(LOS ANGELES, CA) – Korean cuisine has emerged as one of the hottest trends in American food culture. From NYC’s Korean-American chef David Chang of the Momofuku enterprise to Roy Choi’s Kogi BBQ phenomenon, diners are lining up with excitement to embrace the bold, piquant flavors that, at the skillful hands and creative whim of leading chefs, are evolving into a new modern Korean cuisine.
Heralded as one of the most prolific chefs of progressive Asian-fusion working at the helm of NYC’s top rated restaurants, including The Biltmore Room, The Russian Tea Room and Aja, Chef Gary Robins is making his mark on the West Coast, lending his own global expression to reinterpret Korean cuisine with European technique, Western innovation and contemporary sensibility; the result: modern Korean social dining at MoKo,, which opened last week at 9540 Culver Blvd. in Culver City.
A collaborative venture of restaurateurs Chris Heyman (Table 8, 8 oz.) and Chef Robins, MoKo raises the bar in Los Angeles, elevating Korean street-fusion for the cocktail culture. As well as the Spanish do tapas, and the Mediterranean do mezze, MoKo enlivens the Korean dining experience and engages the spirit with an innovative menu of exciting Anju-small, sharable dishes meant to be enjoyed with good spirits and good friends.
Robins lends his deft touch and inherent ability with international cuisines to reinterpret and enlighten the Korean table, by layering the deep-rooted flavors and utilizing California’s bounty of produce, he lightens the cuisine to one that is fresher and brighter, while maintaining the intensity and achieving umami.
“MoKo’s menu and the entire experience invite conversation and intrigue,” says Robins. “Mingle with this, taste with that, share a toast, savor for yourself…and have fun discovering new flavors and textures.”
The culinary adventure begins with an innovative selection of Market Banchan (three for $7.5/five for $12/seven for $16), highlighting the seasonality of ingredients with items such asthe Asian Pear and Kohlrabi Salad with pea shoots, perilla and mustard vinaigrette, and the Chiogga Beets, sautéed with jujubes and served with an apple-smoked bacon vinaigrette. Robins’ masterful dexterity and attention to detail in composing a dish are evidently illustrated with MoKo’s market sashimi creations, or Hoeh. Robins joins L.A.’s top sushi chefs at downtown’s IMP fish market to hand-select the finest catch for MoKo’s daily offerings. Examples include the Sawaba, or Spanish mackerel, which he cures with shiso, lightly chars the skin, slices sashimi style and serves with crispy leeks and a red chili jang ($11); and Japanese Tai Snapper, simply sliced, sprinkled with smoked Maldon salt and served with a spicy Asian pear jus, pickled ginger, onion sprouts and nori flakes ($12).
Robins reinvents familiar Korean dishes for the Western palate, creating innovative and at once, original. Standouts include the Kimchi Jeon, a modern rendition of the classic Korean pancake resembling a flatbread in form, topped with apple smoked bacon, crisp pork belly and chili plum sauce ($12); and the Grilled Galbi Marinated Beef Kochi (Skewers), filet mignon seared medium rare, are served with a red chili pineapple ssamjang ($11), Robins’ own fiery version of the traditional Korean miso paste. Not to be missed are the innovative Ssam wraps, such as the Sesame Duck Confit, rich with an earthy, nutty flavor from the sesame oil, the tender duck is wrapped in billowy boa, and dressed with mango, wild arugula, ginger aioli and a chipotle jang ($6). Contemporary global influences of both technique and culture excite MoKo’s menu with Plates such as the Wagyu Roseu Pyeonchae-eye round of Wagyu beef, rubbed with Korean spices, chilies and dried orange, seared, sliced and served with an Asian pear and arugula salad with shiso lime vinaigrette ($13).
As homage to the popular Korean BBQ, MoKo Tabletop BBQ offers prime meats, shellfish and market vegetables àla carte, to be grilled table-top for a truly social, interactive dining experience. Choices of proteins include Chili Marinated Pork Tenderloin ($13), Magret Duck ($11), Bone Marrow ($7) and Giant Prawns ($9), as well as Market Vegetable offerings, and the option to “Wrap it up” in herbaceous lettuces with pickled garlic, and MoKo’s signature sauces and chili pastes.
Playful and tempting Desserts incorporate elements of Korean cuisine with Western kitsch. Robins folds yuzu honey marmalade, traditionally used for tea, into a rich frozen Litchi Parfait, adorned with chili pine nut praline, ripe mango and chewy sweet rice mocha, while Crisp Hoddeuk Korean Pancakes, are filled with cinnamon sugar and ground walnuts, and served with blueberry ginger compote and whipped sweet cream, and MoKo S’mores are a delight, with orange blossom-ginger, anise and strawberry marshmallows, chili-spiked dark chocolate and cinnamon almond cookies.
An inspired bar program celebrates the social spirit and engages the palate, offering hand-crafted seasonal cocktails and a thoughtful selection of beer, wine, sake and soju chosen to complement the Korean flavors and enhance the “umami” elements of each dish. Renowned mixologist Pablo Moix (La Descarga, Harvard & Stone) consulted with Heyman to create a signature selection of cocktails to toast the modern Korean social, such as the “Soju Crush” with Soju, Mezcal, quartered lemon, fresh mint, & soda ($10) and the “Siren’s Call” with cracked serrano pepper, tiki spiced rum, fresh lime & orange juice ($11).
Notables from the bar include the “MoKo Punch,” a soju based refresher, offered by the carafe ($18/16oz.) or socially-acceptable Bowl ($40/48+oz.), steeped with fresh watermelon and aromatics of cinnamon and star anise, and MoKo’s signature “Frozen Sake,” a well-chilled bottle of Gekkeikan that, when poured into the glass, freezes into a slushy. Exclusive to MoKo is the Soju Citron, a citrus infused soju produced in California from a rye and barley blend in the traditional Korean style.An esoteric but approachable list of wines showcases a global spectrum, highlighting crisp and acidic varietals like Viogners, Sancerre and German Rieslings. Asian and handcraft beer selections afford the proper pairing nuances and notes to complement the sophisticated layers of flavors within MoKo’s menu.
The expansive urban loft-style space mixes contemporary and industrial elements to create an unrestricted, convivial environment that allows for seamless intermingling of bar to table dining, and casual cocktail lounging. A soothing water feature balances the wide-open space boasting soaring ceilings, exposed wood beams, brick walls, concrete floors and wrought-iron lighting accents custom-designed by MAI (Gjelina) that lend pleasurable glow throughout the dining room. Polished Caesar Stone tables, clean geometric lines and red trimmed booths complete the contemporary minimalist style with modern Asian accents. Beyond the dining room is an intimate Back Room that invites cocktail lounging with low-backed leather chairs, and cocktail tables, as well as intimate bar-service from the sake and soju closet.
MoKo is located at 9540 Culver Blvd. in Culver City just steps from Sony Studios. MoKo opens at 5:00 p.m. Monday – Saturday, serving food until 11 p.m. weeknights, and midnight on Friday and Saturday. Social Hour affords specially priced drinks, soju, sake, beer and wine nightly from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. to close. Stay social with MoKo on the web via www.mokosocial.com , as well as facebook.com/mokosocial, twitter.com/mokosocial. Chef Gary Robins’ tweets @MoKoCooks.