabron's tacos arabes). If all goes as planned, Guelaguetza's redesigned, mezcal-focused bar will be ready within the next several weeks. 

"I had to make a decision," Bricia Lopez says of shutting Pal Cabron. "I'm sad because I love that place so much. I had an emotional attachment to it.... It just wasn't the right location and the right demographic." She says she will be selling the space.

And, of course, Bricia also said she and her brother have a new restaurant concept in mind -- to be developed somewhere between her plans to attend graduate school and her new role as a spokeswoman for the Got Milk?/Toma Leche campaign. (See a recipe for her hibiscus passion licuado after the jump.)


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Happy birthday, Canter's!

-- Betty Hallock  

Photo credit: Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times

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Marja Vongerichten shares soul food of Asia in "Kimchi Chronicles"


“I’m not a foodie,” Marja Vongerichten declares.

The host of the new PBS television series “Kimchi Chronicles” lounges on the couch at Tom N Toms, a small coffeeshop in Koreatown, tearing into a warm pepperoni pretzel and grimacing in pain at the thought of dinners that can drag on for five hours.

And yet as the wife of three-star Michelin chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, she’s had to sit in on plenty. But haute cuisine is just not her style, Marja said, no matter how extravagant and luxurious the courses are.

She’d much rather double-dip into a steaming communal pot of cheonggukjang (a hearty, stinky Korean stew made from fermented soybean paste) or spoon the messy red juices of galchi jorim (simmered beltfish in broth) into a full bowl of steamed rice. Her style of food, Marja said, is food with soul—more specifically, home-style Korean food.

“I call Korean food the soul food of Asia,” Marja said, not only because Korean food consists of simple yet bold and comforting dishes like one-pot stews and pickled vegetables, but because it draws upon her innate familiarity with her roots and soul.

Marja was a 1970s G.I. baby—born to a black American G.I. and a Korean mother. At the time, Amerasians like Marja were discriminated against, so when Marja was 3, her mother gave her up for adoption.

“I had memories [of my mother] but it was only of her physical presence,” said Marja. “I could only picture her from waist down at the height perspective of a 3-year-old.”

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BlackboardEats to host pop-up dinner featuring Walter Manzke at Biergarten in Koreatown


If you're not a BlackboardEats subscriber, you might want to consider signing up on Wednesday. That's when the Web-based restaurant-deal service will send out an offer to attend a $49 four-course dinner prepared by chef Walter Manzke and paired with bottomless pitchers of craft beer from San Diego.

The one-night-only event, which is also being sponsored by Food GPS, will have Manzke popping up in the kitchen of Biergarten in Koreatown. The skilled chef -- who earned rave reviews at Bastide and Church & State -- will prepare beefsteak along with grilled lamb sirloin, lamb kidneys wrapped in apple wood-smoked bacon and burgers on toast with Bermuda onions.

The meat is being supplied by Rocker Bros., a family-owned meat supplier based in Inglewood. Beer choices include Pale Ale or IPA.

There will be two communal seatings on April 10: 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Tickets are limited to BlackboardEats subscribers who click on the special. Clicking used to be free, but now costs $1.

The full menu is after the jump.

Biergarten, 206 N. Western Ave., L.A. (323) 466-4860. www.blackboardeats.com; www.foodgps.com


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-- Jessica Gelt

Photo: Walter Manzke at Church & State. Credit: Jamie Rector / For The Times

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3 food events you should know about: Joseph Mahon + David Haskell at Biergarten; 'James Bond, Foodie'; Cassoulet Night at Vertical

MahonBig in Ktown:
Joseph Mahon, until very recently the executive chef at Bastide, and sommelier David Haskell make a two-night guest appearance at Biergarten in Koreatown, on Monday and Tuesday. Mahon's five-course tasting menu includes: carrot curry pudding; coconut soup with mussels, tapioca and pistou; wild mushrooms, white soy and sesame rice paper; fried chicken with bacon, radish, arugula, celery and buttermilk dressing; confit pork cheeks with béarnaise mousse; and "waffle surprise." Haskell will offer wine, sake, soju and beer pairings. $56 per person (guests may choose two additional courses for $10); drink pairing is $54. 6 to 10:30 p.m. 

206 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles; for reservations, e-mail Neil Kwon at Neilskwon@gmail.com or call (323) 466-4860 after 4 p.m.   

The foods that Bond loved: The Culinary Historians of Southern California, the nonprofit organization that supports the culinary collections at the Los Angeles Public Library, presents food historian Linda Civitello's "Bond Appetit: James Bond, Foodie." Civitello's lecture is based on the James Bond books, movies and other writings of Bond creator Ian Fleming, along with period cookbooks, and focuses on the food that follows the famous "shaken, not stirred" martini. A reception with themed refreshments will follow the hour-long talk. Free. Saturday, 10:30 a.m. 

Los Angeles Public Library Mark Taper Auditorium, Downtown Central Library, 630 W. 5th St., Los Angeles. For more information, go to chscsite.org or contact Susanna Erdos at (323) 663-5407 or serdos@aol.com.

The South of France, in Pasadena:Laurent Quenioux, who is chef at Bistro LQ and now also chef at Vertical Wine Bistro, is bringing back cassoulet for the winter. Sunday nights, starting Dec. 19 through February 2011, at Vertical Wine Bistro in Pasadena, Quenioux is serving cassoulet as part of a three-course dinner. Salad lardon frisée with warm sherry vinaigrette and soft-poached egg is followed by his cassoulet, the slow-cooked bean stew of southern France. His is made with pork, lamb shoulder, duck leg confit, saucisse de Toulouse, saucisson a l'ail and Tarbais beans. Dessert is crème brûlée or chocolate cake. $35 per person; additional $19 for wine pairing.

70 N. Raymond Ave. (upstairs), Pasadena; (626) 795-3999; www.verticalwinebistro.com.  

-- Betty Hallock

Photo: Joseph Mahon at Bastide. Credit: Katie Falkenberg/For The Times

Now open: Scarpetta in Beverly Hills, Pal Cabron in Koreatown, the Luggage Room in Pasadena


Beverly Hills Italo: Chef Scott Conant's Italian restaurant Scarpetta opens Monday night at the Montage hotel in Beverly Hills. It's the L.A. outpost of his New York original and the fourth Scarpetta in his growing restaurant empire. (There are others in Miami and Toronto, with another expected to open this year in Las Vegas.) The menu of "soulful, seasonally inspired Italian dishes" includes autumn vegetable salad with black trumpet mushrooms, hazelnuts and foie gras emulsion; pumpkin soup with farr, almonds, spiced croutons and pumpkin oil; Conant's signature spaghetti with tomato and basil; Sorrento-style pasta with Dungeness crab and sea urchin; orata rosa with watercress gremolata; and ash-spiced venison loin with braised radicchio and smoked polenta dumplings. The new decor in what was the Parq restaurant is "Old Hollywood-inspired." 

225 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 860-7970, www.montagebeverlyhills.com.

Cemitas galore: Bricia and Fernando Lopez of L.A.'s Guelaguetza Oaxacan restaurants have transformed the Guelaguetza on 8th Street into their second outpost of cemitas and tlayudas shop Pal Cabron. The first one (also formerly a Guelaguetza restaurant) opened in Huntington Park last year. Their father, Fernando Lopez Mateos, opened the original Guelaguetza in 1994 and another on Olympic Boulevard several years later. "My father and I decided to close the [8th Street] location," Bricia says. "We were losing money and I figured it would be better to move clients to the Olympic location... My valet guy said, 'Why don't you just turn it into a Pal Cabron, I mean, how much could it cost you?' I had a eureka moment and we were repainting" the next day. That was less than two weeks ago. Pal Cabron Dos debuted last weekend, serving its signature cemitas (Puebla-style sandwiches) stuffed with avocado, onions, Oaxacan cheese and your choice of meats such as cesina or tasajo; tlayudas (big, thin, crispy tortillas) smeared with beans, cheese and meat; and now tacos too.  

3337-1/2 W. 8th St., Los Angeles, (213) 427-0601, www.lascabronas.com.

Suitcase depository goes pizza parlor: La Grande Orange in Pasadena (located in the 1935 Del Mar train depot) has opened its pizza-parlor satellite next door, dubbed the Luggage Room in recognition of its former incarnation as, well, a luggage room for the train station. Pizzas of the thin-and-crispy variety include the Gladiator with spicy Italian sausage, Salumeria Biellese pepperoni and tomato sauce; the Mushroom Party with duxelle of crimini, button and oyster mushrooms along with sweet onion and fennel; and the Free Bird with spicy chicken sausage, clams and rapini. There are cocktails too. Choo-choo. 

260 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (626) 356-4440, www.lgohospitality.com

-- Betty Hallock

Photo: Pal Cabron cemita. Credit: Johanna Jacobson

The Find: Western Soondae and Moobongri Soondae


No matter what you order at Western Soondae and Moobongri Soondae restaurants in Koreatown, whether it's the ice-cold spicy noodles or the luscious raw oysters drizzled with tart chile-infused sauce and wrapped in soft cabbage leaves, you'll be getting a generous side of soondae, the juicy, snappy-skinned blood sausage that's one of Korea's culinary obsessions. The two restaurants are Koreatown's newest shrines to soondae. At both places, the moist links are worked into stews, soups, appetizer platters — all designed to quell a nostalgia for the street-side hole-in-the-walls and tiny market stalls in Korea that craft the specialty. Read on:

Moobongri Soondae's soondaekook soup is seasoned to taste at the table with ingredients such as spring onions, mustard seed and chile paste. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)


A meating of mouths at the 2nd Annual Korean BBQ Cook-Off

Last year's inaugural Korean BBQ Cook-Off drew more than 10,000 meat lovers to its many sweltering grills. This year the meat is off the hook yet again as the Korean American Coalition (along with Councilman Herb J. Wesson Jr. and Councilman Tom LaBonge) gears up for the festival's second go-around Saturday. This time with an all-star cast of judges including L.A. Weekly's Jonathan Gold, L.A.'s reigning king of elite pop-up restaurants Ludo Lefebvre and "Grey's Anatomy" star Sandra Oh.

KoreanBBQ1 The restaurants and vendors on the bill are nothing to laugh at either. Soowon Galbi, O Dae San, Byul Gobchang, Hamji Park and BCD Tofu House are all on the list. Judges will score points and anoint winners in the following categories: L.A. galbi (marinated bone-in beef ribs), galbi (marinated bone-out beef ribs), pork ribs and bulgogi (marinated sliced sirloin). There will also be a soju mix-off and an all-you-can-eat contest.

The event is free, so you'll have plenty of extra change to sample all the smoky goodness and to grab a glass of beer or soju in the beer garden. And take note: If you ride your bike (all the better to burn off the extra calories on the way home), you can take advantage of the free bike valet service offered by Flying Pigeon LA.

The event takes place in the upper parking lot of 3600 Wilshire building, located at (yes) 3600 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Noon to 8 p.m. Saturday. Sampler plates, beer and soju, $5 each (cash only). www.kbbqcookoff.com. Click here for the Facebook page.

-- Jessica Gelt

Photos: Korean American Coalition

New Koreatown restaurant is fast, fun and smoke-free

There are several surprises at Bann Restaurant in Koreatown. It pulls out all the stops with its design, which features soaring ceilings hung with giant stylized lanterns. Grills are set into rust-and-green marble tables, each with a fan that sucks up the smoke from the charcoal. (Which means that your clothes won't end up smelling of beef and smoke, so you can wear your best.) And it's got valet parking for a jaw-dropping $2.

Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila has the details on restaurateur Young Sook Choi's new eatery.

Photo: Lunchtime diners at Bann Restaurant, a new upscale Korean restaurant in Koreatown with contemporary design. The old Woo Lae Oak spot on Western Avenue has been completely remodeled with high ceilings, dramatic giant lanterns with tassels and tables with barbecues set in the middle. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times

Sampler Platter: Vendy Awards, giant burrito eat-off, America's best burgers, Costco comes to New York City (sort of)

Push cart vendor Lourdes Sanchez of Santa Ana

A burrito bigger than a baby, the truth about Thousand Island dressing, Korean barbecue in Koreatown and more in today's food news roundup.
-- Street food gets the red-carpet treatment at New York's Vendy Awards. Gourmet
-- Govind Armstrong, executive chef of 8 Oz. Burger Bar, shows you how to make his grilled cheese and short ribs sandwich. Epicurious
-- Essex parts with chef Chris Ennis, trims menu, will expand. Food Fair by Diego opens in Mid-City West. Eater LA
- -Binary Tastebuds and Choisauce compete to see who can eat more of the massive Special Burrito at Manuel's El Tepeyac. L.A. & OC Foodventures
-- America's best burgers. (No L.A. joints on the list.) Travel & Leisure
-- Man starts business delivering low-cost Costco items to New York City residents. New York Times
-- Quarrygirl lists L.A.'s top five omnivorous restaurants for vegans.
-- Where Thousand Island salad dressing and six other condiments get their names. Mental Floss
-- Eating LA checks out the $16.99 all-you-can-eat meal at Hae Jang Chon.
-- Hungry Kat noshes on pork belly, spareribs and stew at Ham Ji Park.
-- Just four days after announcing that its new Vegemite spread would be called iSnack2.0, Kraft says it will axe the name because so many people hate it. News.com.au
--The Boston Globe has a beef with reality cooking shows.
-- Bangladesh rewards farmer who killed more than 83,000 rats in an effort to protect crops. AP
-- First Lady Michelle Obama approaches diet and exercise with moderation and sanity. NY Daily News (On Nov. 10, she'll kick off "Sesame Street's" 40th anniversary season with an appearance that focuses on health and nutrition.)
-- Elina Shatkin

Photo: Pushcart vendor Lourdes Sanchez of Santa Ana. Credit: Karen Tapia-Anderson / Los Angeles Times

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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.